Chapter 4: How to Draw

Chapter 4: How to Draw

I'm no artist. The only art course I've done was a painting class for toddlers over 20 years ago. I've never learned the foundations of drawing or understood colour theories. I also don't know how to draw using perspectives, patterns, or proper drawing techniques.

But I am confident to say that I can draw anything.

It has nothing to do with my drawing skills or talent. It's about not caring about what people think of my drawing. Not caring about my inability to draw things like an artist. Not caring about the jigged lines and uneven shapes.

I only need to care about the story I want to share. Because I'm not an artist. I'm just a storyteller.

My drawing is merely a medium to tell my stories.

In this chapter, I will not teach you how to draw something or teach you about the foundational skills you need to be good at drawing. Instead, I will share how I learned and started and how you can force yourself to draw. This is solely based on my experience, so please take it with a grain of salt!

This is how to draw for a non-artist, by a non-artist.

The tools you need

You can use anything you have at home. You don't need the latest pen, tablet, computer, or iPad. To prove that, I recently started drawing on paper with a pen and markers to prove it, and it works fine.

So, use whatever you have at home. A pen, pencil, paper, markers. Or a laptop and mouse. Or use your pen, tablet, iPad, or other devices. You don't need a specific item to start drawing. Even our ancestors drew on stones.

That being said, I'm not going to leave you at that. Here are some recommendations on what kind of tools I use and why you might want to try them. This is a subjective review and recommendations based on my experience.

The tools I used

Old-school drawing tools

The tools I use when drawing manually are Pen, Paper, and Markers. Here are some brands that I use and why I like them.

  • Lamy Safari Fountain Pen: This is a fancy pen, I admit. And I use it only because I saw illustrators who draw using this type of pen on Instagram.

    Sketchviews is one of my favourite illustrators on Instagram who often draws using a fountain pen. How he drew the lines and buildings using his fountain pen made me curious about how it feels to do so. Once I tried drawing using a fountain pen, I admit it felt really nice. You can feel the friction it gives when you draw using a fountain pen. The caveat is that it bleeds; sometimes, you'll get your hand dirty with ink. It's worth the hassle, though.
  • Muji Smooth Gel Ink Ballpoint Pen: Given the price point and the quality, this is the best pen in the world. I've lived for 30 years, and these pens are the only pens I've used until I ran out of ink, bought new ones, and ran out of ink again. If you want to start learning to draw using pen and paper, this is the pen that you should start with.
  • Copic markers: I use Copic markers to colour my illustrations. I'll be honest: I only bought these because my illustrator friends use Copic markers. So, I don't know if any better markers are out there. The downside of colouring using these markers is that you need to buy a lot of colours, and it can get expensive over time.
  • Moleskine notebook: This book is overpriced, but... I am a sucker for Moleskines. I'm a brand-oriented person (I know, it's not a good thing), so I buy this because of the brand.

    Over the past 6 years, I've finished around ten Moleskine notebooks, and I kept buying one just because I want to have a cool stack of old and used Moleskine notebooks when I am older. I wouldn't suggest this brand unless you have a reason why you want it. It's not worth the price point, even though it looks cool.
  • Sketchbook: This can be any brand that you prefer. I bought cheap sketchbooks ranging from $3 to $8 because, generally, they're all similar. They have different paper thicknesses and so on, but in the end, it depends on what you like to draw on. My defining factor is the feeling when your pen scratches the paper's surface.

    I suggest that you take some time to explore the different sketchbooks. Don't worry too much about it; start drawing in it. Remember that different paper types absorb ink differently, so your ink may look different on different paper types.

Computers & Laptops

  • Figma: Figma is a versatile web-based vector design tool popular among UI/UX designers and illustrators. Its powerful Pen tool and flexible frames make it easy to create custom shapes and work on multiple designs. It also has advanced colour, gradient settings, and Boolean operations for creative shape manipulations. The "components" feature lets illustrators create and reuse elements consistently, streamlining the design process.

    I use Figma to fix my text, add watermarks, crop, and export the images. Being a cloud-based tool makes it easy to access my work anywhere, anytime, with my laptop and even my iPad.

    Some people I know, like Janis Ozolins and Junhan Chin, use Figma as their main drawing tool. You don't need a pen tablet to use this tool; a mouse and keyboard will do just fine.


  • Procreate: Procreate is a go-to iPad drawing app for many because it's user-friendly yet packed with pro tools.

    With a wide range of brushes, it feels natural with the Apple Pencil, mimicking real-life drawing. It supports detailed artwork with high-res canvases and layers, and unlike many apps, you buy it once and get all its features without monthly fees.

