How to Draw Someone From Memory (in 9 Steps)

So you want to learn to draw from memory, but unsure how to tackle this subject. It may interest you to know that as artists, we regularly refer back to our minds when drawing. We need visual relocation or memory to create a drawing. So, when we talk about drawing from memory, don’t we really mean we are drawing our past experiences.

‘’You cannot draw what you cannot see.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Did you know that drawing from memory is accomplished in many ways? In order to draw somebody or something, we need to take our eyes off it and, in doing so, become reliant on our recollections and memories. This process of drawing from memory can be developed and trained in many different ways.

Read on to find out how different artists view and tackle the issue of drawing from memory. Also, learn about how to draw from memory utilizing a variety of technical activities.

What are Memory and Imaginative Drawing?

How to Draw Someone From Memory
How to Draw Someone From Memory

Some people believe that drawing memory is basically drawing your experiences of the past. For example, ‘ if you found a strange-looking tree, one day decided to draw it the next day, it would be drawing your memory.’

Imaginative drawing is the opposite kind of drawing where we take our ideas and memories and then form them into some unique composition.

What is Eidetic Memory

Eidetic memory is essentially the ability to look at and observe a person or photograph for a very brief period and recall the details with a high level of precision. This is commonly referred to as a photographic memory.

When tested, people who are deemed to have eidetic characteristics are supplied with an image to view. They are asked to look at it for thirty seconds, and then the photograph is taken away. People with Eidetic Memory will be able to see the photograph. They can also describe the characteristics of the picture in detail as if the image was still in front of them.

Does Drawing from Memory Require Direct Observation. 

The act of drawing from observation entails that to reproduce a subject in the form of a drawing, you will need to look at it. An excellent example of drawing from memory recall is the drawings of Stephen Wiltshire, an artist who creates a highly detailed drawing of landmarks and buildings.

Wiltshire can look at a subject once and then depict it with astonishing detail in the form of a drawing based on his primary observations. A special gift, 

‘Wiltshire can look at a subject once and then draw an accurate and detailed picture of it.’

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Create a Drawing from Memory or Imagination

The process of drawing from imagination can involve the recreating of a particular subject or some surreal element that includes ordinary everyday objects in an unusual setting or depicted with unrelated colors, textures, or patterns to give the appearance of something unique.

Common topics drawn from imagination include mythical beasts such as lions with wings, pegasus, and medusa. Though, sometimes people prefer to compose purely ornamental abstract drawings to include different combinations of the elements of color, line, and shape.

However, before you can draw a subject from recall, you will want to challenge yourself several issues. One being do you have the necessary practical skills which will enable you to draw fluently and confidently. If not, you will need to tackle each of these skills in isolation to improve your necessary drawing skills.

For example, the artist Monika Zagrobelna specializes in drawing animals that are purely imaginative yet look realistic. Her skills as an imaginative artist rely on her ability to accurately convey the gesture, proportions, and perspective of the creatures she is drawing.

Nine Actions to Draw From Memory 

To draw from memory effectively, there are plenty of useful tasks that you can use to support and strengthen your ability when drawing. Some things will require practice and develop them to improve your essential drawing ability.

Practice Drawing Someone From Observation

To draw efficiently from memory, you will want to improve drawing and sketching skills from the primary study. Looking at and drawing what to truly see is a fundamental skill that needs to be regularly practiced and developed if you want to draw effectively.

The artist Proko believes in three aspects that are essential if any artist improves their imaginative drawing skills. The first is drawing from observation as this enables the artist to analyze and record the subject accurately to represent how they want to. 

Proko has some excellent drawing courses which will teach you the skill of drawing different subjects from observation. For example, learning to create gestural figure drawings from direct observation will allow you to make swift progress with your drawing. Click here to view the academic drawing courses offered by Proko.

Other skills include memory and recall, which can be developed by looking at a subject and drawing it immediately once you have stopped looking at it. The third skill is imagination and creativity.

Drawing Subjects from Different Viewpoints 

One element of being able to successfully draw from imagination is the ability to shape correctly in perspective. This will allow you to quickly represent any object in space to draw any shapes with appearing three dimensional.

This skill lends itself to the drawing of architectural spaces or interior viewpoints from memory. I would like you to learn the technical drawing skills of one and two-point perspectives to begin with.

More advanced principles, such as a three-point perspective and drawing shadows in perspective, are also useful if you desire to draw subjects that are photo-realistic in appearance. All of these basics drawing skills are taught on the Udemy Drawing Course Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Perspective Drawing. Click here to view detail about this online drawing course.

Draw From Long Term Memory

This task comprises notions about a subject that you can recall from past experiences. This could be something personal such as a person from your past or a place you visited. 

