how to learn illustration design

Last Updated on December 28, 2022

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how to learn illustration design

How to Get Started with Illustration

Start with the basics and learn how to draw

Illustration by Frances To

“I want to learn illustration. Where do I begin?”

You may have asked yourself this question at some point in time. You also may have done a bit of drawing but you might wonder about whether you’re on the right track or not.

Truth be told, starting out in any field is always difficult. I myself struggled with illustration when I first started and I made many mistakes along the way. Luckily, I’ve had mentors and experiences that guided me toward the right path.

Thanks to this guidance, I won an Honorable Mention in the illustration category at the Adobe Design Achievement Awards in 2018. I also had some of my work exhibited at the ninth annual Ateneo Heights Artists Workshop Exhibit last year.

I’d like to share some of the things I did and the advice my mentors imparted on me when I first began illustrating. Thus, I’ve divided this article into three parts:

  1. How to draw
  2. What to draw
  3. How to get your work out there

Each part answers a common question people have when starting out with illustration. In this installment, I’ll talk about some of the best ways to learn how to draw.

1. Read art-related books to gain a good grasp of the basics

Understanding the basics, such as composition, color theory, and form, will go a lot farther in helping you create more compelling illustrations than acquiring the most advanced creative software or following the latest illustration trends. While learning the fundamentals can be tedious at first, doing so prepares you to create more complex illustrations as your skills progress.

Here are a few books I recommend:

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang
Molly Bang is an award-winning illustrator for children’s books. Her book talks about how subtle changes, be it color, shape, or scale, can drastically affect the illustration as a whole. It’s a short but insightful read that will help you understand how composition works.

The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten
Johannes Itten was one of the first to pioneer strategies for creating successful color combinations. His book provides a detailed analysis on color relationships.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
This is highly recommended reading, especially for beginners. It encourages people to see objects as a sum of their shapes, instead of seeing objects according to our own concept of what they look like.

2. Take traditional drawing classes to improve your drawing skills

Whether taking traditional, in-person drawing classes is necessary in order to learn illustration continues to be a subject of debate. Some people think these classes provide a good foundation in developing drawing skills, while others argue that drawing skills could also be developed by taking drawing courses online.

I believe taking a drawing class is a crucial stepping stone for learning illustration because it trains your hand to get better at drawing what you have in your mind. While traditional drawing may seem rigid at first, knowing the rules by heart will help you understand the limits of what traditional drawing can do and how you can go beyond those limits in your illustrations.

The main advantage of taking a traditional drawing class is that you’ll be learning from a mentor or teacher. This will speed up your progress because mentors not only show you what to focus on as a beginner, but they also give you immediate feedback on how you can improve. And that’s much more efficient than searching for drawing tips online for an hour.

3. Draw in your journal every day to get into the habit

I took a drawing class while studying informational design at Ateneo de Manila University. Every day during class, we had to fill up three journal pages with drawings. The drawings didn’t need to be perfect. In fact, we were allowed to merely doodle and scribble. What was more important was that we were developing the habit of drawing every day.

Our professor pointed out that drawing is a motor skill that can be developed through constant practice. The more frequently you practice, the faster your skills become second nature.

Drawing frequently also helps you discover what you like to draw and the themes you tend to dwell on. This is helpful, especially if you’re thinking of pursuing an illustration career. What you draw and the personal insights you showcase in your works form your identity as an illustrator.

I usually draw in my journal for an hour before I sleep every night, as my mind is more relaxed in the evening when I’m not preoccupied with work. Having a relaxed mind helps me reflect upon the things that happened during the day and translate these thoughts into pictures.

4. Draw 20 hands a day to master shape, form, and proportion

Hans Bacher, an Annie award-winning production designer for Disney’s Mulan, was my professor for an “Illustration for Designers” class at Nanyang Technological University. During class, he emphasized that if you want to draw anything well, you must draw 20 hands a day.

According to him, hands are the most difficult subjects to draw because they are geometrically complex , made up of many bones and muscles. Hands also perform a variety of actions. That’s why it’s not enough to master drawing hands in only one or two poses. Instead, you must master drawing hands in all kinds of perspectives and positions.

Sketches of hands, broken down into their basic shapes

While drawing hands may be complex, deconstructing hands into their basic shapes makes the job easier. For example, fingers can be drawn as rectangles and a palm can be drawn as a pentagon. Knuckles can be represented by ovals.