    Procreate is great for people wanting top-notch tools without the desktop software complexity. This would be the best way to go if you have an iPad.

How to draw

Drawing is a skill. And just like other skills, you can master it if you practice enough.

I began drawing consistently in 2019 when I created an Instagram account to teach design, even though I had no real drawing skills. Here are some of my doodles from 2019, which I used as content for my Instagram account.

My superpower was that I didn't care if my drawing was bad. I'd draw and publish every week. It started with just characters and chat bubbles, and over time, I learned how to draw things because I wanted to tell better stories.

Draw freely

I stopped drawing when I started senior high school in 2008, but I overcame my fear of drawing and started drawing freely again in 2019.

I stopped drawing because I saw no point in it. I was surrounded by people who were better than me, and they had spent countless hours honing their skills. This made me feel inferior and discouraged. Additionally, I didn't see drawing as a viable career option, so I stopped altogether for many years.

In 2019, I bought an iPad. I had saved some money for a year to buy one and finally got it. The first app that I bought was Procreate. There were no specific reasons why I started drawing again. It was solely because I have an iPad and Apple Pencil, so I have to draw. I forced myself to draw many things in 2019.

Little did I know that my doodles back then would be the beginning of my journey with The Tiny Wisdom.

Back then, I found joy in drawing that I'd lost before. It's the fact that there is no wrong in drawing. It's always right. I was free.

As I kept drawing and drawing, I started to explore many ways to draw something. I didn't know that I was exploring and finding my drawing styles. Back then, I just wanted to draw. Here are some explorations that I made back then.

Finding your style

Finding your drawing style is a personal journey that evolves over time, shaped by experiences, preferences, and influences. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you discover and develop your unique style:

  • Study and Copy: Start by studying various artists and styles you admire. By copying their work (for personal use only), you understand their techniques, which can later influence your unique approach. I started by copying various illustrators on Instagram.
  • Draw Regularly: The more you draw, the more you'll naturally develop patterns, habits, and preferences. Consistent practice helps refine your skills and solidifies your style. We'll dive deeper into this in the next section.
  • Experiment: Don't limit yourself to one medium or technique. Try out different materials, methods, and subjects. You might discover a preference you didn't know you had. Draw freely.
  • Seek Feedback: Share your work with friends, family, or peers. Constructive criticism can offer new perspectives and help you understand what differentiates your work from others. Be careful, though; don't take it personally. Use the feedback to improve yourself, not to defend yourself.
  • Art Journal: Keep a journal to jot down ideas, inspirations, and reflections on your art journey. It can help track your evolution and recognize patterns in your work. I don't really "journal" my doodles, but I don't delete them from my iPad. It's a good way to see my progress over the years.
  • Personal Experiences: Incorporate elements from your personal life and experiences into your art. Your background, culture, beliefs, and emotions can profoundly influence your style. This is where you can include storytelling in your drawings.
  • Stay Curious: Continue learning through courses, tutorials, or books. New knowledge can introduce you to techniques or concepts that resonate with you. For me, I often found random drawing tips on Instagram. I also recently joined Visual Storytelling for Compelling Illustrations course by one of my favorite artists, Kikuo R. Johnson.
  • Embrace Evolution: Your style might change over time, and that's okay! As you grow and change, it's natural for your art style to evolve alongside. This is where you grow and improve.

Remember, finding your drawing style isn't about fitting into a specific box but discovering how you express yourself best through your art. It's an ongoing process that's deeply personal and ever-evolving. There is no right or wrong. It's all about knowing yourself better.

Start with a doodle

Doodling is a freeform art accessible to anyone, regardless of artistic ability. It's a great way to relax, express creativity, and improve concentration.

The easiest way to start drawing is to doodle something from your memory. Draw something that you like: a cartoon character, your friend, or maybe a cat. Don't look at references or pictures for now.

After every doodle, look at what you drew and observe if something looks weird. For me, sometimes the body parts of my character bend unnaturally, or the facial proportion looks weird.

Then, find references and see how you can improve your doodles. Redraw the doodle and repeat the steps. This is how I learned the skill of observation. Improving things little by little, not caring about theories but practising my muscle memories.

The goal of doodling is to relax. To get yourself used to drawing things on a whim. You don't need a lot of preparation to draw. Just pick your pen and paper and then start. Over time, as you doodle more and more, you'll develop your own unique style and preferences. So, grab a pen and let your creativity flow!

Most importantly, have fun! Doodling is meant to be a stress-free and enjoyable activity.

Drawing comic strips

Now's when everything falls into its place. How do we put our stories into drawings? Here are some steps that I take to put the stories into panels.

Before we learn how to do that, let's look at some examples: how I developed the idea from my notes until I published them as comic strips.

