How To Draw Realism: Methods And Pro Tips To Try

A realist drawing of oranges

Are you interested in learning how to draw realistically? Learning the basics is essential if drawing portraits and landscapes is one of your dreams. In this article, we will discuss some of the techniques to draw realism. You'll also find pro tips for improving your skills. Read on for more helpful advice.

Different Methods of Drawing Realism

1. Grid Drawing Method

The grid method of drawing realism

The grid method of drawing realism - Image by DrawNin

Alt-text: The grid method of drawing realism

The grid drawing method is excellent for realist drawing, especially for beginners. This method involves breaking down the subject matter into small squares. You can then draw each square one simultaneously until the entire image is complete.


Enlarges or reduces an image more accurately

The grid approach enables you to draw an accurate line drawing by enlarging or reducing your subject to a string of tiny squares. Unlike freehand drawing without the grid, you can achieve impeccable precision, proportion, and accuracy in your drawings.

Easier composition

The rule of thirds divides any composition into horizontal and vertical thirds, regardless of size or form. The focal point falls on or near one of the intersections of the lines, allowing better proportion and composition of the drawing.

Serves as reference points for drawings

The lines of the grid also serve as reference points for your drawings. Using these reference points helps you map out the parts of the drawing to create a realistic one. It is also easier to identify points to place your next lines.

Simplifies complex drawings

Drawing with a grid allows you to break up your drawing into sections to simplify the drawing process. Drawing in sections is especially helpful when drawing something complex, like a landscape or cityscape. By breaking up the drawing into smaller sections, you can better focus on each area and create a more detailed and realistic drawing.


More like copying, not drawing

Purists don't recommend grid drawing because they claim that it's cheating. When using a grid to draw, you don't draw but recreate a copy of the image. The result is accurate and precise. However, it is not achieved from expertise but pure technique.

Not helpful for overly complex drawings

When drawings are too complex, grids fail to serve their purpose because the details are too fine to capture

2. The Loomis Method

The Loomis method of drawing realism

The Loomis method of drawing realism - Image by Fine Art Tips

Alt-text: The Loomis method of drawing realism

The Loomis method is used to create a human head from any angle. The method starts with dividing a ball into four equal parts and adding the facial features.


Easier to make than the Reilly method

Instead of going through the motions necessary to construct a face with the Reilly method, the Loomis method only needs a circle and dividing this circle into quarters and thirds.

Easier to customize

The Loomis method is perfect for customizing facial orientation. By changing the placement of the lower part of the face and cutting off the planes for the side of the head, you can customize the face quickly. Combine basic shapes of circles, squares, cubes, and spheres, to customize the face better.

Easier to capture emotions

You can combine 2D and 3D planes on the drawing to shape the face and customize it to draw the emotions. Darken the areas with darker values to get the 3D illusion you want for a more realistic feel.

Helps you understand perspective drawing

Drawing without a reference image allows you to practice drawing from perspective. It will help you understand how to place your subject's facial features in the right places. Drawing in perspective is an excellent skill to develop to draw realism.


Works only for heads and faces

The Loomis method works only with faces and heads like the triangulation method. While this method is good enough, artists should not rely on this method entirely to draw.

Easy to misshape the head

Beginners sometimes take too much off the side of the head, resulting in a misshapen head. If artists rely too much on technique rather than skills, they only copy rather than draw.

3. The Reilly Method

The Reilly method of drawing realism

The Reilly method of drawing realism - Image by Kevin McCain Studios

Alt-text: The Reilly method of drawing realism

The Reilly method uses line and shape design to control the values in your picture. It is popular among professional illustrators and artists, especially when drawing realism.


Helps you master freehand drawing

Freehand drawing is a great way to improve your drawing skills. By mastering this technique, you can create beautiful works of art. The key to success is practice. So make sure to set aside some time each day to hone your skills. 

Easier proportioning

Dividing the face into distinct sections - where to put the eyes, brows, ears, and hairline - helps an artist who wants to draw realism achieve his goal easily. It is a more advanced technique, especially for beginners, but it allows you to break down the image into sections to achieve better proportions. Try this tutorial to understand how the Reilly method works.

Easier distinguishing tonal values

By mapping out the reference image into sections, you can distinguish the planes and tonal values of the face, for example. The Tips section above mentions that tonal value and shadows are the keys to realistic drawings.

Flexible use

The Reilly method is more flexible than the triangulation method, which works well only on facial and head drawings. You can use it for drawing figures and animals.