Rendering hands from life instead of copying a picture is also another good practice. By drawing from life, you are training your eyes to be more sensitive to judging distance, perspective, and spatial relationships among objects.

You can draw from life by using your own hands as a reference, too. I recommend that you keep and number your sketches in a blank journal so you can monitor your progress over time.

Drawing is a skill that can be learned and developed through deliberate practice

Many people believe that they’ll never be able to draw well because they’re not born with the talent. But while drawing well comes more naturally to some people, it doesn’t mean your skills can’t improve.

The more consistently you practice and the more you try to improve your weaknesses, the better you’ll become. You may not get immediate results but you’ll notice gradual improvements in your work over time.

What’s next?

With proper drawing technique, you can expressively convey ideas and immerse people in the world of your illustration. After all, the best illustrations tell compelling stories. But how can you tell a story if you don’t know what to draw? What if you can’t channel your creativity?

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll be sharing tips on overcoming creative block and finding inspiration on what to draw.

how to learn illustration online free

13+ Best FREE Illustration & Drawing Courses Online (2022)

Illustration Course

13+ Best FREE Illustration & Drawing Courses Online (2022)

January 23, 2021 by Jacob Cass

Just Creative is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more

Did you ever want to be an artist growing up?

Maybe you reached that goal and work in graphic design but for some of us, maybe we didn’t possess the natural skill or talent that the best artists in the world have. Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, those dreams of being an artist can be real again with online courses.


While there are many great classes out there, one thing that we wanted to focus on was the classes we chose for our list of the best drawing/illustration courses online was the quality of the classes. While all these classes might not be free, many do offer free trials and are short enough where you could take the course for free.

If you’re looking to learn illustration online, check out these top free illustration courses as well as some premium course offerings.

The 13 Best Free Illustration Courses Online

We know that any list out there for the best courses online is going to have subtle differences. We get that. However, when we looked at what was out there, these stood out to us.

Just as a reminder, while there is a fee for some of these classes, many of the sites offer free trials, and with their short length, you may be able to complete them during the trial.

  1. The Beginners’ Illustration Masterclass (Udemy) (Editor’s Choice)
  2. Make Things Make Money: The Business of Illustration and Lettering (Creative Live) – $19
  3. Character Illustration: Drawing Faces, Figures & Clothing (Skillshare) – 2 weeks free then $99/year
  4. The Complete Drawing & Painting Illustration Course (Udemy) – $95
  5. Pen and Ink Illustration: The Basics for Creating Magical Drawings (Skillshare) – 2 weeks free then $99/year
  6. Digital Illustration for Beginners in Adobe Illustrator (Udemy) – $95
  7. Illustration & Inspiration: Keeping a Sketchbook (Skillshare) – 2 weeks free then $99/year
  8. Digital Illustration: Doodles to Designs (Skillshare) – 2 weeks free then $99/year
  9. Illustrating Characters and the Stories They Tell (CreativeLive) – $34
  10. Adobe Illustrator: Vector Illustration from Scratch (Domestika) – $12
  11. Drawing Foundations Fundamentals (LinkedIn Learning) – $32.99
  12. Illustrator for Non-Illustrators  (LinkedIn Learning) –  $35.00
  13. Free Drawing Lessons for Beginners (Kline Creative) – Free

Also check out all of Udemy’s free Adobe Illustrator Courses & Tutorials Online.

8 Best Free Illustration & Drawing Course Providers Online

Below we’ve shared the top 10 reputable online illustration course providers to start teaching yourself illustration and drawing.


  1. Skillshare (Two week free trial then $10/month)
  2. Coursera (more in-depth)
  3. Udemy
  4. Domestika
  5. Alison
  6. Canva
  7. Shaw Academy
  8. Creative Live
  9. Graphic Design School 

More Top Course Compilations

  • 10 Top Design & Illustration Courses on Domestika
  • Top 15 Most Popular Courses on Domestika
  • 10 Best Logo Design Courses
  • 25 Best Packaging Design Courses

How to Teach Yourself Illustration & Drawing

Becoming an illustrator does not have to be done at school. In fact, if you follow the below steps and enroll in a free illustration course, you will be well on your way to becoming a professional illustrator.

