How to Draw from Imagination

Updated: 19 Oct 2021

Examples for drawing objects from imagination

In this guide, I will focus on the minimum necessary basics you need to know for drawing from imagination.

Drawing from imagination means the knowledge to draw the basic shapes from different angles (in perspective), and the way to present them (rendering).

After getting the structure right, render is the final result with consideration to materials, lighting, texture (including color), shadows and reflections.

Note:

This guide focuses mainly on drawing objects, both for concept art and product design.

The Basics:

The Craft:

Boxes

If you do not have some basic understanding in linear perspective, visit my beginners guide to linear perspective.

Here, I will highlight the important and most practical things you need to know.

Start by drawing some boxes in 1-, 2- and 3-point perspective.

Draw them above, on and below the horizon line:

Boxes drawing in 1, 2 and 3 point perspective

Next, draw some boxes from imagination, but with attention to perspective.

They do not have to be perfect, just to get used to drawing in freehand style, meaning with no ruler or vanishing points (imagine where the vanishing points should be).

Drawing boxes in different angles with no ruler

If you struggle with drawing boxes, remember that every set of lines (which are parallel in real life), will converge in perspective.

Example for drawing a box from imagination

The following is an example of drawing simple boxes from imagination, and turning them into treasure chests.

Treasure boxes contour drawing

Later we will learn how to render our drawings.

Pencil drawing of treasure chests

A very helpful thing to know is finding the center of a plane (rectangle) in perspective.

To do that, draw two diagonals from the corners of ANY rectangle:

Drawing diagonals to find rectangles center

Use this knowledge to draw a nightstand.

Start by drawing a box and find the center for one plane.

Drawing two boxes and finding the center

Use the center point to add a line (in perspective) to create two drawers.

Use the same center point to find the position for the handles.

Using the center point to draw drawers

Now you can design your own nightstands (or other box-shaped objects).

Pencil drawing in one point perspective - nightstand

To see the supply and equipment I use for drawing, visit my guide for drawing materials.

Important:

When drawing with imagination, I rarely use vanishing points.

Learning linear perspective is important to understand how to draw objects in perspective from different angles.

With some practice, it is possible to estimate where the vanishing points are.

With more practice and experience, it becomes natural to draw anything from any angle.

Remember:

There are two main rules for linear perspective.

1. The farther an object is, the smaller it will look.

2. Objects are subject to foreshortening.

Foreshortening

Foreshortening, sometimes called "artist's nightmare", is not that scary.

It is the way we see things that are along our line of sight. Meaning, continuous.

When the top part of a box is in front of us, we see it as a rectangle with right angles (90 degrees).

When we rotate the box, its top part is starting to be along our line of sight and becomes shorter:

Rotating the top part of a box

The more a plane is along our line of sight, the more it is foreshortened.

If we rotate a box sideways, one plane will start to get shorter, while the other will be less foreshortened.

Rotating a box to the side to see the effect of foreshortening

At start, when drawing from observation, it is best to draw what we see and NOT what we know.

With time (meaning, with practice and knowledge), we can reverse engineer the process and draw what we know (draw from imagination).

We know that a table might have a rectangle top, but we also know the two rules of perspective:

1. Things get smaller the farther away they are.

2. Objects are subject to foreshortening.

We can apply these rules to our table in perspective:

Pencil drawing of a table in perspective

Now we can draw boxes and planes in perspective, considering foreshortening.

The same works for ellipses.

Ellipses

An ellipse (in perspective) is a foreshortened circle.

Circle in perspective is an ellipse

It has a major axis (long axis) and a minor axis (short axis).

The major axis and minor axis are perpendicular to one another.

Both sides of an ellipse along the major axis should be equal.

The same goes for both sides along the minor axis.

Major and minor axis for an ellipse

The minor axis shows the amount of foreshortening.

The minor axis shows the amount of foreshortening

In addition, the minor axis determines the direction of foreshortening.

In other words, the direction of a cylinder.

The minor axis determines cylinder direction

It is a good practice to draw ellipses freehand.

If you struggle with drawing a perfect ellipse, draw a major axis and a minor axis inside your ellipse and correct it.

Alternatively, draw the axes first. Then, add some rounded indication to the axes. Lastly, connect the lines.

Steps for drawing an ellipse

For a rounded elliptical edge, draw a smaller ellipse (in diameter), and place it a bit higher in the direction of the minor axis.