Case Study: "Turning Thirty"

The idea for this comic strip is to share a story about me when I was turning thirty. I want to express my feelings during that time. By age thirty, I thought I would be rich and have my own company, cars, and a house. But none of that happened. So, I want to tell people that being old doesn't automatically make you wiser and smarter.

Here's the initial story from my notes:

Turning Thirty

One day, when I’m 30, I will run a successful company
One day, when I’m 30, I will have a car and a house
One day, when I’m 30, I will understand how life works

But that one day never came.

And by the time I’m 30, I’m still the same person I was 10 years ago
With no company, cars, or a house

Getting older is weird.
I’m feeling 22 on the inside...
But when I look at myself in the mirror, I remember that I am not.

I feel the same, looking out.
But outside, they look at me differently.
I feel like I can do what I’ve been doing...
But reality hits differently almost every time.

To the people around me,
I look like an adult with a job who knows what he's doing.
But in my head, I am afraid because I don't know what I’m doing.
And I don’t want them to find out
That I was only acting as if everything was all right

On the inside, I feel the same
Just a twenty-something young adult trying to learn how to live
Adulting means not knowing what you’re doing, but you must do it.
And you may never fully understand why or how things happen
You have to live with it.

So that when you look back
You’ll see
Those things didn’t happen to you
Those things happened FOR you

You’ll see the silver lining in the end.

Then, after I feel good about the story I want to share, I start drawing the sketches for the comic strips. This is where I plan my pages and panels.

From the sketches above, you can see that I am still following the main idea from the note, but I adjusted them to fit the panels and the pages. We'll dive deeper into this later, for now, let's look at the result.

As you can see, the final result closely resembles the initial sketches. From my experience, the essence of creating comic strips lies in fitting the idea into the panels and pages while ensuring that the story flows smoothly.

Storytelling is about capturing the reader's attention and bringing them into your world. Therefore, it is vital to make it easy to comprehend and enjoyable to read.

Case Study: The Tiny Scenes

I started The Tiny Scenes comic strip series to share a less dramatic life story. Stories I want to share for fun with little effort. They're sometimes funny, sarcastic, and realistic, an unfiltered version of The Tiny Wisdom.

Similarly, I always start with a note and sketch. But, since I don't want to spend too much effort on this comic strip series, I post the sketches instead.

Then vs Now

When I started work
I wanted to be important
Now, I’ve plenty of years of my experience
I want to be less important

Sitting on a desk
Looking at an empty calendar… sigh
Sitting on a desk
Looking at the full calendar… sigh

In this comic strip, you can see that each line represents each panel. Since it's only a short anecdotal story, I don't need to re-think about the panels and pages. I'd just plan them from the notes.

Let's take a look at another example:

It's just work

Whenever I got stressed out because of work
I try to remember that it’s just work
It’s 9-5. Sometimes overtime
But at the end of the day, everyone goes home

In this comic strip, I created an entirely new story in the comic. However, I included the main idea in the Tweet caption to give context about the Idea I want to share with the comic strip. This is another way to share your story. Don't limit yourself to the pages and panels. Use the entire medium.

Creating your comic strip

Now, let's get down to business. Here are some tips and tricks you can apply as a comic strip artist on your storytelling journey.

Plan your panels and pages

The layout of a comic strip plays a pivotal role in how your story unfolds and is perceived by the readers. Let's delve deeper into the second point, planning your comic strip layout:

  • Number of panels (or pages): Traditionally, comic strips in newspapers often consist of three to four panels. However, you can experiment depending on where you're publishing. Think about how many panels you need to effectively convey the story or joke without rushing or dragging it.

    When creating The Tiny Wisdom comics, I limit the pages to a maximum of ten. This is because my main platform is Instagram which only allows for ten images to be uploaded in a single post. I don't limit the number of panels on each page, I just draw them as I see fit.

    For the Tiny Scenes, it will always be a single page with four panels.
  • Panel Shape and Size: While rectangles are standard, play with various shapes. The size and shape can be used to emphasize certain moments. For instance, a wide horizontal panel might illustrate a panoramic view or a paused, dramatic moment, while a tall, vertical one might be used for jumping or falling.

