Drawing a realistic portrait is considered creative

Learn to draw: pencil drawings, portrait drawings, sketches, cartoons

Realistic pencil drawings

Drawing: just learn to draw

This essay is about drawing. With the restriction of "artistic drawing": pencil drawings, portrait drawings, elegant sketches and realistic drawings based on nature. The boundary to the purely "technical" drawing is certainly fluid, but the focus here is on the topic: "The drawing as a means of artistic expression". More about the characteristics of a drawing - see also: Difference between drawing and painting.

The most widespread and most known is certainly the Pencil drawing. In most cases, paper is used as the background for the image. Pencils and paper are cheap and easy to buy practically anywhere. Since the necessary tools are so easy to get hold of, they can be described as a very "simple" form of expression that virtually anyone can create. Drawing with pencils is therefore very suitable for learning to draw. More on this below. New: drawing: material, accessories and tools (including price comparison)

New! I wrote an eBook: "Learn to draw realistically - observe with pencils". Scope: 97 pages, with numerous illustrations, Step-by-step instructions and concrete Drawing exercises. Suitable for beginners and beginners. The book offers many helpful tips and tricks to anyone who has not yet dealt with nature studies intensively.

Even if the focus is on realistic pencil drawings: the book contains a lot more. "Realistic" and "To draw" are two things. On the one hand, the Basics of drawing conveyed, from materials and tools to basic drawing techniques (e.g. hatching) to effective preliminary drawing and the 4 phases of the drawing process: emphasizing, blending, blurring, erasing. On the other hand, the Basics of observation that you need for any kind of realistic picture. In the end, numerous inspirations help you to find your own artistic path. Learn more about it ...

Pencil drawings -
About the art of learning to draw

The technology still says nothing about what is drawn. Hobby artists and hobby painters in particular often put themselves under pressure. Often your aim is to create realistic drawings. The following questions keep coming up: "How can I draw realistically?" or: "My drawings look wrong, how do you draw correctly?" How one learn to draw is covered below. First of all, the special features of realistic drawings should be discussed.

Observe and draw

Realistic pencil drawings are based on observing nature. They show a section of visual reality that resembles a photographic snapshot. However, there is of course one major difference: Pencil drawings show haptic traces of the drawing process. This creates smudges, for example, when the ball of the hand is on the paper. A closer look reveals numerous "errors" or differences to a photo. These fine errors, which make it clear that the picture is hand-drawn, are decisive for realistic artist drawings. In the following video I have drawn my professor, Georg Baselitz:

Realistic drawing: "Löwenkopf", Martin Missfeldt, May 11th, 2020
Please click to load the YouTube video.

Copying of photos / fan art

A special feature are drawings that are not drawn from nature, but from photos. The focus here is not on observing and "interpreting" the motif, but on the representation of what is shown. This form of realistic drawing is not to be seen as an artistic form of expression, but as "fan art". The drawing process takes a back seat. The motive was not the drawing itself, but the motif.

Portrait drawing Magnus Carlsen, July 29, 2020, 40 x 30 cm

Drawings with ink and pen

Cartoon: I Pig, 1992, 14 x 17 cm

In addition to pencils, drawings with Indian ink are also very popular. You can use a brush or a pen for this. The pen was originally a writing instrument, but it is also good for drawing. China ink, which is characterized by its particularly deep blackness, is usually used as the color.

Using the pen and ink does not allow any corrections. While mistakes in pencil drawings can usually be corrected with an eraser, an ink line is irrevocably set. This makes the ink drawing much more authentic and direct. Indian ink drawings therefore often appear much more direct, aggressive, and authentic. They often show supposed differences to the reality seen (by some erroneously referred to as "errors"). But that's exactly what makes them so special and gives them a special artistic meaning.

Ink drawings are often combined with surfaces painted with a wash. Similar to watercolor, the ink is liquefied with water and painted on the sheet. More about the technique of lavings here: Painting watercolor pictures - watercolor painting.

What are the characteristics of a drawing?

Drawing: winter landscape, 60 x 80 cm, 1988

The main characteristic of a drawing is the dominance of the line. Drawings are based on lines, even if they sometimes look blurred and out of focus. At the same time, drawings can also appear two-dimensional when tightly set lines are visually connected in the eye of the beholder. These areas formed by many lines in the same direction are called hatching. In order to create dark areas in drawings, several hatchings can be drawn offset one above the other. This can even be so intense that in the end it looks like a completely closed surface.

In addition to the line, the point is also an element of the drawing. Points could also be described as very short lines. All tools that can be used to create lines and points are therefore suitable for creating drawings. The definition of the drawing is therefore not based on the use of a specific work equipment, but is based on the formal analysis of the work process or the result. All pictures that ostensibly use lines as a means of expression are drawings.

