There are three steps to learning how to draw. Step 1 is where you learn to draw what you see, Step 2 is where you learn to draw what you know and Step 3 is where you learn to draw what you want to see.
These steps shouldn’t be skipped over. In fact, it’s impossible to skip over them. If you try to skip over step1, for example, you will find yourself learning step1 in a sloppy way, as you attempt Step 2. You’ll only be holding yourself back and take twice as long trying to learn things at random. That’s why It is in your best interest to take these steps one at a time in order for you to learn at a good pace.
After learning how to draw what you see and use what you know to enhance those drawings, you’ll begin to understand how images are transferred from the 3D world (what you see) down to a 2D drawing (on paper). This is the knowledge you need to draw from your imagination (what you want to see).
Now that you’ve reached Step 3 you can begin using references as closely or as vaguely as you want in order to draw something unique. The more you practice this the more the quality of your work will increase.
There is no right or wrong way to draw what you want to see. My advice to you, if you’re just beginning to learn how to use what you know to draw what you want to see, is to prepare ahead of time by doing your research, using references, making thumbnails, using tracing paper, and creating color breaks. You can experiment with this to create your own process. You might want to reference:
In my experience, preparing before I start sketching is always helpful on any project, even though I have a relative amount of experience drawing from my imagination.
It’s also important that you continue to strengthen your basic life drawing skills and your understanding of theory as you continue to improve on drawing what you want to see. Once you’ve taken Steps 1, 2 and 3 you should revisit each one often and intentionally, as drawing is a never-ending learning process.
As you might’ve guessed, Step 3 isn’t a finish line; it’s the first step you take in the right direction. What counts is where you go from there.
In order to be a well-rounded artist you would benefit from taking on a variety of projects to practice and experiment with. The possibilities are endless. I’ll give you a few examples, but please don’t feel limited by the list I provide.
-illustrate a kid’s book—it can be one you write or a classic. You can find lists of public domain stories online. You can start by googling “public domain stories”
An illustration I made based on Frank L. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
-create a web comic or short comic
-create a licensing design (i.e. something that can be used on merchandise like T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, cellphone cases, etc.)
-design characters for an original story (you can reference my characters Luther and Sloan)
You can also experiment with new mediums and dive into specific interests you might have. Maybe you’re interested in works made with paper cutouts or hand lettering, sculpture, digital painting, print-making, colored pencils, oil painting, etc. The sky is the limit.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities, don’t stress. Make a physical list of all the things you’re interested in exploring—make sure you write everything down as you think of it so you don’t forget. Once you have it all written down, tackle each thing one at a time. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. Take your time, enjoy the learning process, and have fun!