Often when you have really impressed someone, whether a friend or parent, you will be asked, "Did you draw that freehand?" This may give you a great feeling of accomplishment and pride in your work, but what exactly does freehand drawing mean?
When most people think of freehand drawing, they think of drawing with just the pencil and paper with no aids or stencils. This is correct; however, drawing freehand can mean many things. It is great to be able to draw things just by looking at them and transferring them with your eye and hand to the paper. There are also many different ways to "draw freehand."
There are different levels of drawing freehand. I'm not referring to using a compass or ruler, as these are tools that you still have to use independently. I am referring to an aid that directly projects images or that you use for tracing.
The most common aid would of course be a projector and sometimes a lightbox. For example — for larger pieces where I have already created a composition and printed it out for reference, I will transfer it to the paper using a projector. I will not finish the entire project with the projector. I will just use it to rule out error on proportions when transferring the design to a bigger mount.
Tip: If you don't pay attention, relying on the projected image too much can also result in a skewed image, as most projectors tend to bend the image at the edges (the more affordable ones anyway, which are still in the 50 to 150 dollar range).
If you tell some people that you used a projector and sketched the outline of the picture, they will say that you have somehow "cheated." This could not be further from the truth.
It is one thing to completely trace and copy an image from start to finish with a projector and call it your own. It is another thing to get the main concepts down and finish the piece on your own without tracing everything from the projected image.
Learning to use the drawing aids that are available to you effectively and relying on them are the two main differences in drawing freehand and copying or "cheating." With that being said, if you start to rely on the aid for everything, you will be hampering your growth and ability to "see" what you are drawing. The more you draw things without aids, the better you will get at drawing things freehand.
For more tips on drawing things freehand or getting the proportions correct, check out my other article on Drawing Scale. It has lots of other tips on drawing things freehand and making sure things turn out the way you want.