Development of the drawing

Pencil drawing lion, May 11th, 2020, 40 x 30 cm

Drawings are traces of human creativity and expressions of an intellectual abstraction. The oldest traces of human trade are drawings: the cave paintings of prehistoric men. The Egyptian hieroglyphs can also be defined formally and aesthetically as drawings. Greek vase painting is based on contours. Although it is called "vase painting", it is basically a form of drawing. Medieval book illumination is also contour-determined. However, here the drawing is transformed into a "preliminary drawing": The drawn lines form the framework for the later coloring.

Drawings as studies and sketches for paintings

The great Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci or Albrecht Dürer help drawing to a new form of use: as a preliminary drawing, study or sketch, the drawing becomes the basis of painted paintings. Since this study drawing or pencil sketch is made in the preparatory context, it is mostly subordinate to the large paintings in terms of quality and reception history. It is usually not rated as highly by many as the finished masterpiece.

Drawing as a medium for documenting reality

In contrast, there are drawings that are not preparatory studies, but rather independent works. Between the 16th century and the middle of the 19th century, realistic pictures and drawings offered the possibility of documenting reality or the reality seen. There was still no photography and realistic drawing took on a much more documentary significance.

Paradigm shift through photography

Drawing cassette, April 1988, 36 x 40 cm

With the advent of photography, drawing lost the task of documenting reality. The photography reproduced the reality seen faster and more precisely and - in the meantime - flawlessly. A significant field of activity was withdrawn from drawing, but at the same time this loss also offered new opportunities. Parallel to painting, artistic drawing also used the newly gained freedom to redefine the criteria of artistic work: that l'art pour l'art (Art for art). The evaluation criteria were no longer "similarity" or "attention to detail", but rather expression and context.

To this day, artistic drawing draws its assessment criteria from the art context that was founded in the middle of the century and has continued to develop today.

Artistic drawing techniques

Dog puppy

The essential feature of the drawing is the line. Basically any coloring technique can be used to create drawings. In the art historical context, however, some techniques have proven to be particularly effective, inexpensive, and expressive. At the beginning of this text two techniques were mentioned: pencil drawings and ink drawings. There are also other techniques, some of which come close to painting.

  • Charcoal drawings
  • Calligraphy (Chinese script drawing)
  • Fineline ink pens
  • Pastel drawings
  • Etchings / prints
  • Drawings with oil or watercolor paint

A strict classification is often not possible - and also not necessary at all. The drawing itself is not a quality feature, it always depends on the respective expressiveness.

Drawing, drawn with pencils on paper: "The Jaguar from Jena", May 12, 2000, 50 x 70 cm

Expressions of artistic drawing

Drawing is only a generic term for a certain type of representation. Of course, numerous themes and motifs can be represented with the help of drawings. However, there are a number of genres that have a particular affinity for drawing. In other words: certain picture themes are often presented as drawings. Some of them are:


Comics are usually contour-based. The story is represented by the drama of the lines. Corners, jagged edges, rays, explosions - the comic has developed numerous "picture letters" (instead of "letters") within the visual language, which meanwhile shape our vision as a standardized cultural asset. Many beginners who want to learn to draw start by adapting these image abbreviations from the language of comics.


Cartoon Drawings:
Leonardo da Vinci as a giraffe in the rain

Cartoons, like comics, are rather quick and fleeting, almost sketchy drawings. The visual wit is conveyed through a cheeky and cheerful drawing style. More about cartoons ...


Illustration is used especially in books to create images that stimulate the imagination. Too much detail is often a hindrance because it would unnecessarily restrict the images that appear in the reader's head while reading. The illustration is subordinate to a story or a theme. It does not want to develop its own quality, but only to illustrate what is illustrated. Nevertheless, a good illustration is a high art - and in comparison to free, artistic drawing it usually pays a lot better.


Drawings still serve as sketches and studies for works of art. They are used for planning and preparation. Sketches are not drawings for an audience, but only serve to train manual skills - or to prepare a larger work.

Digital drawing on the PC

Now, of course, you can also draw on your PC. An example of a digital drawing is the following "Speed ​​drawing". The drawing process, which took about 2 hours, is shown here as a time-lapse video:

Speed ​​drawing "Lonely Chad giraffe", May 7th, 2007
Please click to load the YouTube video.

More information about speed drawing and speed painting here.

What distinguishes a good drawing?

"Is my drawing good?" - "I think my drawings are bad!" - "I'm always dissatisfied with my drawings. Others think they're great. What's wrong now?" - or vice versa: "I can draw great, only nobody sees it!" - Hundreds of these and similar questions haunt artist forums and art blogs. What criteria can be used to judge whether a drawing is good or not?

