How To Draw From Memory

Being able to draw from memory is a skill that can benefit many an artist, whether it’s for inspiration for an original piece or a recreation of a particular scene or object.

Many may assume that such a skill cannot be learned, or if it can there is some kind of in-depth science involved. Others may assume that such a skill is part of a person’s DNA. While others may pick up the skill of drawing from memory quicker than another, that doesn’t mean it cannot be learned by any aspiring artist.


Always Practice

Like anything in life, we only become good at something if we commit time to our craft and this is exceptionally true in the world of art.

Many may have a busy life, and as such can only commit to working on their pieces at set times through the week. While this is understandable, it doesn’t mean that fine-tuning the skill of drawing from memory isn’t possible.

A simple sketch can help you keep on top of your game, which in time will help you attain the skills required for drawing from memory. Constantly doing a quick sketch of objects and places allows the artist to understand the depth, and apply it accordingly when drawing from memory.

As well as completing some basic sketches, there are some exercises that can help an artist master drawing from memory.

One such exercise is to use a picture as a reference point, the picture can be of anything you want, but if you’re new to drawing from memory, it could be useful to keep it simple. Simply trace the image and look at what shapes make up the drawing.

Once you have completed tracing the image a few times, you should find yourself becoming more familiar with the shapes that make up the drawing, as well as the perspective.

Understand Light Sources

When trying to capture an object or scenario in its original light, recreating it as you remembered can mean making a note of its light source.

When trying to create a piece from memory, a true recreation can be created more easily when considering where the light source originates from.

For example, if the light source originates from the sunlight then shadows are likely to face in the same direction.

However, light emitting from different light sources such as street lights and windows is more likely to create shadows pointing in a variety of different directions.

Draw From a Reference

An unfinished drawing of a house

Undoubtedly, those starting to draw from memory for the first time will struggle in the initial stages. In this regard, it can help to use a photo or picture as a reference point.

Consider the things you would like to draw from memory, for example, it could be a landmark building or your favourite animal. Take a picture of what you would like to draw from memory and then use this image as your initial reference point. Moving forward, artists will find that they are able to draw objects with ease without relying on the image.

Ask Yourself Questions

Drawing from memory can mean considering the finer details. Many of us may look at an image passively, meaning that we recognise what we’re looking at, but don’t necessarily make a mental note of the small details.

Asking yourself a series of questions about the object, animal or person you would like to draw means that you are more likely to acknowledge the finer details moving forward. The more detail an artist can absorb by merely looking at something that they would look to replicate in a drawing means that the task is much easier to complete. Questions can be as follows:

  • How many legs does the animal have?
  • Is the animal big or small?
  • If drawing a building, what makes the building unique?
  • If drawing a person, what characteristics can you draw on?

Of course, what questions an artist asks themselves can differ depending on what they’re trying to draw, but knowing what questions to ask can help create a better representation of the initial inspiration.

Consider Strategies That Work Best For You

Some may use a number of strategies to create the perfect piece, whereas others may just use one. Just because other artists may have a different way of working, it doesn’t mean that the strategy will work as well for you.

Consider what works best for you as an individual, and stick with it. Constantly changing the way you work and learn means that the overall learning experience is longer.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

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