Connect the two ellipses and erase the overlapping part (which should be hidden).

How to draw elliptical rounded corners

For an elevated ellipse, draw an inner (smaller) ellipse.

Then, raise two lines and draw an ellipse (create a cylinder).

Finally, erase overlapping marks.

How to draw an elevated ellipse

For a lowered (sunken) ellipse, draw an inner ellipse.

Then, draw a lower ellipse and erase overlapping parts.

Lowered or sunken ellipse drawing

When we want to draw elevated or sunken ellipses, there is one more thing to consider.

From the first rule of perspective (objects or planes look smaller when they are far away), we need to draw the far part of an ellipse smaller.

In perspective, a far plane will look smaller

To draw a candle (or anything with a cylindrical body), we need to understand cylinders.

I will cover that next.

Steps for drawing a candle with pencils

Use the knowledge you have on ellipses to draw some hats from imagination (or memory):

Steps for drawing a boater hat from imagination

Cylinders

The top and bottom parts of a cylinder are circles (or ellipses when foreshortened).

From the first rule of perspective, we know that objects will look smaller as they are farther away.

Yet, they keep the ratio between height and width (there is no distortion):

Circle size change with distance

The same is true for a cylinder body.

It will look smaller with distance:

Cylinder size change with distance

From the second rule of perspective, we know that objects are subject to foreshortening.

The top part of a cylinder is a circle when in front of us.

When the angle of our sight is changing, the object starts to be along our line of sight (and becomes an ellipse).

The more it is rotated to be along our line of sight, the more it will be foreshortened.

Meaning, the distortion between height and width will be stronger:

Foreshortening of a circle to an ellipse

This is super important because a cylinder has a long body.

A long body means that we see each part of a cylinder from a different angle of sight, and therefore with a different degree of foreshortening.

In the next example, a cylinder is moving to the left.

Our angle of sight will change to look at it when it is moving, and its top part will have less foreshortening.

The change of our angle of sight of a cylinder

Now that we understand that, we can draw a flashlight (for example) from imagination.

We know that the left side of the flashlight will have less foreshortening.

Consequently, the left ellipse will be less foreshortened than the right ellipse:

Using cylinders to draw a flashlight

And vice versa when drawing a flashlight with direction to our right side:

A pencil sketch of a flashlight

The same phenomenon happens when we lower our cylinder (below the horizon line, which is our eye level when looking forward).

The lower it is, the less it is foreshortened:

View of a cylinder as it is lowered

So, ellipses will have less foreshortening as they are lowered below the horizon line.

And vice versa, less foreshortening as they are higher above the horizon line.

We can use this knowledge to draw a plant pot (for example):

Using ellipses for sketching a plant pot

With the combined knowledge of drawing ellipses and cylinders, we can draw anything cylindrical.

We can do it from observation, imagination or memory.

Drawing contour lines for gun and riffle bullets

When drawing, rotate your drawing paper in a way that is most comfortable for you.

Rotating drawing paper while drawing

The last step is rendering, and I will explain it next.

Gun and rifle bullets pencil drawing

Rendering

Rendering is the final outcome.

The first step of drawing is planning. Meaning, choosing a topic and working on composition.

The purpose of composition it to create something interesting.

For more info on composition, read my guide on how to draw a still life composition.

Image for composition guide

Second step is designing (sketching and then drawing), and adding details.

Last step is rendering. It is the time to use shading, texture, depth, cast shadow and anything else for your drawing to be with a quality of a finished artwork.

Start by observing some basic materials like wood, metal, chrome, plastic, bricks, leather, etc.

Draw these textures and understand their patterns and relationships with light.

Pencil drawing of several textures

Next, draw them on some basic shapes like cylinder, box and sphere.

This practice will give you the confidence to draw basic textures for your concept art and product design.

Important:

When drawing, decide where the light is coming from and create a transition (gradient) from dark to light.

Remember that dark values will be darker in dark areas (and lighter in light areas), and light values will be lighter in light areas (and darker in dark areas).

In the next example, look how the wood pattern becomes darker in the shadow areas.

Drawing different texture types on cylinders

Different artists use different mediums to present (render) their artworks.

Any medium (oil paint, watercolor, gouache, colored pencils, acrylics, etc.) is acceptable. It is a matter of personal preference.

You can do the same practice with any medium. Here is an example with markers.

