10 Drawing Ideas for When You Don’t Know What to Draw

To become better at something, you should practice it often. Ideally, everyday. This especially applies to drawing people. Sometimes, though, you just get to the point where you don’t know who or what to draw. Your mind is blank. Or, your mind is going in so many different directions, you don’t know where to begin. How do you decide?

Following is a list of 10 suggestions for things to do when you have no clue what you should draw. Read on to get some ideas to get that pencil moving!

1. Scribble

One of the simplest yet most effective things to do when trying to decide what to draw is to just start scribbling! Pick up a pencil, apply it to paper, and put it in motion. Do not even concern yourself with what you are making or how it looks. Let your hand have a mind of its own. Just scribble random, abstract lines and shapes. If these take on the familiar look of an inanimate object or living form, then that’s okay too.

The important thing is to just get started. This is especially useful if it is your goal to practice drawing everyday. Scribbling will help you avoid procrastination by taking action. It will also help you brainstorm ideas for what you want to draw in better detail later.

2. Keep It Generic

Often times, I grab my sketchbook and just begin sketching a face. I have no reference photo and no particular person in mind to draw. I don’t even have a vision for how the face will look at the end. The goal is to just draw a face, any generic face. You don’t need to be overly concerned with having a perfect drawing. Just begin sketching rough guidelines and random facial features, letting the flow of the drawing take you where it wants to go until you have a completed face.

3. Timed Gesture Sketch

Like the two suggestions above, this can be a great warm-up activity. Use your reflection in a mirror, another willing participant who’ll pose for you, or an image as your subject. Set a timer and challenge yourself to sketch as much as you can in only two minutes. You can try longer if you want, but I suggest no more than 5 minutes. For face sketches, try to capture a variety of moods and expressions. For figure sketches, worry less about details and more about the gestures and poses.

4. Draw from Real Life

Take your sketchbook to some public places for some real-life inspiration. Sit on a park bench and draw people walking their dogs or tossing a ball. Sit in a coffee shop and sketch people at the bus stop across the street. Get on a bus and sketch some of the random passengers. You can even sketch shoppers in a mall. The possibilities are endless.

If you are uncomfortable about drawing people in public, go for a generic, inspired representation rather than a unique likeness. The level of detail is up to you. One word of caution: avoid “staring” directly at any one particular person for so long that you make that person uncomfortable!

5. Friends, Family, and Loved Ones

You can always depend on the familiar faces of family and friends for subject material. More often than not, people you know are supportive of your drawing passion and will be honored that you want to draw them.

Draw someone you have never drawn before. There are so many people from which to choose here: parents, siblings, kids, friends, co-workers, teammates, and boyfriends/girlfriends, just to name a few.

Alternatively, pick someone you have drawn before and draw that person from a different perspective or in a different situation. Try to capture the same or an even better likeness than you did before.

6. Look at Magazines

I sometimes keep a stack of old magazines and tabloids nearby to sketch random faces inside. These can be sketches of everyday people, models, or celebrities. This is how I used to practice drawing famous faces back in the day, before they were all over the Internet. Magazines are still a great resource for drawing ideas. Often you can find some clever and creative photography work that can spark a drawing composition. Another advantage of a physical publication is having a quality, clear, high-resolution image from which to work.

7. Do an Online Image Search

If you don’t know what you want to draw, looking at a massive library of images will certainly get your creative juices flowing. Visit Google or your favorite search engine, type in some random keywords, and click on the Images link. Which keywords should you type if you don’t know what to draw? Any words will do. The word you enter does not have to be the topic of drawing. The image results will often lead you to think of new, unrelated subjects. To get you started, think in terms of parts of speech. Try typing in keywords that are nouns (kids, worker, singer), verbs (reading, dancing, eating), and adjectives (serious, excited, funny).

On an additional note: You can use these online images and magazine images (#6 above) to practice, but be sure you are not publishing or selling exact representations without first getting permission from the copyright holders.

8. Build Upon What You Already Do Well

Think about your drawing strengths. What are you already very good at? Figure out what you do well and take it to the next level. Do you usually draw faces looking directly ahead? Try drawing a face at a three-quarter turn. Maybe you are very comfortable with drawing eyes, but how often do you draw glasses? Have you mastered line drawings yet? If so, perhaps it’s time to work on mastering shading techniques. Do you only draw in graphite pencil? How about experimenting in colored pencil or pastels? It is human nature to keep doing what comes easy for us over and over again. Use those times when you don’t know what to draw, and challenge yourself so you can grow as an artist.

9. Try Something New

Continuing with the theme of challenging yourself, why not do something you have never done before? Using some of the suggestions above, you are bound to come across ideas for drawing subjects that are new to you. If you tend to most often draw people, look to include interesting clothing, unique inanimate objects, or even animals. Build an eye-catching composition by including multiple subjects in one drawing to tell a story. You will become more versatile and might even surprise yourself along the way.

10. Walk Away

If all else fails, sometimes it can actually be helpful to stop thinking about what to draw and just walk away. Take a few minutes to do something else. Eat a snack, take a nap, walk the dog, take the trash out. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had creative ideas pop into my head right out of the blue while doing the most mundane things.

Time to Take Action

Just like writers get writer’s block from time to time, it is also normal for artists to occasionally lose inspiration or motivation. Hopefully this list can serve as your springboard to stop thinking about what to draw and start actually drawing. It’s time to get started now!

4 comments

  1. these tips are extremely helpful! thanks so much for posting them.

  2. What if you can’t shake a memory of what you have seen and you can’t get original thinking going?
    It’s like I am anal retentive and I see something and I don’t want to copy, I want something original?

    • Hi Kathy. What if you take the concept of what you have seen and use it as a stimulus for something creative and original? Since you can’t stop thinking about it, use it to your advantage. Literally take a sheet of paper and brainstorm some interesting ways you can incorporate this image into a new piece of artwork that you can call your own. If for example, the image you have in your mind is of a particular face, take that face (or a similar face) and draw it with a new body, with new clothes, in a new environment that tells an intriguing story.

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