basic techniques to learn how to draw like a professional

By Carol Arán

Regardless of the specific path we choose, in order to learn to draw professionally, we have to master the basic techniques. Create a solid foundation on which we can safely build our own road. If we consider ourselves already experienced, to get rid of bad habits acquired with time and re-acquaint ourselves with basic drawing techniques, sometimes we have to retrace our steps. Committing to a deconstruction exercise that allows us to go back to the root of our experience and remind us of where we came from, to go back to the beginning Here we will review some useful tips and fundamental resources to become an excellent creative cartoonist:


Pencil drawing is the initial and most essential seed, the starting point of all the steps. As a material, graphite offers different degrees of hardness that should be taken into account to take advantage of its full range of intensities. The pencil allows us great ease when it comes to shading, brightness and reflection, which we can later apply to other techniques. It is also very important to chose an appropriate paper for our material. When it comes to formats, weights and finishes, the current market offers a whole range of possibilities to choose from. Using an acid-free paper will avoid the paper to turn yellow with time. The use of pencil and paper can be enriched and expanded with tools such as the diffuser or the rubber eraser (classic rubber, moldable rubber, electric rubber).

But the most important thing to improve your pencil drawing technique is to put it into continual practice. Draw daily, experimenting with different formats and types of layouts to achieve a loose and free stroke. Work non-stop on scaling, fitting, perspective and proportion exercises. Draw all kinds of elements and compositions from life and photographs, specially things that seem more complicated or less appealing at first sight. Exercise your gaze without accommodating, pay attention to the basic forms and details, fields of depth, lights, shadows, intensity and composition. Practice drawing the human figure, portraits, animal anatomy, landscapes and environments, textures and shading layers, objects from different angles. Mastering the pencil techniques when drawing from real life, is not only the key that will open lots of other doors, but also the required tool that will help you draw from your imagination.


Experimenting with watercolour is the second of our main tips to improve your
technique, and goes hand in hand with pigments and colour. To start with, beginners can practice with watercolour pencils and waxes, to familiarize themselves with watercolour without mastering of the brush. Watercolour paints can be purchased in solid formats, like pads or godets (loose or in a case), as well as in liquid and tube formats. In this technique the right choice of paper is essential to avoid water-logging and wrinkles; the preferred weight is at the heavier end of the scale (around 300g / m2), and a slightly rough finish to prevent paint from sliding down the surface. An ideal complement is watercolour paper tape, which helps tense the support and avoid undulations. As with paper, you have to keep in mind that, if the tape is not acid free, the support edges may become yellow with time. Today there are acid-free adhesive tapes for artists that guarantee good gluing and peeling (however, it is recommended to slightly moisten the tape before sticking it, and not to leave it on the paper for too long). As for the brushes, according to ones needs we can find all kinds of thicknesses and shapes;  there are brushes with a containers used to improve accuracy.

Once we have learned to draw well, watercolour is the easiest way to get started with liquid colour. It is diluted with water, and if you know how to use it offers a very attractive unique feature, the transparencies. Depending on how diluted the material is, it allows us to work with different levels of opacity and intensity and / or different layers. Another characteristic of watercolour is the drying speed; painting under these circumstances, we can choose between two options, or combine both: work wet quickly and accurately, and/or work in different layers as they dry. As with all other artistic techniques, the main secret to master watercolour is to practice and exercise: investigate the types of traces, opacity and intensities, work the gradients, create from lines or spots, copy from nature … Once we know all its possibilities, we can support or combine watercolour with other techniques (pencils, markers, pens, etc.), as we expand our repertoire of resources to become a professional artist.


Knowing how to draw is not everything. While collage is not itself a drawing or painting technique, it is a very useful method for development and creativity, and to enrich and complement all the previous techniques. Collage (which currently can also be done digitally), consists of composing images from clippings of other finished images, resulting in a new work and design. It is a plural and versatile technique, and as such it can use all kinds of materials (cloth, photographs, press clippings, illustrations, cardboard, objects …) and supports (paper, canvas, board, cardboard, etc.), provided that the necessary fixing elements are used (glue, glue sticks, adhesive tape, liquid silicone).
This plurality of possibilities makes collage a widely used tool to develop our imagination, mix graphic languages, and let or creativity flow freely. We can create a collage as a work of itself, or put it at the service of mixed media and apply it to other media. For example, use it as a sketch and a model for a drawing, or integrate it into paintings, illustrations, and all kinds of artistic works.


If, one day, we are hit with a huge solar storm that leads to a blackout, we can continue creating artwork using the previous techniques. But until that day arrives, we have very useful resource and tools, like Photoshop and
Illustrator, to create digital drawings. It is important not to forget that, as with other tools, it is essential to have good knowledge in traditional drawing techniques before diving into digital territories. Once we are introduced to the digital options (which can always be combined with the manual ones), we will discover some key differences between the two most used software programs (mentioned previously).

Photoshop is mainly used for retouching graphics and photographs, it works with pixels and their corresponding resolutions. Because it does not working with vectors, the modification of lines and shapes is very limited. However, it is an ideal tool to work with lights and shadows without the classic flat appearance of digital shading. While Photoshop is not a tool designed for drawing, it can be very useful when adding colour, effects and touch-ups to our initial handmade work. Illustrator, on the other hand, is an editor for artistic creation, which works with vectors on a board called «worktable». By relying on vector graphics, it allows creation and modification without resolution or scale problems, and the freedom to work at each point of the line. Perhaps the only disadvantage of Illustrator in comparison with Photoshop, in terms of digital drawing tools, is that it does not achieve such spectacular effects of shadows and lights, therefore the final results tend to be somewhat flatter.

In addition to these two tools, which are perhaps the most famous ones, the digital revolution has created many other digital options that increase every year. Some of the latest advances are the new Wacom Cintiq graphic tablets, with an optimized system for creative beginners, or the latest Procreate or Sketchbook applications for iPad users. Fortunately, the drawing learning curve is never ending. Whether it is on drawing fundamentals, or on the path to becoming a professional in a specific subject, there is always something new we can learn, which gives us a beautiful pair of wings against stagnation. There are so many issues to explore in this territory and so many drawing tools available today, that this continuous learning experience is in itself a motivation to draw.