Drawing wood texture with markers

For recommended markers, visit my guide on markers for drawing.

A quick render with markers:

Flashlights product design, render with markers

Rendering with pen and ink is a quick way to present your design.

Here is my list for recommended drawing pens.

Remote control drawing with pen

My favorite render style is realism. With pencils (in this case) or with any medium.

Remember, there are no lines in nature, and therefore, no lines when we draw realism.

Pencil drawing of a backpack

If you are unfamiliar with realism, visit my guide on how to draw in a realistic style.

Realistic pencil drawing examples

Spheres

Spheres are quite easy to draw. On paper (2D), their outline is a circle.

To change a circle to a sphere, we draw some lines, which will give us both (the illusion of) depth and direction.

Adding lines to circle to change them to spheres

When looking at a sphere, the middle of it is in front of us.

The parts of a sphere that are closer to the edge are starting to be along our line of sight and therefore, foreshortened!

What works for a sphere (circle), also works for other "spherical" shapes, like an egg shape, ellipses or a peanut shape.

By adding a couple of lines, it is easy to give it depth and direction (with consideration to perspective).

Quick sketches of some backpacks

Sketches are meant to be quick.

The more you practice with quick sketches, the more natural the drawing process becomes, making it easier to focus on a design.

Once you are happy with a design, you can render it.

How to draw cars?

For drawing complex objects, we need to research, study and practice a lot.

That said, we can draw quick sketches for anything quite fast, when knowing how to draw the basic shapes in perspective.

Here is a common way of using spheres (or sphere-like shapes) for quick car sketches.

Start by drawing two ellipses for the body and for the passenger cabin:

Drawing ellipses as a base for car

Next line is super important.

This will define the direction of the car and divide the hood in half.

Remember that when drawing in perspective, the far part will look smaller.

Adding a line to define the hood direction

Another important line is for the grille.

This will guide our next lines for the wheels.

Drawing a line for the grille of a car

Parallel lines in reality will converge when drawing in perspective.

Pay attention to the grille line when drawing the wheel lines.

These lines are the minor axis for our wheels.

Lines that will be guide for wheels

While we know the minor axis for the wheels, we still need to figure out their degree.

The degree of an ellipse means how much it is foreshortened.

These are fast sketches, so we estimate the degree depending on the amount of foreshortening of the side of the car.

The rear wheel will be more foreshortened.

Sketching wheels for cars

Add front lights and some details.

Adding more guidelines to car sketches

Lastly, some refinement.

Quick sketches of cars

This technique is for sketching cars in 2 or 3 minutes. It is great for drawing from imagination, and for trying new ideas.

Concept Art

Concept art is the process of creating new and unique ideas.

Together with a good story or theme, concept art is the basis for the video game industry.

Some genres in the film industry (like fantasy and science fiction), rely heavily on concept art, and so do comics and animation.

Arguably, the easiest shape to start with is a round plane (circle).

Draw some round items in perspective (ellipses with different degree of foreshortening and direction, which is determined by the minor axis).

It can be a plate, Frisbee, button or a shield for a fantasy computer game.

Concept art pencil drawing - round shield

For a more complex concept weapon (a flying disc with shark teeth), I started by drawing two ellipses (an elevated ellipse).

Then, I added an ellipse in between them, for the position of the shark teeth (3).

A final bigger ellipse (4) for the position of the teeth tip.

Lastly, drawing and rendering.

Steps for drawing a flying disc weapon

Next shape to practice on, is a rectangle in perspective.

Concept art pencil drawing - shield

Once you are comfortable drawing circles and rectangles in perspective, try some cylinders.

Remember:

Use the minor axis to determine the direction of a cylinder and pay attention to foreshortening.

Render your artworks with texture.

Concept art maul pencil drawing

A circle fits perfectly inside a square.

Consequently, the center of a square is also the center of a circle.

Drawing a circle inside a square

It is also true in perspective.

To find the center of ellipses, in different amount of foreshortening, draw a cylinder inside a box.

The way to find the center of a cylinder

Now you can draw cakes from imagination.

Cake drawing with markers, from imagination

Lastly, introduce boxes.

When you are comfortable drawing box-shaped objects, feel free to combine them with cylinders.

Pencil drawing concept art of a war hammer

Important:

Although it is tempting to draw complex objects, start by drawing the basic shapes (circle, square, sphere, cylinder and box), from different angles.

