If you’re just getting started out with the visual arts, then you’re probably feeling a little wary to try to draw images from your imagination and not a reference model.
After all, many of us haven’t allowed ourselves to do this since we were children, when drawing whatever came to mind was much easier and far more simple.
It may sound strange, but it takes real confidence to draw a completely original work, one that doesn’t rely on familiar objects from real life.
Below, we’ve detailed a few drawing from imagination exercises that will hopefully make it a bit easier to let your creativity run wild and create something from your mind.
Almost all of them can be done with friends or family members, which should also serve as a reminder that drawing should be fun, even if you currently illustrate on a professional level.
Take some time to remember why you fell in love with drawing in the first place.
By the way, if you’re looking to become a professional artist without going to art school, you may want to check out our article on the subject.
The Memory Game
The Memory Game is easy to play and you can play it alone or with others, depending on your preference.
The challenge is to try to draw very specific items or people only from memory, without being able to use any reference images. It’s almost a prolonged form of a game like Pictionary.
It’s fun, but it will also encourage you to draw more automatically, only checking with your own memories to make certain decisions.
Draw Friends from Memory
Get a few friends or family members and sit down with one drawing pad for each person, and a drawing tool of your choice, from markers to crayons to chalk.
Then, decide on a mutual friend or family member who’s not in the room with you. It may also be helpful to set a modest time limit. 5 minutes is a good rule of thumb.
Once the time is up, take a look at each other’s drawings. Take note of which details you remembered and which features you got wrong.
Draw TV Characters from Memory
This version of the Memory Game follows the same basic premise and procedure as the version described above.
The only main difference is that instead of trying to draw friends, you try to draw characters from a TV show that you’ve all watched.
For even better results, try to pick a show that’s animated or that has non-human characters. You’ll be surprised how difficult it can be to draw a fantasy character with an image to reference.
When everyone has finished their drawings, pull up a picture of the character and try to see what you got right and what you got wrong.
The Pre-Nap Practice
There’s an old story that the famous surrealist painter Salvador Dali had an interesting method for coming up with new and original ideas for his work.
According to lore, Dali would lay down to sleep on a couch, placing a metal pot on the floor and holding a heavy rubber ball in his hand.
As he started to fall asleep, the grip of his hand would relax, dropping the rubber ball into the metal pot. The sound would wake him up and he would try to draw exactly what he had in his mind at that moment.
It was a way to access his subconscious quickly and effectively. And while you don’t have to use his methods exactly, the same basic principle still applies.
Consciously trying to think of inventive shapes and characters can prove to be difficult. But your subconscious is where these images live. Accessing your subconscious is the tricky part.
Instead of trying to think of new ideas, don’t try at all. As you go through your daily activities, you will notice every once in a while, usually while bored, that you’ve been daydreaming.
When you notice your attention drifting, try to capture the moment, remembering what you were just thinking of. It probably won’t be an idea that makes a whole lot of sense.
Start to record these thoughts and images in a notebook. In just a few weeks, you’ll have plenty of inventive illustration ideas to choose from.
Still-Life Minus Fruit
This exercise is another opportunity to force yourself to draw without a safety net. You can rest assured that no one will ever have to see these drawings, so you don’t need to be at your best.
All you need to do is to think of a specific style of visual art. For example, picture a still life painting in your mind. There have been hundreds of famous still life paintings, and they’re likely to blur in your mind.
Now, try to draw the image in your mind. Draw every style at once, combining the different images that come to the forefront.
Or, if you like, you could place a bowl in front of yourself on a table but don’t fill it with fruit. You’re allowed to use the bowl as a reference for your drawing, but you have to imagine the fruit.
This way, you can start out with a more comfortable form of drawing and then transition to working from memory.
The Superhero Game
For one thing, this exercise will require a live model. Or you can simply sit in a coffee shop and draw someone you sear nearby.
The basic idea is to ask your model to pose as if they were a superhero. It should also be a pose that they can hold for around 5 minutes.
During this time, you should try to sketch your model, but add a superhero costume on top. This will challenge you to augment what you’re seeing in real life with ideas straight from your imagination.
It can also be a great way to pick up on personality traits of your model and integrate them into their clothing and environment in the drawing.
You should never be intimidated by the idea of picking up a pencil to draw, even if you don’t have any idea right away and even if you think it won’t look good.
We do our best work when we feel free to experiment, to try new things, many of which may not work.