Is drawing a skill or a talent? This question is an ongoing debate to which there’s no specific answer. No doubt that talent is a part of drawing. However, no one is magically born with the ability to draw.
A huge part of drawing is a learned skill; it can be acquired and practiced. There are countless examples of people with small to no apparent talent but have worked on themselves to become established artists.
Talented or not, before you start producing mind-blowing artwork, you have to spend some time learning and practicing. So be patient and practice these 10 tips that you can use on your journey to mastering drawing.
10 Tips for Getting Good at Drawing
Tip 1: Know Yourself
You need a reality check. Assess your skill level and embrace that you’re still a beginner. You’re supposed to make mistakes. If you’re still not good enough, it’s okay. You’re going to get there by practice.
Learning is a process of continuous failures, ups and downs. Be prepared to produce sloppy work. When 20 drawings in a row don’t work, it’s normal. You’re still a work in progress.
Tips 2: Practice
Practice makes perfect. This is the mantra of all artists. It’s true for any skill. Make your goal to practice every day. If you don’t have the time to draw, try to observe; different media, lighting or composition.
Redrawing and practicing not only improve technical skills but also perception. After some time, you tend to notice what’s wrong with your drawings.
Tip 3: Eye Training
Exercise: Observe & Sketch
Ask any artist and they’ll tell you that observation is key for drawing. Many times, we sit to draw an object and it turns out as something else. This is because we let out mental images of things interfere with what we’re actually seeing.
The goal of this exercise is to learn how to observe like an artist. Mentally, try to observe your surroundings thoroughly; things you’d like to draw, things you don’t. Try to look for similarities and differences between objects. Try to dismantle them in your mind and observe proportions.
I’ve been observing for a while. Now what?
First, note that this is an ongoing exercise, it takes a while to shift your perspective and it takes time to see results.
Off to the practical part, Put your observation skills to action by carrying-out a sketchbook wherever you go. The next step, just draw. Constantly. Don’t erase. Don’t stop. Resist the urge to produce something beautiful or complete.
Throughout continuous observing and drawing, your interest in life manifests. You’ll be eager to experiment with different forms.
Another important boundary is time, you’re in this place for a limited time and probably you’re attempting to draw a moving object. This puts you under pressure to sketch fast and this is when the next exercise comes in handy.
Tip 4: Mind Training
Exercise: Break it down
This is one of the most famous exercises among drawing beginners. Yet, it has some sort of a bad reputation, where some learners find it boring and don’t produce complete drawings. But, believe me, it’s one of the sure-fire ways to improve your skills.
All you have to do is to try to break every object or collection you see into basic geometrical shapes. Take your time with contemplating the objects, try to imagine the scene broken down into basic shapes and once it’s clear in your mind. Start drawing.
This exercise helps you sketch a structured outline that you can build upon later. Have you ever wanted to draw something and were stuck in the ‘where to start’ phase? This exercise is the fix.
The goal is to make you realize the form in each object and improve your perception of three-dimensional objects. For these basic shapes are building blocks of the bigger picture.
How to practice?
Draw a still-life scene using forms. Set it up using objects from your home; bottles, coffee pots, or dolls. Whatever you find interesting. Feel free to manipulate the scene, tweak shapes to suit your needs. Gather objects. Draw forms. