Drawing Foundations: How I Learned to Draw

Drawing Foundations: How I Learned to Draw

I recently created a Drawing Foundations class for Mimochai Studio, using my own style and mindfulness approach. I want to share my experience of learning to draw and what I wish I knew when I first started.

My Drawing Journey

As a former lawyer turned full-time creative, I know how hard it can be to learn drawing foundations on your own. Even though I learned from books and tutorials taught by great artists, it wasn’t always clear how to connect the dots and evolve my own style. 

It took a lot of practice, study, and experimentation to get to where I am today. I’m grateful to have worked with clients like Disney, Adobe, and Samsung. Now I get to create primarily for my studio Mimochai, where I make my own illustrated products, do fun collabs, and host an international drawing community that helps people overcome their creative obstacles and discover creative wellbeing.

Common Obstacles

I remember what it’s like to think, “Maybe it’s too late for me to start drawing,” or “Maybe I’ll never get good at this,” or even “I got pretty far on my own but now I’m stuck and don’t know how to keep growing.”

Drawing foundations also tend to be really dry and boring to learn. It can feel uninspiring, especially for those of us who want to draw in a modern illustration style. Most beginning artists I encounter want one thing: to draw beautifully in their own style. I totally get it, I was the same way! Usually, we become interested in drawing because we see other art we admire, and we want to go straight to that. Unfortunately for us, that is putting the cart before the horse.

Those artists you admire have many years of practice and getting through “bad” work before they got to where they are. And the problem with trying to just learn directly from their style is that there is almost never a good explanation of all the underlying skills it took and decisions that were made to get to that final approach. Those things are almost invisible by the time an artist reaches a certain level, because it’s just in their muscle and mental memory. If you are a beginner trying to figure it out on your own, it’s like trying to figure out how to bake a beautiful cake without knowing any of the ingredients.

What I Learned the Hard Way

What I’ve realized over and over again on my own journey is that while we can skip over the foundations, eventually we’ll find that we’re limited in how much we can evolve into our own style and ability to fully express ourselves.

To create art that is truly yours, you need to learn the basics of fundamental skills. To put that in context, here’s how I visualize the journey of finding your voice and style:

  1. Start With Why: I agree with the principle that whenever you take on any goal, you should Start With Why. Besides a genuine interest in drawing, it’s totally fine to have artists you admire and are inspired by. Keep these close to keep you motivated!
  2. Learn Drawing Foundations: It may feel tedious, but learning the foundations is a necessary part of getting to where you want to go.
  3. Draw What You Love: Find a healthy balance between learning the foundations and drawing whatever you love. This will prevent burnout.
  4. Keep Practicing Consistently: Do daily warmups, master studies, personal projects. Focus on skill-building. Like any skill or muscle, consistent practice is a key part to improving.
  5. Reflect and Evolve: Finding your voice means understanding yourself. Let yourself evolve as your skills develop. This drawing journey not a straight path, but more of a cycle, and learning drawing foundations is a critical early step that you’ll come back to again and again.

What ARE Drawing Foundations?

At a basic level, these foundational techniques are what drawings and paintings are built on. Think of them like tools in your artist toolkit, or ingredients in your artist pantry.

  1. Observation: the ability to see like an artist, accurately and without preconceived notions
  2. Line: the ability to draw with artful lines that reflect what is observed or imagined
  3. Shape: the ability to construct drawings with building blocks and shapes
  4. Value: the ability to see and group lights and darks with intention and clarity
  5. Form: the ability to communicate the form of an object, including texture and mass,
  6. Color: the ability to see, understand, and use color for both accuracy and expression
  7. Light: the ability to render light and harness illusions in color
  8. and Composition: the ability to lead the eye and frame an image to your intention, including use of depth and perspective.

Learning these skills are important both for observing art, so you can break down your favorite artists’ work and understand the choices they made, and for making art, so you can be intentional about how you use each as you develop your own unique style.

What I Found to Be Missing

What I always found to be missing in my search for an answer is the HOW and the WHY to the WHAT. The problem for me with many books and classes is that they are focused on just a few of the tools, and do not explain how it all comes together in a very stylized drawing. The focus is almost entirely on realistic drawing studies and ends there. Or, on the opposite side, a tutorial might teach me a drawing in a very specific style, but not explain all the underlying considerations that would help me apply it to my own style. There’s a big difference between knowing what the skills and steps are, vs how they came together and why the artist made the choices they did.

I decided to create a drawing foundations class with my own approach because I wish I had something like this when I first started learning how to draw: a class that gives a clear overview of not just what the drawing foundations are, but also a way to understand how these basics skills are used by artists I admire, and finally how to connect these dots to help me draw how I want to draw. Oh, be fun and have drawing exercises I actually want to do!

How I Teach Drawing Foundations

So I’ve combed through all the hours I’ve spent learning drawing foundations and used an 80/20 approach to put together a comprehensive yet digestible class that covers the parts that made the biggest difference for my own growth and improvement.

I use one main class project as an anchor for all the sections plus lots of additional exercises to reinforce each step. I explain how to see like an artist through line & shape, value & form, color & light, portraits, and depth & composition. Most importantly, I explain how all of these tools & skills connect and come together so you can work towards drawing how you want to draw.

I like to think of it as a map or guide for your own drawing journey.

My Unique Mindfulness Approach

I really mean it when I say drawing journey. I find so many people give up on drawing or never get started because they don’t know how to overcome their own fear, judgment, and insecurity. The problem is usually because they don’t see this as a journey; they want to go from zero to 100 and draw like their favorite artists right away. That’s just not how it works, and that’s not a bad thing.

Learning to draw is truly a skill that takes time and practice, and that’s something we can be proud of. Being able to draw is such a beautiful life skill to have, and being able to see like an artist is like seeing a whole new world. The best part is that it’s something anyone can do with enough practice and the right mindset.

That’s why I find it really important to bring a sense of mindfulness into one’s artist toolkit. You can learn more about my Mindful Drawing approach in this blog post here. It also helps to see learning to draw as an adventure and to bring an explorer’s mindset to it.

An explorer’s mind is open and curious. When something doesn’t work out, they go “huh! ok!” and learn from it. They don’t beat themselves up about it. They keep exploring and learning. Along the way, they are brave, even if they are scared. They are excited to NOT KNOW, and to FIND OUT.

If you’d like to learn drawing foundations with me, you can watch the class in my guided drawing community, Mimochai Studio, as well as on Skillshare. Either way, I hope this inspires you to learn the fundamentals!

Take care and keep creating 💛 -M

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