11 Ways to Improve Your Drawing

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Are you looking to improve your drawing?

Drawing is an incredibly therapeutic and calming activity to be involved in. It is the foundation of all other art forms and so it is really good to be practicing this skill regularly and trying to improve your drawing ability.

But… you have been drawing for a while and you just can’t seem to get certain things right. Your proportions are out and your drawing just looks ‘wrong’. Somehow you need to improve your drawing skills!

We all have experienced this feeling, no matter how advanced we may be in drawing.

The frustration of trying your best to produce a drawing – and it’s just not working.

Perhaps you want to create drawings that are highly expressive or realistic?

The most important factor involved in determining whether you are going to improve in your drawing or not is your reason why. The desire for wanting to improve in drawing is such a personal thing but it has the biggest impact on your performance.

Fortunately, there are things you can do that help to hone your skills and improve your drawing!

Here are 11 different ideas to help you improve your drawing skills. Some of these ideas will help you develop skills, others help with improving the quality of your drawings, and some help with both!

Improve your drawing skills
Image by Johann Libot

11 Ways to Improve Your Drawing

Draw from Life

I chose to put this as my first point because I think it is one of the most successful methods in improving your drawing skills. Drawing from life delivers the most effective results because you are able to incorporate all of your senses into your drawing experience.

When you are looking at a subject, you can see how it interacts with other objects, light and shade, color, and so on. You will find that you even begin to memorize shapes and forms more easily when drawing this way.

Drawing from life is also a great way to work on your composition. There really is no better way for you as an artist, to learn how to compose within the boundaries of a page.

This will teach you more about visual weight and how to balance shapes in this area thus developing your abilities.

Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, you can find a huge variety of subject matter to choose from. Sit on a park bench and draw a tree, or ask a friend to pose for some figure drawing. Working outdoors also means you may have to work at a speed in order to capture changing weather conditions.

[Related article: Art Challenges -Get Your Creativity Flowing]

Drawing from life stretches our brain’s ability to “see” things and translate them into marks on a page. It gives us an opportunity to truly analyze the three-dimensional subject and find solutions to producing a drawing that has depth and volume.

Draw from Photographs

This provides a static reference that we can draw directly from. A photo gives us a flat image and helps us to see the borders and boundaries of shapes and form.

You can also convert your color photos to black and white in order to get a better idea of tonal variation in the image. This can be a great tool to use when you are struggling to accurately render shadows and highlights.

When you are looking at a photograph to draw from, simplify your view and focus on the main features of the subject. Look for the largest shapes that make up that particular form and block these in first.

This is because when using a photo as a reference, there are most likely many details which will distract you from your overall drawing goal. By initially blocking the major shapes in, you are setting yourself up for an easier and more satisfying drawing experience.

Photographs can be a great tool for inspiration as well! By seeing what someone else has created, we have the opportunity to look at it from a different perspective and use it for our own learning purposes. You could ask yourself, “How would I have approached this differently?”

If you do happen to draw from photos, be sure that the image is one of high quality. There are some situations where we have poor resolution and/or focus which can result in a less effective drawing experience when working from your photo reference.

Look at Other Drawings and Draw from them

Copy drawings of the old masters like DaVinci and Michelangelo, or more contemporary masters like Lucian Freud.

By copying their drawings, you get a sense of what and how they see their subjects and how they translate this into drawing. This helps you to think about their methods and improve your drawing skills.

You can learn a lot by using their techniques.

Experiment with Different Mediums

Play with other drawing mediums such as charcoal, markers, colored pencil, pastel, ink, and crayons.

Each drawing medium produces a specific texture and line on the page.

Many artists find that charcoal offers more freedom, for example, to make expressive drawings than pencil does.

They might also find that they don’t like the stark contrast of a black and white drawing, so switching to colored pencil will help them solve this issue.

It is important to understand how each medium works, but it is also important to try out other media in order to help you figure out what your preferred mediums are for producing your artwork.

Here are a few drawing mediums you can explore to expand your drawing skills:

  1. Graphite
  2. Charcoal
  3. Crayon
  4. Colored Pencils  (oil and wax based)
  5. Markers  (water-based and oil-based)
  6. Pens (fountain, ballpoint, gel, rollerball)
  7. Inks
  8. Pastels  (hard or soft)
  9. Watercolors  (aqueous, gouache, or tempera)
  10. Acrylics
  11. Wax Crayons
  12. Tempera

Turn Your Subject Matter Upside Down

This is called the Picasso exercise and it teaches you to see things with fresh eyes. Turn your subject matter upside down and look carefully at the actual lines and shapes you see. Not what you think you see.

Have a look at my article on Upsidedown drawing if you would like to find out more about it.

Draw in a Mirror

Drawing your reflection, or an object reflected in a mirror. This is another exercise we can use to push ourselves to see things in a new light.

You may find it helpful to use a mirror and place an object directly in front of you, with a sheet of paper on top.

You can then draw this object without having to figure out how you might capture the image.