Drawing the lines and planes for the Reilly method is a difficult and time-consuming process. It is like making grids for your drawings but is more complicated. Beginners may spend hours drawing the lines instead of working on the actual drawing.

Requires a lot of erasing

When you work on a drawing using the Reilly method, penciling in the lines and planes is necessary. To make the work easier, use fine lines to make them easier to erase afterward.

Not the best method for foreshortened and perspective drawings

The Reilly method is best for drawings on a single plane, not for foreshortened images. It means that if you want to use this method to draw a person leaning forward or an object at an angle, the drawing will not look realistic. You also can't use this method for perspective drawings since the lines will not be accurate.

Steep learning curve for beginners

Drawing using the Reilly method requires a lot of patience to learn. You also need to master the placement of each feature of the face to get the different lines for a precise drawing.

Limited resources for self-learning

Another issue that may contribute to learning the Reilly method is the limited resource for self-learning. However, you can still find some books to augment the method. One such book is Mastering Drawing the Human Figure by Jack Faragasso.

4. The Perspective Grid Method

The perspective grid method of drawing realism

Perspective grid drawing is an excellent method to learn 3D drawing. Though some artists think that perspective drawing is only for architectural drawings, understanding perspective lets you draw realism better, especially when drawing several figures or objects from different planes.


Creates the illusion of space

To achieve realism in any drawing, depth, and space are important. By changing the size and position of the images in the drawing, you can also change how the viewer perceives the image.

Widens your angles

Drawing using the perspective grid widens the scope of your drawing angle, allowing you to draw realistically, even from different points. Perspective drawing lets you transport your audience to the plane you want by changing your drawing angle.

Drawing from difficult angles

Some drawings are difficult to achieve because of the angles the photographer took the photo, like landscapes taken from above. To recreate the image realistically, you have to see the whole image from different angles, thus making perspective drawing a good option.


Misjudging of distance

One disadvantage of perspective drawings is that you can't measure distances as accurately as possible with parallel projections.

Distorts the image

Drawing in perspective distorts how you perceive the image, thus training the brain to see the image differently. 

5. Triangulation Method

The triangulation method of drawing realism

Triangulation is a technique for drawing that will help you create precise lines and shapes. Once you know how to use this technique, you will be able to draw anything you want.

Though it is not an excellent technique to learn structural anatomy, drawing heads and faces is easier using the triangulation method. Triangulation also works for still-life drawings aside from drawing the head and faces. 


Easier to do than the grid method

The triangulation method is an easier alternative to the grid method. You can skip making the grid on the reference image and the paper you want to draw on and make the concentric triangles. You can start drawing in a short time instead of making the grids.

Allows you to draw accurately

Like the grid technique, the triangulation method also helps you get the precise likeness of the image you want to draw. To achieve the likeness, you need to make two triangles of the same scale as your work model. The larger triangle should be the eyebrows and the chin. The smaller triangle touches the pupils of the eyes and the lip.


Copying only, not drawing

Understanding the construction and composition of a drawing is one way to draw from memory. However, if you rely too much on triangles to draw, you only copy the reference image without developing your drawing skills.

Only best for faces facing forward

When the reference image is not facing front or looks at an angle, triangulation is hard for beginners in realist drawing. You can manipulate the triangles, though, to allow you to get a better proportion for drawing.

Lets you focus on the flat image rather than the dimension

If you rely too much on reference points like your triangle, you only draw the flat image rather than the image's dimensions. Distortions and perspectives of the drawing are lost when drawing based on triangulation.

Best for the face only, not emotions

Relying on triangulation a lot prevents you from learning human anatomy. Though you can draw realism from a reference image, you'll have difficulty drawing a model. However, even if you draw the face accurately, capturing the emotions using triangulation is not a very good option.

Prevents developing freehand drawing skills

When the artists use too much triangulation to draw, freehand drawing is not a skill you can develop. 

Tips on Making Realistic Drawings

1. Start with simple objects

When you draw more than one object in a picture, you need to think about depth, perspective, focal point, scale, and how everything looks together.

A realistic drawing of an apple is easier than drawing a realistic fruit basket. For beginners, start with basic objects, like a billiard ball, to learn volume and depth without other complications.

2. Understand the importance of lighting and shading

Lighting and shading are important factors when adding a realistic element to your drawings. Tonal values refer to the relative darkness or lightness of a color. On the other hand, shading techniques refer to the recreating of light and shadows on a three-dimensional object to create the illusion of depth and volume.

