Steps to Creating the Drawing Outlines

Beginner’s Section

The beginner’s section is intended for more entry-level drawings of realistic images. As for every realistic drawing, the key is preparation and knowledge about tools and techniques to use to achieve a realistic look for your drawing.

In the next chapter, we will take a look at what materials to gather in the preparation phase, understand one popular method of drawing and learn about how to outline (form structure, shapes) the reference photo that acts as a foundation for your drawing and eventually, introduction to shading.

Steps to Creating Drawing Outlines

  1. Step 1: Plan and Brainstorming

    Think about the motivation behind drawing a certain subject. What will be the ramification of drawing that subject, this could be to show the drawing to your family and friends how much you have developed your drawing skills, or could be that someone asked you to draw one of their family members.

    Whatever reason you might have, make sure it is the driving force behind your drawing. After finding your motive, imagine your drawing completed and hanging on the wall, hold that vivid image in your mind as if it was a clear tangible reference image to base your drawing on.

    While imagining a complete drawing of what you are about to start drawing, think about what obstacles you might encounter when drawing, this could be things like:

    1. How you are going to find good pencils

    2. Do you want to use different kinds of pencils, and erasers or try a new paper for drawing

    3. Time the drawing is going to be completed

    4. Think about the end results, is this going to be printed on paper for presentation purposes or are you keeping the original drawing for your own reference?

    5. What dimensions of the drawing are you trying to plot on the paper

    6. Is there something unique or different about this drawing that you have never done before, how do you intend to overcome those differences?

    7. Think about the end user, how are they going to perceive the drawing, and what focal points or attributes in the drawing is the end user most likely going to say “Wow” about?

    8. Think about where the drawing is going to live, is it going to be hung on the wall? Is it going to be displayed on the website? Either way, make sure the shading is dark enough to be shown from far away from the audience.

    [Tip]: Sometimes when you work on a drawing that is too close to you, important elements will be forgotten. You might not shade too dark for the drawing to be viewed from far away at least a couple of inches away from the drawing.

    Keep in mind how the drawing is going to be viewed and consider the distance from the Audience so the drawing has enough value to be visible in a room.

    1. Step 2. Gather Drawing Materials:

      - Pencils: For creating outlines use H1 or HB Pencil as they are lighter in shades and do not leave dark strokes of the pencil that might be hard to remove. The recommended pencils brand is Faber Castell. ( Not affiliated by no means )

      Image of Faber Castell B Pencil

      [Optional]: has created a tool to help you create a plan and give it subtasks.

      Navigate to to create a plan for your drawing

      (ii). For redrawing the Outlines after the Grid-Method lines are removed, use B Pencil as this pencil is slightly darker than H1 or HB Pencil. At this stage, you want to make the outlines a little darker just to see the lines and be able to shade clearly.


    • Erasers: In this gathering phase, make sure that you find different kinds of Erasers. One Eraser I recommend and had success with is called the “Kneaded Eraser”. One of the advantages of using a Kneaded Eraser is that it can be formed into different shapes to fit your holding.

      Use a Kneaded Eraser to erase some lines you are not happy with, visit the advanced tips and tricks in chapter 3 (How to Utilize Erasers to Achieve Realism) to read more about how to use Erasers.

      [TIP]: visit for art supplies. The Kneaded Eraser can attract dirt very quickly, therefore, it is always good to keep it in a clean area or enclosure to protect it from getting dirt around it.

    • Drawing Paper: For a Starter, find a reasonable but not optimal best paper if you have no means of finding the best Drawing Paper to start with. However, if you have access to a good Drawing Paper my recommendation will be to use Vellum Strathmore Drawing Papers. ( Not affiliated by no means )

      The Bristol Vellum Strathmore paper has two different sides of drawing, one which is smooth and the other has bristles (textured) suitable for drawing rough-textured surfaces like rocks, dog's-nose, and fruits. This allows you to practice drawing on both sides and find out if the textured side of the paper will help you achieve the best results for your drawing or not.

      - Drawing Blending Stumps or Tissue Paper: It is not necessary but very helpful to have a set of Soft Tissue Paper on the side to use when distributing graphite across the shaded area. This allows the smooth blending of the shaded areas on the drawing.

      [TIP]: Before applying any sort of technique to your drawing, first do or practice on a different set of paper to be sure that is the application you would want to be applied to your actual drawing. For example, get a piece of paper and shade on one potion then access if that style of shading is suitable for drawing.