  1. Understand the core principles of illustration (see courses below)
  2. Ground yourself with the history of graphic design (this book is essential)
  3. Familiarize yourself with the illustration process & solving problems creatively
  4. Consider advanced study & development (either online or at school)
  5. Learn from professional illustrators
  6. Develop your proficiency, intuition, and flow (your process)
  7. Put together an illustration portfolio and blog
  8. Participate in professional artist communities
  9. Diversify your skillset (enroll in more courses)
  10. Find work as a freelance illustrator

Free Graphic Design Software Trials + Adobe Creative Cloud Discount

Logocore Adobe Discount

If you’re learning illustration, you should know that Adobe provides the industry-standard graphic design software for creative professionals.

Adobe offers a subscription service called ‘Creative Cloud’ which gives you access to several powerful design applications including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more.

If you’re just getting started in design, you should also know that Adobe offers free trials as well as some generous student discounts allowing you to save up to 65%.

  • Download a free Photoshop trial for PC, Mac, or iPad now
  • Download a free trial of Illustrator for PC, Mac or iPad now

View Adobe Free Trials & Discounts

13 Free Online Illustration Courses & Classes – 2022

The Illustration Masterclass (Udemy) – $95 (Editor’s Choice)

The Illustration Masterclass

Skill Level: Beginner | Length: 4 hours of on-demand video and articles | Downloadable resources: Yes

A beginner-level course that is described as a quick and easy way to learn how to use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Gimp to master digital illustration. The Illustration Masterclass, offered by Edu Evolution provides students with three hours of on-demand video plus 19 articles and numerous downloadable resources. The course covers certain topics such as how to use royalty-free or copyrighted images in your work and at the end of the course, students receive a certificate of completion.Learn More

Make Things Make Money: The Business of Illustration and Lettering (Creative Live) – $19

Make things make money drawing course

Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate | Length: 5 hours of on-demand video | Downloadable resources: Yes

Taught by Dina Rodriguez, a commercial artist, and professor at Pacific Northwest College of Arts, the Make Things Make Money course is a great course for anyone with a passion for drawing and illustration and is looking to turn that passion into money. Through the 29 lessons in almost five hours of on-demand video, Rodriguez will give you a basic understanding of how to take your passion and turn it into a part- or even full-time business. The course will teach you how to use social media to attract clients, discover your process for landing a job as well as learn what to charge.Learn More

Character Illustration: Drawing Faces, Figures & Clothing (Skillshare) – $99/year

Character Illustration Drawing Faces, Figures Clothing

Skill Level: Intermediate | Length: 1 hour of on-demand video | Downloadable resources: No

With more than 32,000 students taking the Character Illustration: Drawing Faces, Figures & Clothing course, professional comic artist and illustrator Gabriel Picolo must be doing something right. Creating memorable characters is a skill that you can use time and time again, adding that certain something to an otherwise bland story. This course teaches you how to do that and help the character grow. Through the course, you will even learn how to give personalities to these characters and bring them to life. The course goes over figure movement and poses, the four core facial expressions, proper use of color, textures, clothing, and more, and finally how to give your character emotion and personality.Learn More

The Complete Drawing & Painting Illustration Course (Udemy) – $95

The Complete Drawing & Painting Illustration Course

Skill Level: Beginner to advanced | Length: 12 hours of self-paced on-demand video | Downloadable resources: Yes

Sometimes, the best classes take you from beginner to an advanced student, and with The Complete Drawing & Painting Illustration Course, you can do just that over the 12 full hours of videos that are on-demand so you can study at your own pace. Learning the basics of pen & ink, graphite, watercolor, and other media will help you advance as you work on 20 different projects during the course. Taught by Jaysen Batchelor, a professional freelance artist, illustrator, and designer, The Complete Drawing & Painting Illustration Course is one of his newest classes, and while at the end, you receive a certificate of completion, the access you have to ask Jaysen questions plus an online community of former students makes this course worth the price.Learn More

Pen and Ink Illustration: The Basics for Creating Magical Drawings (Skillshare) – $99/year

Pen and Ink Illustration The Basics for Creating Magical Drawings

Skill Level: Beginner | Length: 30 minutes | Downloadable resources: Yes

Taught by Yasmina, an established artist in ink and watercolor, the Pen and Ink Illustration: The Basics for Creating Magical Drawings course can be very helpful for illustrators just beginning or a little more advanced. The pen, ink, and paper are the classic tools that illustrators have always used and this course will teach you which supplies to get, how to do hatches and crosshatches, as well as textures and patterns. While the course is on the short side, the information and downloadable resources provide you with untold value.Learn More