Drawing made from lines: Equestrian Battle of Ucello, 1993, 23 x 38 cm

Basically you can say: a good drawing lives from the power of the line. But what exactly does that mean? Can you as a layperson judge drawings? Do you need a lot of experience to recognize the quality of a drawing? Do you have to be able to draw well yourself to be able to judge a drawing? - These questions show that there are no general criteria. It cannot exist at all.

Like any artistic image, a drawing can be assessed from three points of view:

  1. Craftsmanship
  2. Image idea, conception, statement
  3. Artistic value

The craftsmanship is usually recognizable for everyone, including the layman: the clearer and clearer the lines are set, the safer the craftsmanship appears. Shaky lines, erased marks or unclear smudges usually look like mistakes. With realistic drawings and especially with portrait drawings, however, it of course requires a lot of practice to be recognizable without major corrections.

Pencil drawing: Still life with violin, 1987, 50 x 70 cm

The second point - image idea, conception, statement - relates to the motif. Is something shown in the drawing that has a "statement" beyond its mere recognizability? So a picture idea that encourages reflection. Does the picture have a meaning - does the picture allow room for interpretation? This point is of course more difficult to assess. Often one is not sure whether something is meant other than what one sees. In this case: It is up to the viewer to look at and judge the picture, not the artist. At first it doesn't matter what might be meant. What is important is what the viewer sees.

Portrait sketch in pencil: "Wolfgang", 1989, 40 x 30 cm

The third point - the artistic quality of the drawing - seems the most difficult at first, but it is easiest on closer inspection. In contrast to the first two criteria, which the viewer has to make up for himself, the assessment of artistic performance is always based on context information. What other pictures has the artist painted and drawn so far? What information does he / she provide about himself or the pictures? How do others judge these drawings / pictures? - On the basis of this information, each viewer can then communicate his or her own assessment of the work. This assessment then flows (theoretically) into the "overall assessment" of the artistic performance - and in turn influences others in their assessment.

The assessment of artistic performance is therefore a flowing process that is shaped by numerous instances. But what does that mean for the artist? Basically very simple: When doing it, never think about how others would judge it. Because: the manual work should be done as well as possible anyway. And with practice and experience you get better and better over the years anyway. As a beginner you shouldn't overwhelm yourself. And somewhat clumsy "early works" can certainly exude a great attraction. Regarding the picture motif and the statement behind it: Don't break over the knee. A tuft of grass can reveal more than a dramatic image of war. Look for pictures and motifs that interest you in your personal, private world. Everything else will work out by itself.

Hand drawings: can you learn to draw?

Drawing - how does it work?

Drawing "Dorfkirche", 1990, 50 x 70 cm

As mentioned above, a drawing is the easiest way to create an artistic picture. Many people would like to be able to draw. But how does it work? Can you learn to draw? What's the best method?

The following section is intended to show everyone - beginners, amateur artists and recreational painters - a way in which the medium of drawing can win over their own creative expression. Like learning a musical instrument, drawing requires discipline. It doesn't take a few hours to learn. Only practice, perseverance and having fun drawing lead to success. If you don't enjoy creating a picture, you shouldn't torment yourself unnecessarily.

Can everyone draw? Can you learn to draw?

Charcoal drawing: portrait sketch

Yes. In principle, it is part of the essence of man to ascertain the surrounding world with the help of abstract forms of expression.In other words: everyone is able to draw (as long as they have at least one hand). Unfortunately, this innate ability is in most cases destroyed or repressed by social conventions.

State schools in particular spoil the fun of drawing for most children by completely incorrect handling of individual creativity. Our education system works "success-oriented", whereby success must be objectifiable and standardized. Art lessons in state schools are basically only there to drive out creative idiots from the children and to prevent their individual urge to develop. Of course, almost everyone who had to go through this system is shaped by these impressions. Very few have the strength and perseverance to find their own creative path.

How can I find my sign language again?

Pencil drawing: chalk cliffs on Rügen, 2013, 29 x 41 cm

So it is clear that while most people can draw, they have lost their individual sign language. As a result, they only measure their skills and results against the conventions they have learned. And that is frustrating for the most part.

What can you do about it? Well, first of all, you can make yourself aware that you have your own creativity that has only been buried. The next step is to shake off all conventions. Just draw and scribble without showing it to anyone. Free of judgment and evaluation. This is how one can liberate the abilities of the hand. Most people can write. This shows that they are able to use a pencil in a controlled manner.

An online drawing course tutorial - just learn to draw

Pencil drawing of a tulip, 8 May 2020, 26 x 17 cm

The following method is very simple and straightforward. Before you attend a drawing course or a painting school, try the method outlined first. It shows you how, in principle, you can learn it yourself.