    In the following comic strip, you'll see how I played around with panel shapes and sizes. I pushed the limit even further by breaking the panel barrier and creating a two-page spread.
  • Flow and Direction: In Western cultures, readers typically read from left to right, top to bottom. In Japan and Arabic countries, they read from right to left. Ensure your panels and the content within them follow a logical sequence that's easy for readers to navigate.
  • Use of Space: The space between panels, known as the "gutter," can also play a role in pacing. A wider gutter might indicate a more extended pause or a shift in time, while panels closer together can convey rapid action or dialogue exchanges.
  • Captions and Bubbles: Plan where your dialogue bubbles or captions will go. Ensure they don't crowd the characters or visuals and are placed logically for readers to follow in sequence. The last thing you want is for readers to read the dialogue out of order because it isn't clear where to go next.
  • Consistency is Key: While it's great to experiment, maintaining consistency in your strip layouts helps readers know what to expect and can become a hallmark of your style. Keeping a consistent layout can also give a sense of cohesion if you're doing a series.

Planning your layout is like mapping the journey you want your readers to take through the narrative. It sets the stage for your story, guides the pacing, and enhances the overall storytelling experience.

When should you start planning your panels?

There isn't any rule, so it's really up to you. However, I usually plan it as I create my stories in my notes or sketch the comics.

When taking notes of my ideas and expanding them, sometimes I imagine some scenes and scenarios of how they might look in the comic strips. So, I take notes of those scenarios. An example is on this note from The Tiny Scenes comic:

Then vs Now

When I started work
I wanted to be important
Now, I’ve plenty of years of my experience
I want to be less important

Sitting on a desk
Looking at an empty calendar… sigh
Sitting on a desk
Looking at the full calendar… sigh

Since this is only a 4-panel comic, it was easy to plan it while working on the idea. For longer comics, I don't usually plan them in my notes. I plan them when I start sketching the comic itself.

Mentally, I'm Not Here

Mentally, I’m not here
I’m trying to do my best
But to be honest
I just want to rest

I can do all these calculations, reports, and presentations
But at the end of the day
I just wanted some appreciation or congratulations

For all the things I’ve done, no matter how small
For all the time I’ve spent giving my all
It doesn’t have to be grand
It could be as simple as “Nice one, man.”

Tomorrow, I’ll repeat the same routine
I’m sitting, but my mind is wandering

It’s gonna get easier somehow
But not today

There were also times when I ended up changing the overall panels. Because I don't think it was good enough in the sketches. So, don't be too strict. If you think changing the panels and illustrations would improve the story, go for it.

Take a picture and trace

If you struggle with proportions or specific objects, take a photo of the scene or use references. Tracing these can help achieve accurate and dynamic illustrations. Over time, this can train your eye and hand, allowing you to draw more from memory.

Since I draw a lot of hands and poses, sometimes, when I don't know how to draw it, I take a picture of myself doing the pose and trace it on my iPad. Another way to do it is to use a toy to pose, take a picture, and trace.

My trusty Spiderman

Similarly, when drawing background scenes or objects, I would draw based on what I have at home. Many scenes in my comic strips were based on my home layout and work desk.

Don't overthink, publish

Lastly... go press that "post" button. We've all had some projects we started but never finished. Sometimes, we procrastinate because we overthink. What if we did shitty stories? What if people don't like it? What if I am not good enough?

Let me set this straight: You will fail. You suck at what you are doing. You will only make it if you stop procrastinating and start putting in the effort. In the beginning, many people won't see your work anyway. So don't be afraid of being judged. Nobody cares. Publish it, then improve it or move on to your next story.

You will get little fulfilment if you share your project for likes, comments, retweets, or even to get viral. Focusing on social validations will not help you get better. Concentrating on your craft will make you feel better and will take you further down the road.

I experienced this during the early days of The Tiny Wisdom. I focused too much on the numbers and did not appreciate the genuine connections I made from the shared content. And whenever the numbers were not what I expected, I felt tiny and unhappy.

What's more important to me was to get into the mindset of creating and publishing. To make a habit of clicking that "post" button. Once you are comfortable sharing stuff regularly, you won't hesitate the next time you want to share things.

Once you finish your first project, move on to the next one. Refrain from dwelling too much on something you could've done better or if you made a mistake. Move on.

When you consistently create and share your work, over time, you'll be able to see your growth. As a storyteller, whenever I take a look at my Instagram account, I can tell how much my storytelling and art have evolved throughout the year.

By doing this, you will have a sense of achievement. You would realize that you have been using your time effectively for the past few years and have learned a ton. Look back and reflect on the difference between your current and past self. Think of it as the highlight of your life.

Go pick up that pen and start drawing

As we conclude this chapter on drawing, remember that art is a journey of expression, discovery, and continuous growth.

Whether sketching the delicate curves of nature or capturing the emotions of a portrait, each stroke of your pencil is a step forward in honing your craft. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities, seek inspiration everywhere, and never stifle the urge to create.

With passion, practice, and patience, the world of drawing will unfold before you, revealing its myriad wonders and joys. So, keep that pen (or pencil) moving and let your imagination soar!

Pick up that pen and start drawing.