Complex designs:

Drawing complex objects often begins as basic shapes that we refine while drawing several sketches.

In the following example, I designed something that might be in the James Bond movie category, which is something between concept art and product design.

I usually start with an idea, then some sketches and lastly, refinement and rendering.

Concept art pencil drawing - weaponized drill

Something to consider:

Drawing concept art is, in a way, inventing something that does not exist.

So, when I decided to draw a weaponized drill, I had to research both drills and guns, learning which parts they are built from and how they work.

It is a good practice to research the subject we draw, for ideas and direction.

In addition, it is also advisable to be very loose when sketching several designs and angles before committing to the final design and render.

Product Design

Anything that is man-made has to be designed. Our tables, computers, cars, shoes, lamps, houses, etc.

Therefore, a more careful approach is needed when designing a product.

We have to think about comfortability, usage, safety, materials, price, human factors, ergonomics, and other factors, depending on the project.

Cylinder shape products:

For designing products with a cylinder shape, we can start with a line.

This line is very important, it is the direction of our cylinder, but also the minor axis for our ellipses.

Draw a short line for a foreshortened body, or a longer line for less foreshortened body.

Now that we have the direction, we can add two lines for the body's width (remember that in perspective the lines will converge).

Line that will indicate the direction of a cylinder

Next, we add as many ellipses as needed for our design.

The farther away an ellipse is, the less it is foreshortened.

Adding ellipses for the cylinder design

Lastly, we finish our drawing and render it.

Flashlight design drawing, rendered with markers

When an ellipse is in a different direction, the minor axis will guide us.

Lispstick drawing from imagination

Advanced designs:

Now that we know how to draw boxes and cylinders in perspective, it is time to combine them.

For this example, I designed a classic joystick.

Start by drawing a box and find its center.

Finding the center of a box

Draw an ellipse in the middle and raise a cylinder (for the handle).

Draw another ellipse for an elevated button.

Adding a cylinder in the center of a box

I decided to add another button, on top of the handle.

In my first design, the vanishing point is in the middle of the cylinder (red lines).

In that case, we cannot see the top button because it is above the horizon line.

The solution is to raise the vanishing point (green lines), and correct the design accordingly.

Correcting a design by changing a vanishing poing

Last step is rendering.

Pencil drawing of a classic joystick

One way to approach product design, is to first draw some orthographic views.

Depending on the complexity of the object, sometimes just one or two views are enough. In extreme cases, we might need views from all sided (top, bottom, front, back, left and right), in order to draw an object from different angles.

In many cases, designing is easier with orthographic views.

For a remote control, I used side, top and front views:

Orthographic views for remote control design

Now it is easier to draw it in perspective, which is more interesting.

Pencil drawing of a remote control

Once you feel comfortable drawing box-shape objects and cylindrical objects (and combining them), you can design complex objects.

Realistic hair dryer pencil drawing

Sometimes, we want to add context to our designs.

In the next example, I drew some SpongeBob bags and backpacks.

Although the bags are structured in a "square" way and have the SpongeBob color pattern, there is something missing.

That missing thing is context. In this case, SpongeBob figures.

Product designs for SpongeBob bags and backpacks

Whenever I want to draw something for the first time, it can be challenging.

Regardless of my knowledge in perspective, I will use these two steps:

1. Search for reference images to understand the structure and functions of the object I want to draw.

2. Draw some quick sketches to explore different design ideas.

Quick sketches of some helmets

When I decide on a final design, I will render it:

Bike helmet pencil drawing as product design

Summary

Knowledge and experience in the craft of drawing is the basis for drawing from imagination.

Once you have the knowledge, you can use your imagination, influences and preferences to create your own unique artworks.

If you struggle with drawing from imagination, I suggest practicing first on drawing from observation (photos), direct observation (from life) and in perspective (learning linear and atmospheric perspective).

With practice, the process becomes natural, and consequently, you will think less on how to draw and more on what to draw.

Note:

As mentioned above, when I draw from imagination, I like to do it freehand, with no rulers or vanishing points.

This results with some sacrifice in accuracy, but I prefer my drawing process to be flowing and enjoyable.

Where to go next:

To learn more about depth, check out my guide for drawing the illusion of depth. It teaches 15 methods to add depth and space to your art (including MANY examples).

Tree pen drawings with a sense of depth

Here are my recommended YouTube channels for learning to draw.