Tips on Drawing From Imagination

Understanding Perspective and Light Sources

Many people who are curious about drawing from imagination aren't thinking about abstract art. Rather, they want to bring their creative vision to life—to draw a picture in their mind, realistically—a fairy or dragon, or a more everyday scene. Then there is that "gosh, you drew that from your imagination!?" factor. So, whether you want to illustrate a SciFi story or impress your friends, here are some tips on drawing from imagination.

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Imagination Draws on Memory

Young boy drawing at home
Corbis/VCG / Getty Images

Drawing from imagination is really drawing from memory—just really long-term memory, putting together bits of memories to make something new. Suppose you want to draw a mermaid. You draw a woman with a fish tail and long hair. You are putting together memories - a fishes' scales, a magazine model, a rock from a landscape picture you've seen somewhere. No matter how far-out your imaginings are, you are still using elements of reality.

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Learn to Draw What You See

Leonardo da Vinci said, "You cannot draw what you cannot see." Most artists, even cartoonists, use real life observation as the basis of their drawings. Fantasy artists have models to pose for them. The Anime artist of Cowboy Bebop bought a real Corgi dog so he could observe it moving around the office. Sometimes artists make models out of cardboard and play-doh and toy animals and light them with a desk lamp to help them visualize their scene.

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Master Perspective Drawing

Perspective is one of the best tools the artist has for convincing the eye that something is real. Mastering perspective is essential. Practice drawing in one and two-point perspective until you can do it without thinking about it. When you are creating a drawing, use perspective and accentuate its effects to strengthen the three-dimensional form.

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Understand Light Sources and Value Drawing

When drawing from imagination, be aware of your light source. The fall of light across an object tells us a lot about it. Light travels in straight lines from the source. For sunlight, that effectively means parallel lines—all the shadows will point the same direction. But shadows from a streetlamp or overhead light bulb will change. Visualize the light conditions in your picture and make sure you use a full range of tonal values—bright highlights, dark shadows.

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Sketch Often

The best way to learn to draw from imagination is to keep drawing from life and photos, focusing on the things you want to be able to create. If its people, draw them from every angle and in every pose. Eventually, you will know the figure really well. Apply the same to whatever it is you want to draw. Drawing is mostly about seeing—really looking and understanding your subject. Observing and drawing often will train your visual memory, so you will have a stock of mental images to draw upon.

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