Five How-to-Draw Sites That Won’t Empty Your Pockets

by Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Drawing has always been regarded as an admirable and coveted skill in our society,even in modern times. The tools have changed over the years and as a result so has how we look at learning it. Today on Creative 5, we’ll be looking at some websites that will help you discover your muse and learn to draw on a budget any art school attendee would envy.

By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Why Learn to Draw?

Before we talk about the sites, we should cover the basics. Why learn to draw in the first place? There are a lot of reasons to draw and short of worrying about being good or even being able to make money of it, creativity is a door every person should strive to open at some point in their life. It has significant mental health benefits no matter what age you are to pursue a creative outlet. It can also give you a chance to connect more to the world around you. You might appreciate nature more by drawing a tree or find some beauty in the everyday lives of people around you through some life drawing. The better question is why you haven’t tried drawing already. Don’t worry about being good and don’t do it because you want to make bank (because you won’t).  Art is as native to the human condition as breathing and it’s more affordable than ever for anyone to take it up and show the world who they are.

Is Drawing a Skill or a Talent?

When you discuss art it’s impossible to avoid the age old debate of skill vs. talent. You’ve probably run into someone who just seems to naturally excel at art but also just as many Cinderella stories of people who blossomed thanks to going to art school. The answer is that drawing is both. Drawing can be a talent but it is also a skill anyone can learn with the right level of dedication and resources. It’s also important to note that like many creative disciplines, talent is not enough. Even natural talent needs to be nurtured and improved by learning new things. Very few famous artists rode on talent alone. They worked hard to master their crafts. If you expect to have an easier path based on talent you will most likely fail and eventually become stagnant in your craft. You still need to work on your toes and develop as an artist no matter how much natural talent you deem yourself to have. But if you don’t have natural talent, don’t let that stop you from pursuing drawing. If you have the desire  then go for it. The idea of art being good or bad is really going to be subjective at the end of the day but if you have passion for something that will shine through more than technical prowess ever can.

Self-taught vs. School Educated

This is perhaps an ever longer standing debate than whether drawing is a skill or talent and I think there are good arguments to be noted on both sides. Art school teaches you a lot of valuable lessons and builds a solid foundation but for good reason is often noted to make an artist less creative and more cautious. In exchange for a strong foundation you have the stress of getting your money’s worth out of a pricey degree. In addition to that, art school creates a box of conformity and rules around art that hampers the passion you enrolled with. Now in the society of today, much unlike years ago when art school was the best perceived path to success in creative fields, technology and education is much more readily available. You can learn to draw or paint at home and you can do it on a budget if you choose to go digital, sometimes spending half the money of a traditional art experience. There’s definitely something to be said for the discipline art school brings to the table but to some that’s a bad thing. In an economy where creative fields are limited and highly competitive, is it really worth the money of art school? The answer is more and more coming out as no.

The resources available to a self-taught artist are often just as effective and more affordable but without the loss of exploration and passion that art school has a tendency to create. Moreover, you can achieve the same job without that degree in hand if your portfolio is impressive enough. A self-taught artist has an equal chance to get a good job in a creative field and probably with less debt under their belt. You exchange debt for some extra footwork but that’s not exactly the worst trade off at the end of the day. I think there’s no right or wrong answer to this argument though. There’s nothing wrong with going to art school if you feel that fits more with how you learn but remember that there’s no shame in being self-taught either. You don’t need to drop thousands to learn or achieve success in art and that’s knowledge that might keep dollars in your pocket further down the line.

Other Ways to Learn

Even though we’re talking about sites today, there are a ton of  methods to learn to draw. So if online learning isn’t for you remember there are ways to shake up that curriculum to make it suit you more. If you’re more of a video person you can look for a lot of great lessons on Youtube or a video sharing site. You can also go old school with any of the hundreds of How-to-Draw books that are out there. Also, it should be noted that while I’ve listed a lot of larger sites in today article, there are a ton of independent artists that create tutorials. You can check out sites like Deviant Art and similar pages for a ton of great tutorials that might be more up your alley or add to your learning experience.

Best Practices While you Learn to Draw

Learning to draw is not as easy as some sources try to advertise to you. It requires practice, dedication and patience. So here are a few tips to adopt if you want learning to draw to go well.

  • Do a little bit everyday to practice and sharpen your skills.
  • Be experimental and open-minded about trying different mediums, styles and techniques.
  • Don’t underestimate the value in studying the old masters.
  • Imitate to learn but adapt to master.
  • Try out digital and traditional methods to find what works best for you.
  • Don’t obsess over being “good” and don’t assume you’re “bad” just because you’re just starting out.
  • Don’t avoid trying it because you don’t have “natural talent”.
  • Always be a learner and open to new things.
  • Find options that cater to your specific style of learning.
  • If you’re buying supplies, buy cheap while learning and gradually ramp to nicer stuff when you feel more confident and have more direction.
  • Learn to be open to critique. It will give you a more critical eye and should be utilized and not looked down on.
  • Make efforts to connect with other artists and creatives on your learning journey. They can be a wealth of information and inspiration.

As always I want to start by saying that these are my personal picks. If these don’t suit you, I would encourage you to check around. There are a ton of sites and resources out there to learn to draw and this article is meant to get you started on that path.