      This avoids making unnecessary mistakes in your drawing and helps you move faster towards achieving realism for your drawing.
      Some artists use Q-tips or Blending Stamps to achieve the same results.

      Image of Cleaning Ear Q-Tips

      - Pencil Sharpener: A good  Pencil Sharpener comes really handy when drawing. The preparation phase will give an opportunity to hunt for a good Sharpener, one that does not break the Pencil Lead (the Pencil Tip used for drawing).

      Nevertheless, any Sharpener would work as long as you’re comfortable sharpening pencils and gives a nice pointed pencil tip. Keep in mind that you would need to sharpen different pencils with different shapes. Sharpening pencils in different pointed shapes will give you the flexibility to experiment with different texture and shading techniques.

      Image of Pencil Sharpeners

    Step 3. Understand Grid-Method of Drawing

    As a beginner, it is important to understand how to structure or frame a drawing. Structuring a drawing starts by using a well-known drawing methodology known as Grid-Method.

    The Grid-Method can be used to scale the reference photo for large drawings. This is helpful as it maintains an aspect ratio that allows it to scale proportionally. Grid-Method helps to create close-to-accurate drawing outlines and makes it easy to transfer outlines onto another medium like Canvas or Drawing Paper.

    Image of a Grid-Method


    Getting Started with Grid-Method

    (a). Go to
          - watch a short video on how to use the grid-method tool
          - use the grid-method tool to generate a grid on your reference photo

    [Optinional] The grids can be created manually with a ruler and an H1 Pencil  (lighter pencil).

    (b). After the grid lines have been plotted on the reference photo
          - You can either print the reference photo (with grid lines on the photo) or use a Soft Copy ( reference photo saved to your computer ) to reference your drawing.

    If you decide to use a Soft Copy, you do not have to print the reference photo with a grid marked on it, instead use a Computer to view the reference image and draw from observation. The key here is to transfer the Grid Boxes plotted on the Reference Photo using a tool mentioned in (a) onto the Actual Drawing Paper.


    [TIP]: Professional Artists print several copies of the reference photo with grid lines on them. For example, if you’re drawing a portrait, the same reference photo (with grid lines on them) is printed in color and in black and white format.

    This allows multiple aspect ratio prints to be used, for example, one copy could contain a closer look at the very tiniest detail (zoomed in on a specific area on the reference photo) you can possibly imagine and another might contain the same image but view from a different perspective with less detail on it (zoom out).

    This technique gives an artist the ability to develop a story about the subject and choose what details to show in the drawing.
    Printing different variations of the same reference photo with different color settings helps to see the shadow edges as well as other attributes that you might have missed if you only had one reference photo.

    (c). Replicate the grid lines plotted on the reference photo onto the white-plain drawing paper or any medium you are using to draw on.

    - Make sure that the scale on which the grid line was plotted on the reference photo matches with the scale on the drawing paper. This is important, if not accurately replicated, the drawing will not look similar to the reference photo.


     Reference Photo with grid-lines                          Drawing Paper with matched grid-lines

    (d). After the grid lines have been plotted on the drawing paper, it’s time to start drawing the outlines.

    - Understanding Grid-Method coordinates are really easy, here is how you know where to draw the next outline:

    (i). Observe the numbered lines on the X-axis starting from 0 to 7, and the numbered lines on the Y-axis starting from 0 to 10.

    Take a look at the line you want to draw and observe the number of grid lines on the X-axis and Y-axis and plot a dot on where the both X-axis and Y-axis lines cross or meet each other.

    [TIP]: Observe the coordinates on the reference photo then plot the dots on the plain white paper with grid lines on it. Draw the outlines in shapes, pay attention to the spaces in the single cell (box) and try to make an accurate guess on where the line crosses the box into another.

    Making close to accurate guesses on where the line passes will determine the accuracy of the outline when you erase the checkered boxes from the Drawing paper. Remember, the key here is to create the most accurate outline of the drawing, eventually, you will erase those checkered boxes around the outline.


    •  Plot the dots on the drawing paper, if you don’t know the exact coordinates try to plot the approximate coordinates. It doesn’t have to be plotted on the exact coordinates. Simple right? Let's get started plotting the dots on the coordinates of the drawing outline.


    Step 4. Work on the Outline

    • This is the stage where you outline the drawing structures, this stage doesn’t have to be perfect. However, try to get the outline as perfect as possible. It is from this stage that your drawing structure can get similar or not, to the reference photo.