The textile artist Debbie Smyth creates large scale drawings inspired by memories of the past. 

‘’My artworks are often inspired by memories. I love searching out imagery and recording events, be it by drawing or photographing situations, to bring this memory back to life in a piece of art. I like to give a new lease of life to oft-ignored aspects of our lives.’’

Debbie Smyth

Smyth artwork is created from drawings and images taken from sketchbooks created in the past. The memories and ideas are then reworked and developed into new artwork based on past memories. 

How to Train your Visual Memory

The focus of this exercise is to train yourself to look at an object or model and then draw it from memory. Looking at and seeing something is a convoluted process between vision and memory.

This will enable you to learn to recognize visual situations in the same way we memorize words or songs when we listen to them. Video 

The conventional approach to drawing from direct observation involves observing and looking, turning away, and then drawing what we think we looked at.

  • First Task. To complete the first, you will need small scraps of paper and a pencil. On the first piece of paper, you should draw arbitrary irregular lines and shapes. At this stage, keep don’t over complicate the drawing and keep it simple. Once the drawing is completed, study it, taking as much time as you need. Next, move the drawing out of sight and attempt to reproduce it in the second drawing as accurately.
  • Repeat the task several times and try to envision the kind of shapes you want to draw.
  • The Second task is more difficult because you will need to attempt to reproduce emotion in your drawing. Ideally, this can be achieved by sourcing a simple line portrait that conveys an emotional quality in it. Study the drawing carefully while attempting to memorize as much detail as you possibly can.
  • Next, take a sketchbook, pencil, or a sheet of paper and lightly draw the outlines of the portrait in as much detail as possible. Use an eraser if you need to. The important point here to attempt to create a genuine likeness. This takes several attempts, and you may need to produce several drawings. But the end results will be worth the effort.
  • Third Task. This drawing task involves drawing the figure from memory. You will need some prior experience of life drawing if you are to attempt this successfully. Find a simple linear figure drawing which you feel you can comfortably draw. 
  • Next, draw out the figure that can establish the central line of weight distribution, gesture lines, and draw any negative spaces created by the legs and arms. Negative spaces are essential as they will allow you to simplify the form of the figure and the limbs.

Drawing a Portrait Under Timed Conditions

Creating drawings under timed conditions enables the artist to draw quickly and create very spontaneous images. For this task, you will utilize your short term memory to create quickly drawn portraits or full figure drawings.

Attempt to draw the subject at separate intervals. Say one minute, three minutes, five minutes, and half an hour.

Study and Recall

Drawing from recall is an excellent technique to help train your memory. Asking the person you are drawing to sit in a room can be a source of inspiration for your drawing from memory. 

The purpose here is to study the portrait from observation and then attempt to draw it from memory. To try this method, follow these necessary steps.

Drawing a Somebody Under Timed Conditions

  • Observe the people you want to draw for a short interval, say one minute. Move to a separate location and create a drawing under timed conditions, say one minute.
  • Next, repeat the process, but on this occasion, spend more looking directly at the subject. I suggest two or five minutes. Again draw the portrait in a separate space; however, this time spend more time focusing upon drawing what you can recall.
  • Finally, attempt to draw from memory, taking a more prolonged period to create the drawing, say half an hour. Bearing in mind that you should have spent more time in the initial stages of this process, focusing directly on the subject of your drawing.

Drawing From Photograph from Memory

The same process can be utilized to draw a portrait from memory if you do not have somebody willing to pose for you under timed conditions. Simply look at a photograph and attempt to draw it using the same process as explained in the previous paragraph.

Drawing From Memory Exercises

The artist Tim Chambers uses a similar method of looking and observing a photographic image from observation to draw from memory. By placing photographs in a paper wallet, he can quickly open and close the wallet to conceal the image inside. 

This focuses the artist to visually analyze the visual relationships of shape, color, pattern, and tone within the photograph. 

The aid the process of visually comparing the photograph and the drawing. The artist has drawn a grid in pencil over the top of the picture. This makes the process of simplifying and drawing the shapes of drawing much more straightforward.

Drawing Techniques When Drawing Somebody from Memory

Using a Drawing Grid: Using a secondary source image or photograph to create a portrait drawing from memory, a grid drawn over the top of the image is an excellent way to simplify the shapes you are drawing. 

Drawing Simple Shapes & Patterns: To train and exercise the power of visual recall practice drawing with simple basic shapes. These are easier to remember and can progressively be made more complicated as your ability to draw improves. Again this particular technique is excellent when drawing simple portraits in line.


I hope the following suggestions have provided you with an insight into the range of drawing techniques that can be employed to create and produce portraits from memory.



Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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How to Draw Someone From Memory (in 9 Steps)