Some of the main things I will be looking for in this list are:

  • A good show of variety in the lessons
  • Lessons that cover foundations and basics
  • Quality learning resources
  • Versatility in terms of target audience
  • Organized and user-friendly site functions
  • Mentioned in one or many other top lists
#1 Dragoart

Dragoart is perhaps one of the longest existing sites on this list. That might be somewhat obvious from it’s still very 90’s looking website. But Dragoart embodies what every How-to-Draw site should. It may not have the most sophisticated lessons but it truly embraces a feel of community and variety that should be synonymous with art. It has lessons for every age, genre and skill level but most importantly it encourages artists to try being teachers. That feel of creative community and diversity is what pushed Dragoart into the main list. It may not have the polish of some of the other sites on the list but it’s long life and active community more than make up for that. It’s an oldie but a goodie and if you’re patient enough to sift through everything you might find a few gems to help you spruce up your drawing game. Best of all it is the always ideal price of free.

#2 Drawspace

Drawspace is a true value for learning everything from basics to more advanced techniques. There are over 500 unique and well-organized lessons and it can even be a resources for art educators to utilize. You can either dip your toes in for $9.50/month or go all in at a very reasonable $149/year to get the full experience.

#3 The Virtual Instructor

The Virtual Instructor is another site that has a great formula for learning. The main approach combines video courses and e-books but there’s also live lessons,critique and lesson plans for art instructors. The courses are well organized and high quality while the price is very reasonable at $19/month or $97/year. If you’re looking to learn the basics and just a little more then The Virtual Instructor is definitely for you.

#4 Udemy

It should be noted that Udemy made the main list but it’s not the only animal of it’s kind in the wild. I also looked at Skillshare and Lynda which are both wonderful sites worth checking out. Udemy just appealed to me personally as the best out of the herd. I just liked it’s presentation and course selection a little more than the other sites but it should be noted they probably do share some courses here and there and it’s worth seeing which one of these types of sites might work best for you. While prices of the course do seem to vary, Udemy had a promotion going to make them more affordable both times I visited while researching the article and I do love a good coupon. It also gives you the opportunity to be a teacher as well which is pretty awesome.

#5 Manga University

We cannot avoid a manga site making this list but Manga University is truly the best. It’s a site that offers some really great resources and courses. It also has ties to the very worth buying How-to Draw Manga book series which I have many books from. So this course was designed quite literally by one of the giants in teaching manga art. For around $200 you can get 11 lessons,supplies,critique and even a t-shirt. The diploma probably isn’t worth smack but this is by far the best manga related course I came across in my research and I have to give it the benefit of the doubt based on how great the books are.

BONUS #6 Arty Factory

I was actually really torn on what should make the coveted bonus site slot this time around and I doubted based on name alone Arty Factory was the one. What pushed it into the main list is that it’s small but mighty in what it teaches. In addition to drawing lessons there’s also lessons on art appreciation and that was something that was  missing from most of the sites I looked at. Arty Factory earned a spot as the bonus because it teaches not just how but also why and who. I like the simplistic approach and I would definitely recommend taking a look at it.

Today’s other sites of interest, like the ones I’ve listed in the past, all have their own sort of merit and are worth checking out. Some of them are smaller, more niche,too pricey  or just a little too green to have been a contender for the main list but I would still encourage you to give them a look.

#1 Quickposes

Quickposes doesn’t have an arsenal of lessons that teach you how to draw but it does have a great platform for fine-tuning and practicing figure drawing or gesture drawing.Practice is definitely necessary so once you’re ready for a challenge,tune-up or quick sketch session I would definitely recommend checking this site out.

#2 ThoughtCo

ThoughtCo is a sort of interesting site because it seems like a great starting point for a number of creative tastes. It appears to be part of the new face of About.com which is now .dash  and I also found Bluprint which takes the same approach. I kind of like the style of these sites because they allow you to get the basics and just dip your toes into a creative topic. This could be a very good way to try out some hobbies before investing serious money into them.

#3 Art Graphica

I absolutely loved the design of this page and the simplistic but effective way it presents the material. It’s not a huge amount of content but it’s just enough to get your toes wet and I love that there are a few free art books to download as well.

#4 Jerry’s Artarama

I have actually mentioned this page before when I did the issue on art manikins. Jerry’s Artarama is sort of unique in that it’s an art store on the surface but has a few little Easter eggs to discover. I like the idea of the free video tutorials alongside what you need to do the projects. It’s a nice touch to teach people to actually use what they’re buying and a lot of the tutorials look pretty interesting.

#5 Manga Tutorials

Out of all the manga related ones I found this site had a pretty good looking and well-organized library of lessons. It also notably is paired with an oekaki so you can actually put your lessons into action and I really liked that.

#6 Ctrl + Paint

Ctrl + Paint is a free site where you learn key design concepts through guided video snippets. If you are a video learner or just have an afternoon, you might want to check these out instead of more cat videos. They also have a store if you want to delve into some more advanced topics and longer videos.

#7 Drawing Academy

This site is very much in the same category of Virtual Instructor and Drawspace but it is definitely a higher budget experience at $257 for the complete course. It is definitely worth a look though if it appeals to you to invest that much into the process.The lessons seem organized and presented well and it offers a lot of promising resources.

Drawing has always been one of the most coveted skills to have in our society and in this day and age it is truly accessible to any person on any budget to get into it. I hope today’s list will inspire you to put a penny and a thought toward diving into the world of art.


Thanks for reading this issue of Creative 5!

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