This is one way that artists help themselves see through different eyes and to help them develop their artist’s eye so they can learn to draw.

Drawing from a mirror will help you to create drawings with lively and expressive marks because you are exploring a new way of perceiving things. 

When you wish to see whether the general effect of your picture corresponds with that of the object represented after nature, take a mirror and set it so that it reflects the actual thing, and then compare the reflection with your picture, and consider carefully whether the subject of the two images is in conformity with both, studying especially the mirror. ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’

Draw Subject Matter That is Moving

When you attempt to draw a moving subject, you are forcing yourself to find solutions to create the illusion of movement on a static page.

Not only will drawing a moving subject help you develop your skills at creating the illusion of movement, but it can help to make your drawings more interesting and engaging.

When I first started sketching on location I spent time trying to draw things like ants, people walking, or even wiping a window at a local café.

These simple tasks helped to build my confidence and help me to understand how certain effects can help create the illusion of movement on a piece of paper.

It took time for me to change my approach, and when I did it really help me to learn how to draw things as they moved.

One of the best ways to help develop your skills at sketching moving forms is to simply practice!  

Often the use of repetitive lines or shapes can be effective in capturing this sense of motion. Artists often blur the edges of forms.

Keep a Sketchbook

By drawing in your sketchbook regularly you are keeping a record of how your drawing changes and develops with time.  This process will help you to understand where you are going and help you to find your own style.  

Your sketchbook could contain drawings, notes, images from magazines or even items that inspire you.  A sketchbook can be a great way to help develop your drawing skills while keeping everything in one place.  It is also a great way to help you remember and to review previous projects.

I love the idea that I can access my sketchbook at any time, even years after it was created.  The drawings in your sketchbook help you learn by reviewing them regularly.

You can also record your drawing experiments so that you can remind yourself what worked at a later date.

A sketchbook of drawing often provides a springboard for other artwork ideas that you may have.

You can also make your own sketchbook.

Use a heavy-weight paper such as sketchbook paper or drawing paper.

You can also use watercolor pages, large postcard sizes (which are often used for making flip books), scrap book papers, and everything in between.

Easily bind your homemade sketchbook by using staples or a stapler and have fun with it.

Stand Back

If you want a professional artist you will see that they often stand back away from their work to get a wider view of what they are creating.

When you stand back from your work you are forcing yourself to consider how everything appears together as one whole.

It is easy to get lost in the details and lose control of your drawing when you only focus on a small part at a time.  

This trick will help to help you see how everything fits together. If possible stand with one foot back while looking over your artwork or even walk around it so that you can look from different angles.

This is a simple trick that can help you improve your drawing skills in almost any setting.

Many artists use this same technique when looking at their work to help them find solutions for problems that they may see within their artwork.  

It will help you make the changes or corrections that are necessary while helping you to avoid getting lost in the details or perfection of your artwork.

It is really important to stand back and evaluate what areas you need to work on and what is working.

Ask for Constructive Criticism (online or in “real-life”)

This can be quite a difficult thing to do, especially when you feel vulnerable about your drawing.

If you have a friend or family member that you trust then you can ask them to give you feedback on your artwork. Ask them to try and best describe what works in your drawing and what seems ‘off’.

In some cases, the help of an online critique group can help you to improve your drawing skills.

Online forums are also a great place for help with drawing and many people will be willing to help you out if you ask politely.

Many people find it easier to give feedback on artwork when it is posted online. This is because they do not need to concern themselves with relationship issues or any kind of social interaction.

The help that you can find online is often quite detailed and specific and helpful with things like fixing problems areas, suggesting new ideas, showing examples of how something should look, and giving helpful tips with practice exercises for your drawing.  

There are lots of people willing to help you to improve your drawing skills if you are willing to ask for help.

Take Breaks

Make sure to take a break every hour to rest your eyes and look at something else. Have a cup of tea or take a walk outside.

By having a change in scenery every once in a while, you are able to see your drawing in a new light with fresh eyes.

Your eyes will be rested and you can help to think of new ideas or draw upon existing ones. If you don’t need a break then give yourself one anyway!

This simple step is very easy to implement when beginning with sketching.  A lot of people find that it helps them to concentrate on the task at hand and helps them to help draw better when they are more relaxed.

There is nothing worse than getting in a drawing rut, and it is important to take a break.

Other Frequently Asked Questions about Improving Your Drawing:

What should I draw every day to get better?

Some artists recommend drawing from life such as still-life, animals, and so on.

Personally, I would encourage you to find a balance between drawing your own subject matter and practicing techniques that help you to develop an eye for line, shape, and texture. 

When we practice these skills in our sketchbook, it helps us see the world differently.

This can help us to improve the drawings of our own subject matter so that the end result is more effective.

Some great ways you can practice drawing skills in your sketchbook are: drawing from a photo cut out with scissors, or an upside-down image, or line and shape exercises found on this website, or mirror images

How many hours a day should you practice drawing?