Nevertheless, it is always helpful and profitable to attend drawing courses afterwards or in parallel. Because it is of great importance for the artistic process not only to develop the technical skills, but also to communicate about the results. And for this, painting courses, drawing workshops and art seminars form an excellent context. Where else can you find like-minded people with similar questions and problems? Of course, you should inform yourself beforehand about the seminar leader and arrange a trial lesson. There's no point if you can't talk about your pictures freely and openly.

Observing nature - drawing in the mind

Pencil study: the drapery of a pair of trousers, 1988, 35 x 25 cm

The following guide is a kind of online tutorial "Learn to Draw". Without using a pen. All those who would like to learn "realistic drawing" should then put the pen aside for the time being. The main difficulty with realistic drawing is not drawing, but seeing. The hand can do everything, only the eye or the mind has to tell it what to do.

The best method is to sit somewhere and draw the pictures in your head. Go to some place that you may be staying for a long time and start drawing in your mind. That means: try to free your thoughts from interpretation. Don't pay attention to how they find things, just pay attention to what your eye shows you. Communicate with your eyes.

Online tutorial: learn to draw

  • Fix a point and stretch a virtual frame around this point, which forms the outer edges of the sheet.
  • Make a note of exactly what needs to be drawn in the four corners of this sheet.
  • Now draw a few rough, distinctive lines - as I said: everything only in your head, in front of your mental eye.
  • Now look at the virtual drawing and correct the section if necessary.
  • Repeat this "drawing in your head" over and over and start observing details.
  • Always draw the details in your mind as rough areas first. Pay close attention to the shape of the surfaces.
  • You can use your fingers or a pen as an aid to measure and compare the dimensions of lines.

Repeat this exercise over and over. You will see that you can. And it will encourage you to try pen on paper, too.

Pencil drawing telephone receiver, 1988, 15 x 20 cm

Again: Realistic drawing is synonymous with "drawing from nature". But that can only work if you can see nature. The only way to get there is by observing nature. Whereby nature doesn't always have to be forest or meadow. You can also do it in the pub, in the subway or in the kitchen. Actually it goes anywhere. The more you practice observing, the easier it will be for you to draw from nature.

The "hand-eye relationship"

Landscape drawing: "Campo Agosto on Capri", July 6th, 1986, 29 x 38 cm

As already mentioned, an image that is seen by the eye must first be put together in the head before it is transmitted to the hand, which then puts it on paper. Basically, the hand can do anything we want from it. Unfortunately, the spirit often plays tricks on us. The head transmits the wrong signals to the hand. It is therefore very important to first establish in your head how a line should run. So: where is the starting point? - Where do you want the line to end? - What bulge is it getting? - How hard should the pen be pressed down? How fast should the line be drawn?

As a beginner, you should start drawing slowly. Speed ​​always carries the risk that the line will run differently than intended. The speed brings our own, individual track to light. Just what should actually be suppressed in a realistic drawing.

The personal expression: artistic style

Portrait of Goethe, August 7th, 2020, 40 x 30 cm

As I said before, every person has the ability to draw creatively. But only in the rarest of cases can creativity develop freely. As a rule, creativity is either so strongly influenced from outside that it is no longer fun. Or it is strongly deformed by one's own ambition, so that in the end good, but not "own" drawings emerge. What the drawings lack is a style of their own. It's like this with a style: you can't look for it. One can only find him. As long as you are looking for it, you will emulate other styles - and move further and further away from your own.

Your own style can only develop if you look for and develop your own images as free from external influences as possible. Style is what you see as a flaw or inadequacy. what you actually don't want to see. If you draw long enough, you will find that you have a style that is inherent in the pictures without ever being intended.

Only those who recognize this style, who understand how to use and develop it further, will have the chance to assert themselves as an artist in the long term. And the easiest and cheapest way to discover your own creativity is and remains the drawing

Web links on the subject of drawings

Picture galleries with drawings by Martin Missfeldt

More pencil drawings by Martin Missfeldt


New! I wrote an eBook: "Learn to draw realistically - observe with pencils". Scope: 97 pages, with numerous illustrations, Step-by-step instructions and concrete Drawing exercises. The book offers many helpful tips and tricks for beginners and anyone who has not yet dealt with nature studies intensively.

Even if the focus is on realistic pencil drawings: the book contains a lot more. "Realistic" and "To draw" are two things. On the one hand, the Basics of drawing conveyed, from materials and tools to basic drawing techniques (e.g. hatching) to effective preliminary drawing and the 4 phases of the drawing process: emphasizing, blending, blurring, erasing. On the other hand, the Basics of observation that you need for any kind of realistic picture. In the end, numerous inspirations help you to find your own artistic path. Learn more about it ...

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