Digital Illustration for Beginners in Adobe Illustrator (Udemy) – $95

Digital Illustration for Beginners in Adobe Illustrator

Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate | Length: 2 ½ hours of on-demand self-paced video instruction | Downloadable resources: Yes

Concentrating on Adobe Illustrator, the Digital Illustration for Beginners in Adobe Illustrator course teaches you that professional illustrations and vector drawings are within your reach. Taught by Moy Lobito, a professional artist, the beginner-level course comes with six articles and various downloadable resources that you can use during the lessons that go over subjects such as the Pen tool, the Pathfinder tool, the Shape Builder tool, plus the Width tool that are all part of Illustrator. The course will also teach you skills like outlining, sketching, painting, and how to add detail to illustrations and vector drawings. With the course taught by a professional artist, you’ll get first-hand accounts of the real world views into the art and business of illustration.Learn More

Illustration & Inspiration: Keeping a Sketchbook (Skillshare) – $99/year

Illustration & Inspiration Keeping a Sketchbook

Skill Level: Beginner | Length: 32 minutes | Downloadable resources: Yes

Holding a BFA in Design from the Parsons School of Design, Illustrator Leah Goren leads the Illustration & Inspiration: Keeping a Sketchbook course to take you through the workday of a working professional. The class focuses on ideas that are done through the completion of three exercises. These exercises include drawing from life, drawing patterns, and drawing from the space around you. These will help create a strong foundation of the basics of illustration. While it is a short course, the lessons learned can be a great source of inspiration for illustrators.Learn More

Digital Illustration: Doodles to Designs (Skillshare) – $99/year

Digital Illustration Doodles to Designs

Skill Level: Beginner | Length: 1-hour video | Downloadable resources: Yes

Whether its in the middle of a boring meeting or while you’re on hold waiting for the customer service representative, everyone doodles. For an artist, designer, or illustrator, doodling is very often the initial stage of a project for a client. The Digital Illustration: Doodles to Designs course, taught by Jon Burgerman, will teach you how to take those doodles to the next level, even turning them into paid gigs. Through each of the 16 lessons, the course will teach you how to expand on your doodles and digitize them in a vector graphics program. If you spend a lot of your day doodling, learning how to expand your skills can be very helpfulLearn More

Illustrating Characters and the Stories They Tell (CreativeLive) – $34

Illustrating Characters and the Stories They Tell

Skill Level: Intermediate | Length: 2 ½ hours of on-demand video | Downloadable resources: Yes

Taught by Mary Jane Begin, a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Illustrating Characters and the Stories They Tell course will show you how to draw characters as part of an overall larger story. You’ll also learn how to make characters more relatable by learning the responses to fundamental character styles. Made up of 16 lessons encompassing 2 ½ hours of on-demand video, the course goes over the key elements of storyboarding, story creation, and character development. Taken by more than 10,000 students, the course also includes helpful bonus materials to help you succeed.Learn More

Adobe Illustrator: Vector Illustration from Scratch – $12

Adobe Illustrator: Vector Illustration from Scratch

With 98% positive reviews, this course has been attended by nearly 3,000 students so far. These courses tutor you to master the software so that you can create professional-grade illustration and graphic work. It comprises 58 lessons with a total run-time of 8 hours and 3 minutes. You can complete the course online at your own pace leveraging the Domestika application. The original audio of the course is available in the Portuguese language. The machine translations are available in Spanish, English, German, Italian, and French.

Among other things, the course teaches you to create geometric shapes, apply color and transform objects. Next, it shows you how to vectorize an image to create complex logos and illustrations. Then, in the next segment, you get to know how to add and experiment with color. As you proceed further, the course elaborates on the difference between format types and shows how to integrate texts into your design. The final segment is about learning to streamline your creative process and exporting high-quality files.View Course

Drawing Foundations Fundamentals (LinkedIn Learning) – $32.99

Skill Level: Beginner | Completion Time: 5 Hours of Self Paced Video | Certification: Yes

This course, designed by Will Kemp, is for people who are complete amateurs in the field of drawing. According to this course, the following three things will help you to become a good artist: 

  • Drawing a neat and presentable shape of an object. 
  • Being simple and learning elegant drawing techniques. 
  • Have a structured approach to your drawings. 