There are no rules on this, but it is generally good to practice a little every day.

Some people prefer to do an hour a day and some do it in shorter-timed daily sessions.

Learn what works best for you!

Make sure that you do not over-practice or your eyes might fatigue and your drawing quality will start to diminish.

How much time did Michelangelo spend drawing every day? 

It has been speculated that Michelangelo spent the majority of his days sculpting and only a couple of hours a day drawing.

There are countless stories from art students who have been inspired by Michelangelo’s sculptures while also being frustrated that they could not draw as well as he did (and still do).

How can I draw better anime?

Understand the basics of anime first. This means you need to study anatomy and learn how to draw the figure, proportions, weight, etc.

You also need to know how to use color effectively to create shadow and three-dimensionality.

It helps to study the work of others in the anime genre and try to emulate their style.

If you want to draw manga, then you should really learn how to use perspective effectively.

This is a difficult thing to master but once you are able to see three-dimensionally, your drawing will improve greatly!

There are many resources you can use to help improve your anime drawings.  I would recommend watching YouTube channels such as “How To Draw Anime”,  “Pencil Project”, and so on.

It is also a good idea to research the history of animation, illustrators who have worked in the anime industry such as  Hayao Miyazaki, and so on. 

What should I draw as a beginner?

If you are new to drawing, start off with drawing exercises and playing with the pencil. You need to be able to work out what different pressures and lines do on the page.

It’s also a good idea to draw something that you can finish in a short amount of time.

Try doing some exercises from this site or find an instructional book that provides help with basic skill-building.

Example: A tree can help you practice proportions and foreshortening because it has a set structure and shape.

How can I draw better faces?

If you want to improve your drawing of faces, I would recommend studying it in a more scientific way.  

For example, look at all the different facial expressions and draw them from life multiple times so that your eye learns how to see these expressions.

You can also do this by using photos and cut-outs of eyes or mouths.     

Another great way to improve your drawing of faces is by using a mirror and drawing what you see in the mirror. 

This will help you learn how to draw subtle differences between the left and right sides of the face, as well as help you observe how shadows help form the shape of the nose, cheekbones, jawline, etc.

It’s also a good idea to practice drawing from the angles of different photos.  

For example, tilt your paper slightly or use a mirror to help you draw from an angle that would be difficult to approach in real life.

How can I learn how to shade? 

You need start with some basic knowledge of color theory and terms.  I like to draw in color pencils because I can blend the colors together and also get a smooth gradation of value.

Another good way to explore and expand your understanding of shading is through watercolor painting, though it is difficult to control (you need to learn how much paint you are putting down on the page).

One of the best ways to learn good shading is by drawing from life.   You don’t necessarily need to draw photos, but people help a lot because we have so many different shades and complex values in our faces.

What is the 30-day drawing challenge?

Essentially the 30-day drawing challenge is where you do a drawing every day for 30 days!

You can join official 30-day drawing challenges on Instagram, Facebook, and other online forums, or you can download 30-day drawing prompts (or come up with your own prompts!).

You can do the 30-day drawing challenge with a friend or even by yourself.  The only rule is that you must complete a drawing every day!. 

This helps train your brain to be able to focus on creating art every day and seeing it as something at which you need to work daily.  It also helps you build a habit of being creative every day.  

Should I draw at night?

I do not recommend drawing at night because you tend to lose focus and your eyes can become strained.  

It’s better to draw when you are fresh in the morning or afternoon so that you can get a lot more work done and help boost creativity!

However, there are ways to make drawing at night easier on the eye.

Purchase a daylight lamp to light up your drawing surface. This will help you to better see your drawing and your subject matter, and it will not strain your eyes.

Where do I start drawing a person?

It all begins with the basic shapes of a person: circles, squares, rectangles etc. Break it down into the basic elements.

Drawing from imagination is like learning a new language. You start off slow, only speaking simple phrases at the beginning.  You then build up your vocabulary and your vocabulary expands until you can speak more complex sentences!

Will I get better if I draw every day?

Yes! Drawing every day helps builds a habit of being consistent and creative. It also helps you learn to be free and expressive while drawing.  

 It builds confidence and boosts creativity!

How should I hold my pencil?

I like to hold my pencil in the middle and use a light grip.  It gives me more control over the pencil and helps keep it smooth when I lay down values on paper.

There are many ways to hold your pencil or pen, but here is the way that I personally find most comfortable:

And it doesn’t really matter what type of grip you use, just make sure that you are comfortable so that your hand does not get tired and sore after a long drawing session.  

Conclusion

Finally, do not get too disheartened if you feel like your drawings are not any good.   The most famous artists have all had days where they felt like giving up on their artistic career. 

In order to improve your drawing skills, you should experiment with a range of different observational exercises to help you see your subject with fresh eyes. Most importantly is to keep practicing!

If you found this article interesting, have a look at some of our recommended drawing exercises to fuel your creativity…

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How to improve your drawing

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