Draw With a Theme in Mind | Drawing Idea Revealed

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Feature_image draw with a theme in mind

Written by Juha

When you are facing a slight boredom or some kind of creative block and don’t really know what to draw. One way to overcome that is to create a certain theme in your mind. The theme could be mythology, games, nature, life horoscopes etc. anything really. Something that gives this AHA! moment or something that sparks your imagination.

But how to go forward from there?  Just select a theme, like games (as I have). Now think a game you have either played, have looked or somehow gives you a feeling of some kind. I have always liked chess so I thought why not draw a chess piece.

For some reason I have always wanted to draw a chess piece, maybe it’s because I like chess.


The point here is to get your creativity flowing and to get your mind to produce images.




There are a lot of chess pieces to select from a tower, queen, king, knight, pawn and so on. I had this vision of drawing a horse a long time and so it came to my mind. AHA! I would draw a horse but make it a chess piece at the same time. So this way I can combine my urge to draw a horse but also give it a theme so it wouldn’t just be a horse.

So now we have a theme and an object but what now? How to go one step further? Drawing just one chess piece wouldn’t be so much fun so why not draw two different sides of the horse/knight and put them together like in the playing cards.

There is a huge benefit of drawing two different versions of the horse/knight. By drawing two different versions you let your mind flow much more freely and not limit yourself to one vision of a horse you have in your mind. The other benefit is that you can use multiple visions and bring all of those together to create one amazing piece of art.

It’s crucial to pick a theme that gives you good vibes and flow to your mind. Something that gives you excitement and something you look forward to.

So pick a theme and let’s get started!


Reference Images and Theme Selection

This step is rather important and it is also a step I haven’t always paid enough attention to. As we now have a theme and an object we might as well open pinterest.com and start the search. I chose Pinterest for a reason and not for e.g. google.com. In Pinterest you can only see images, photographs and all, Google sometimes gives you too varied results and so I think Pinterest is much better for searching references.

First I will look at references to the horse, anatomy, different head poses etc. I have a certain vision in my head about the end result and the goal here is to find a reference image that is as close as possible to the image I have in my head.

This will only strengthen the image you have in your head and might also give you a new direction to follow.  After the horses, I look for chess pieces and only the knight piece. The goal here is to look for an idea for the pedestal and also some rough ideas for the angle of the piece.


Sketch and Draw the Initial Idea

Here comes the fun part or at least it should be fun. However, as we all know, sometimes this is phase quite hard. Ideas should be flowing and all things should go smoothly but nothing actually happens on the canvas just random lines here and there. So at this point, you should look at the reference images you have and sketch from there.

Sketch away and bring the flow in. Using the standard Rough Pencil brush gives you this nice pencil-like effect and it looks like it was drawn to an actual paper. Keep the theme alive and think what you could do that hasn’t been done before. Or at least not exactly like you are doing.



Refine and Add Details

Keep the theme in your mind and don’t let your mind wander too much. If you stray too far from the theme it might make the end result confusing as the viewer might not understand what you have tried to accomplish or tried to bring up. Refine the sketch so that the shapes are identifiable and the viewer can clearly see that this piece belongs to the chess game and is clearly the knight.

It can be identified from the horse, the pedestal and also the background gives a strong indication of what is going on here. Add elements that enhance the theme, not elements that take away the theme.


To refine the sketch I used the Rough pencil Okuha Refine Sketch brush.


Line Art

Line art phase is just fun, here you simply draw on top of the sketch you have underneath it. Hopefully, you have done clear enough sketch so you know which lines to draw and which not. If you leave the sketch phase unclear you have a hard time in the line art phase. You can read more about line art in in-depth at Line Art – Insight on Line Art and Line Drawing.

So it is up to you whether you want to do the work in the line art phase or in the sketch phase. I recommend doing the work in the sketch phase as it is much more free flowing to draw than in the line art phase.


Line art was done with the G-pen Okuha Line art brush.


Varying the width and depth of the line is all up to you. It can add depth to the drawing but it can also hinder it. If you are looking for that Studio Ghibli look, for example, you should notice that there are no variation in the line width. For this drawing, I added subtle variations to the width of the lines.


Start by not varying the lines. It is easier to add them later to the drawing than to erase them.


King Tip!

Put the shading/shadows only on one layer. This way you can color/shade the whole drawing at once and don’t have to switch between layers. Later on, you can link different colors to the shadow layer and vary the shadow color from there. By link, I mean ‘clip to layer below’ setting.




Coloring and Shading

Possibly the most enjoyable phase of the drawing process. If you have a clear theme and the line art is clear and one can see what you are after, you can start the coloring phase and this time it doesn’t matter if you use a plethora of colors.

The reason is that when the shapes are clear the viewer understands what it is you have drawn so changing the coloring to something unconventional is only a good thing as you can bring a new element to the drawing.




I recommend that you shade with only one color active on the objects. This gives you a better view of the shades and the volume(s) of the object is easier to identify and see. Take your time with the shading and try different ways to bring up the shapes and volume of your object. Trial and error is the best approach here.Knight_Shading


Just a Tip!

Back in the old days, I didn’t create color charts. Nowadays, however, the color charts are extremely useful as you can experiment and see what works and what not. You most likely will find some color scheme that you didn’t think before. It might even become the one that you will use. You can find the color chart Image in the resources folder.


Finalizing the Artwork

This is where it all comes together. This is where you refine the shading, get the lighting right, choose the best color scheme and add the last effects. Many artists advice to leave the drawing alone for a couple of days and come back to it again.

This way you can see some mistakes you have made and haven’t noticed before. Or if you are lucky you won’t see any mistake and all you can do is, be proud of your work and show it to the world.

I am usually too excited about the fact that I have completed something and thus leave this ‘leave it for a couple of days’ step altogether. I do advise against it.


If the theme wasn’t your thing, you can always get more ideas from here: 10 Drawing Ideas for Digital Artists.

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