How To Draw Without Looking At Something

Are you wondering how to draw without looking at a subject from life? For many drawing without looking at your subject allows an interpretation of the theme in a variety of ways. 

How to draw without looking at something? For artists who choose to draw without directly observing their subject, there are several drawing methods you can employ. Drawing from imagination and tracing are established methods and techniques. These methods, when used effectively, will result in successful drawings.

In this post, I will outline several methods you can use to draw without actually looking at and observing a subject. Beginning by considering the question. Is it wrong to draw without looking?

Is it bad to Draw Without Looking at a Reference?

How To Draw Without Looking At Something
How To Draw Without Looking At

What are the benefits of drawing with a reference? May artist drawing from secondary source references. The process will cut out the act of directly drawing from looking from observation.

What makes not looking at a reference when drawing the right choice for graphic artists? Well, some artists will take a purist approach to drawing, believing that you should learn to draw directly from observation.

Studying and drawing a subject from observation will definitely improve your visual awareness. It will also help you become more accustomed to what it is you are trying to draw.

I was aware that the teaching of drawing was being stopped almost 30 years ago. And I always said, ‘The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking.' A lot of people don't look very hard. David Hockney

There are, however, many artists who will choose to draw and paint exclusively from reference material, which omits the act of looking directly from primary observation. Giving them the freedom to interpret the subject in any way they see fit. 

This is in itself, a valid way of approaching the subject of drawing as many famous and successful artists work in this way.

Drawings From Imagination without Looking

Drawing from imagination can be spontaneous and fun, but you may be wondering what imaginative drawing is? Basically, this means creating a piece of drawing purely based on your own thoughts and artistic inclination.

How to draw from your imagination. Firstly decide what you want to draw. This may be something that you are familiar with and have a good visual understanding of.

What to draw. It's entirely up to you. You may want to follow the route of drawing abstractly without visual reference to anything material. 

The automatic expressive approach to drawing and painting is a valid technique that many famous artists have developed. Jackson Pollock is probably the most extreme example of a painter who works directly and intuitively.

What techniques should you use? You don't need to restrict yourself to working in graphite. You can experiment and use a wide range of materials to express yourself. 

You can use a variety of pens, pencils, and pastels to develop and create color drawings.

What is it called when you look at something and draw it?

What is observational drawing? In a basic sense drawing from direct observation implies that you are drawing from a primary source directly. 

This can be in front of you, be it a figure, portrait, still life or landscape.

What is the purpose of observational drawing? Drawing from observation has a lot of potentials. 

It teaches you to analyze and look at the underlying form of the subject as well as the various elements such as texture, color, value, and tone.

One of the most prominent challenges artists face is learning to draw from observation. This is why life drawing is taught extensively in art school as it gives the student a clear foundation on which to draw the various form, which makes up the human form. 

Learn to draw these from direct observation. How does a drawing from observation improve your drawing? Learning to draw using the correct proportions, for example, when drawing a portrait is essential, as the portrait will appear odd if drawn incorrectly out of proportion. 

Will tracing drawings help you improve your drawings?

How to trace a drawing? For many people drawing by looking directly at the subject is too much effort. This will mean that they will resort to methods such as tracing to create a drawing that appears to be in proportion.

This is a valid way of working, and I know of many art teachers who use this method to help encourage less able students to see some success. In fact, as David Hockney has suggested, many of the old masters would use the camera lucida to aid them when drawing from observation. Read my post, How to draw a face using a camera lucida.

The lens can't draw a line, only the hand can do that, the artist's hand and eye … This whole insight about optical aids doesn't diminish anything; it merely suggests a different story.' David Hockney. 

How will tracing help improve your drawing? Tracing an image is an effective way to draw an image accurately and in proportion. These drawings can then be taken away and developed further using shading, tone, or color. Allowing you to avoid the process of observing your subject from direct observation.

Different tracing methods you can draw without looking at something. There are several ways you can trace a drawing. 

  • Firstly, you can trace using a piece of tracing paper, this can be placed directly onto the image you want to trace and then transferred onto a separate piece of paper.
  • Lightboxes are also an effective way to trace an image from a secondary source image. Lightbox or light pads are available in a variety of different sizes.
  • An alternative method you can try is the Camera Lucida, a drawing device preferred by the old masters. 

Should you give up drawing if you can't draw without tracing? The more you practice and develop your tracing technique, the better you will become.

How to improve your tracing technique. If you are experiencing difficulties with the process of tracing onto paper, there are many steps you can take to improve the end result.

Is Tracing Difficult? Some people will find the process of tracing difficult, especially young kids and people with control issues. Here are a few tips to help you improve your tracing technique.

  • Use small pieces of masking tape to secure the paper and image you intend to copy.
  • Draw location points onto the tracing paper. These can then be aligned with selected parts of the image.
  • Remember to work faintly and lightly with the pencil. If you make mistakes, they can easily be erased.

Will tracing help you learn to draw? Tracing as a drawing technique will help you create a clear representation of what you are trying to represent.

It will not, however, improve your observational drawing skills and enable you to create original artwork. Without the first act of looking, you will be unable to draw and analyze a subject in the round. This is also true if you intend to copy from secondary sources as they do not convey the form of the object in a three-dimensional sense.

How to Draw without Looking?

Many artists who have suffered from visual impairment have continued to work and gain inspiration from the world around them.

Claude Monet is an excellent example of an artist who in later life continued to paint and take inspiration from the world around himself.

His impressionist landscape is excellent of how to create an impression of the landscape without having full access to being able to look at it. 

In particular, Monet's sketching of the surface of the water are remarkable pieces of drawing.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and that you have found it informative.


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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