This course will help you master these three rules in detail by combining them with practical examples (i.e., drawing assignments) and drawing theory. Will Kemp will ensure that he embodies the sense of passion and enthusiasm in everything that you draw.View Course

Illustrator for Non-Illustrators (LinkedIn Learning) – $35

Skill Level: Beginner Completion | Time: 4 to 5 Hours of Self Paced Video | Certification: Yes

This is a course that is instructed by Von Glitchka. He happens to be a designer, illustrator, and passionate pursuer of the creative arts. This course will lead you through all the basics of Adobe Illustrator. This course is for you if you want to fine-tune your skills with Adobe Illustrator and, at the same time, add drawing to their toolkit.

Von guides you with all the skills that will help you to have a grip on your drawing skills. You will learn the various tools that are available to help you draw in illustrator. You will also be guided on the fundamentals of drawings of different shapes and line patterns. The next step is to learn the various drawing methods, like base color and shading. At the end of this course, you will be able to produce high-end digital illustrations.View Course

Free Drawing Lessons for Beginners (Kline Creative)

Skill Level: Beginner | Completion; Time: 4 to 5 Hours of Self Paced Video

This course was instructed by John Kline, from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1994. From then on, he has been working as an artist. The instructor understands that drawing is the core for creating two-dimensional artwork. 

For this reason, Kline has compiled the series of drawing lesson videos in such a way that beginners get a complete idea of how to enhance any 2-dimensional artwork.View Course

How to get the most out of an online class

Whether free or paid, taking a class online is something that you should put everything towards because, at the end of the class, you can either walk away informed or if you didn’t take it seriously, feel even more confused. To help, here are our tips to get the most out of an online class.

Treat it like a “real” course

The biggest difference between an online class and one in a classroom is the location itself. Taking an online class requires dedication and discipline to take it seriously. Whether its a free class or you paid for it, you should treat it no different than taking a class in person. That way you are focused, dedicated, and ready to learn everything you can.


To succeed, you have to be able to hold yourself accountable. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Set goals before starting the class and check-in with yourself regularly to see how you are doing in meeting those goals. If you’re not meeting those goals or are on the path to completing those goals, you may need to reassess so you can get back on track.

Another great way to hold yourself accountable is to try and pair up with someone else who may be taking the course. Many online courses will have community chats for students so they can connect and ask questions. Pairing up with someone can not only keep you on track but also help them stay on track too.

Eliminate distractions

Our worlds are full of distractions. Netflix, social media, dishes in the sink can distract us and derail what we’re intending to do. The best way to focus on your online class is to develop a plan to lessen these distractions. The way someone eliminates distractions is different for everyone. From drowning out a noisy home by listening to music or taking classes from a library to enjoy some peace and quiet. One way to remove a major source of distractions is to turn your cellphone off while taking a class. Or if you find yourself drifting to other webpages during class, a website blocker can be a big help.

Create a study space

With the global pandemic, many of us have had to get creative when it comes to workspaces at home but when it comes time to take a course online, you want to do everything you can to create an environment that is suitable for studying. Whether that’s in your bedroom, the kitchen table, or at the local library, creating that environment and working there repeatedly will create a routine and even help you be organized better as well.

Time management

Time management is a skill that many people work at but can have a hard time mastering but the flexibility that an online class gives you to take it on your schedule is a big reason why online classes are so successful. With that flexibility comes managing your time correctly. Depending on your overall schedule, how you go about managing your time might be different, but there are some universal tips for time management.

Create a weekly schedule that you can follow and commit to making your coursework part of your weekly routine and set reminders for yourself to complete these tasks. Blocking out a certain time to work on each task before moving on and setting a timer can help keep you accountable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I learn illustration for free?

You have a lot of free illustration courses available. Here are some Digital Illustration courses: Doodles to Designs (Skillshare) and Free Drawing Lessons for Beginners (Kline Creative).

Is Skillshare available for free?

You can join Skillshare for full access to over a thousand classes with various other features, like offline viewing, subtitles, perks, and transcripts.

Which software can be helpful to learn Illustration?

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, and AutoDesk Sketchbook are some of the software available to learn illustration.

Can Illustration be learned on the web?

There are various courses available to learn Illustration. You can take up a drawing class to fine-tune your skills and learn the nuances of illustration techniques.

The Best Free & Paid Illustration & Drawing Courses for Artists

There are a lot of online classes that can teach you how to be a better artist. While we focused on just nine and understand that you might not agree with our choices, the point is clear. If you have a passion or a desire to do something or get better at it, there is a way you can do so and we hope our list of the online classes that will make you a better artist has put you on the path to your goal.

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