    Image of a complete outline (with grid boxes still on the Drawing Paper)


    [TIP]: Getting the drawing structure proportionally structured like that of the reference photo will help you achieve realism in your final steps. All that is needed after the outline is complete is feeling in the empty space of the outline with graphite pencil, this stage is also known as Shading.

    The outlining process can still be carried on even when in the Shading stage, the outline does not stop, when in the shading stage you can still erase and correct as an outline if you see fit.

    As a rule of thumb, start outlining with a lighter Pencil such as H1 or H2 in some cases if you really want to be careful about not making mistakes.

    Image of a complete outline (with grids visible on a Drawing paper)


    Step 5. Remove the Outline

    • This is the stage where you remove the grid lines from the drawing paper. Use a clean Eraser to erase lines from the paper and prepare the outline for shading.

    Image of a complete outline (without grids)

    This stage is exciting as it gives you an opportunity to be careful with your outlines. You will start caring about the outlines at this stage of the drawing. This is important as preserving every bit of the outline will help you see clearly where the lines end so you could have easy shading.

    If you happen to have erased some of the outlines when erasing the boxes from the Drawing paper, gently and carefully redraw them back with reference to the Reference Image. This is most likely to happen as the outlines will be drawn with lighter strokes of the pencil, any mistakes when erasing the grid boxes would result in erasing the actual subject outline.

    Step 6. Shading

    • Shading is the holy grail of the drawing process, this phase allows the artist to showcase their skill level in terms of Shading Technicality. This stage is critical as it will make or break the drawing. Refer to the Advanced Section to read more about techniques of shading and how you could use different styles to bring the drawing to realism.

    Step 7. Finishing Touches:

    At this stage, you have completed shading your drawing and need to finish up by erasing rough or uneven edges to make the line edges clean or straight. This stage will add value to your drawing depending on your style, clean edges are critical to reflect realism.

    Step 8. Preserving your Drawing:

    Assuming everything is done at this point, the Drawing Outlines, Shading, Clean Ages, and Proper reflection of light on your drawing and are happy with your drawing, it’s time to spray the drawing with a “Workable Fixatif”. The spray will protect your pencil drawing from smudging or possible damage.

    • The “Workable Fixatif” Pencil Spray acts as a protective as well as a finishing product that adds a glossy look to your drawing.


    Image of KRYLON’S Workable Fixatif

    [Tip]: KRYLON’s Workable Fixatif has been a good Fixative for my drawings, visit to see the Pencil Drawing Sprays available.

    [Warning]: The product mentioned above is highly flammable, do not use it close to a fire. After applying the spray to your drawing, the application is final and the drawing can’t be changed or modified unless that is how you intend to create your art.

    [Safety]: The advice is based on my experience, when spraying your drawing with any Fixatives make sure your mouth and nose are covered as the spray produces a strong smell which might cause breathing problems.

    In concluding Beginner's Section, it is worth noting that when embarking on a new drawing, planning is an essential part of achieving accuracy. It is important to have a plan in mind and lay down your plan on paper.

    If you are not sure or the kind to write things down, I would challenge you to start scribbling. Writing your thoughts down in the form of a journal, will not just help you remember important things in your journey but also help strengthen your memory. 

    Figure C1

    It also goes without saying, how you start your drawing matters. Start with communicating your plan idea to yourself by asking important questions such as:

    • Why am I drawing?
      - This might surprise you, maybe you are drawing because you are bored or maybe you want to show your friends, whatever the reason, just write it down.

    • How do I intend to start this specific drawing?
      - This is when the plan from your initial thoughts comes in. Ask yourself these questions, the plan starts to build up.

    • When do I want to start this drawing?
      - Again, this is important to ask yourself because it will trigger another thought, leading to discovering what you are missing, for example, let's say you didn’t even think of materials.

      If you don’t have pencils and other materials needed to draw like a clean eraser then you will start considering how to find those requirements.

    Asking these questions is integral to producing a masterpiece, a drawing that will make you look back in time and wonder how you drew such a captivating piece of Art.

    Artists become good at what they do by practicing hard. Picking up your favorite pencil and grabbing a clean white paper that you care about should not be foregn to you. You should build the habit of getting in the zone of drawing for enjoyment and not for money.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are artists who make a living off of their drawings, but if you really want to become a good Artist, do it because you Love drawing, the money aspect of it comes at a later age. Now that you’re done with the Beginners Section, let's dive into the Advanced Section.

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