Creating a value scale helps create the illusion of volume and texture in your drawings to achieve realism, especially when you're a beginner in charcoal drawing.

The light and mid-tone regions are also a component of direct lighting, although they are somewhat darker than the highlight. The shadows darken as they approach the core shadow, giving the sphere that rounded appearance.

3. Master individual parts

The human figure presents a fascinating challenge to realism artists. Drawing eyes are the most difficult part of the face to master when drawing realism. Another hard feature of the face to master is the nose and the lips.

As you progress, you can try other body parts (the hands, feet, neck, and the torso) until you can draw the whole body from memory.

4. Use quality reference

A good realistic drawing starts with a quality reference for your drawings. A high-definition photo that you can upload to photo-editing software so you can edit or zoom it without distorting the quality is an excellent choice. In short, to draw a great charcoal portrait, you need a good headshot that you can grayscale to get a better feel of the black and white output or keep it if you're using Copic markers.

5. Use high-quality art supplies

You need to invest in high-quality art supplies to make quality, realistic drawings. These supplies should include the right kind of paper, pencils, and markers. If you're giving gifts to aspiring artists, consider getting a high-quality set. Also, don't forget to check out these cool things to sketch.

6. Start with light sketches and erase well

Pencils, erasers, and drawing paper are the topmost supplies every drawing artist needs. Whether using graphite, alcohol markers, or colored pencils, a realistic drawing needs the right type of paper. When you erase the pencil drawing, your paper stays unscratched and pristine.

Grip an H pencil lightly and apply a light, even pressure to map out your drawing. Erasers are also essential. You don't want any pencil marks on your realist drawing.

7. Practice symmetry

Symmetry is necessary when you're drawing realism. However, you also need to realize that symmetry is not perfect. Understand the nuances of the face and the eyes to get the likeness of the image you want to draw. The mirror is a great tool to check the proportion and symmetry of your drawing.

8. Master smooth transitions in your drawing

Blending out your darks and lights to make a variety of midtones is the key to making seamless changes. Midtones are best for transitioning the light and dark parts of a drawing. Even when the subject is under a harsh light, an excellent transition leaves out harsh edges for a cleaner effect.

9. Distinguish sexual differences

Distinguishing between sexes is important if you want to draw realistic portraits. The eyes, brows, nose line, lips, and jaw are the top features that distinguish the sexes on your drawings. Men usually have a more pronounced jaw, sharper and thicker brows, and fuller lips.

10. Perfect your textures

The texture is an important feature when drawing realism. Focus on the small details, divide the drawing into sections, then add the details, highlights, and shadows. For example, the hair is important for a portrait drawing, but you don't want it to be a big blob of black for the hair. Instead, you want texture, so it feels like you can touch the strands of the hair.

11. Practice freehand drawing

While there are many techniques to draw realism, freehand drawing is important so you can master proportion, volume, and texture. Unlike when using the grid and other methods where you depend on the reference points on the image to recreate it, drawing freehand improves your skills so you can draw from a model.

12. Try drawing upside down

Another pro tip to master realism is drawing your reference object upside down. When you see the object repeatedly, the brain perceives it as an ordinary object; thus, practicing this way won't let you learn something new.

When you turn something upside down, it challenges your brain to see it differently. You still see it like an apple, but you notice the lines and curves from a new perspective. Drawing from a different angle also lets you appreciate the highlights and shadows differently.

13. Break up the image into sections

Breaking up the image into sections helps to simplify the object and allows you to draw better. Using the grid is an excellent way to break up the reference image without losing sight of the whole image.

14. Check proportions

Proportion is everything when making realistic drawings. Your image will look off without getting the proportions right, no matter how perfect your other features are. If you're drawing freehand, use a ruler to check proportions. Perfection is not everything, but try to be close to the reference image, especially when scaling up an image.

15. Use the tracing paper

While using the tracing paper is akin to cheating among traditional artists, it is a good starting point for newbies in drawing, especially in realism. However, do not trace everything, just the main features of the face - the outline of the face, placement of the eyes, nose, lips, and ears.

Add the other features of the face using freehand to improve your shading and other techniques.


Learning how to draw realism is a process that takes time and practice. However, if you follow the steps we've outlined in this article and are patient with your progress, you can create beautiful works of art that capture realism. You can also check out these online drawing classes that offer extensive courses to perfect your drawings. Have you tried any of these techniques? Let us know in the comments below!

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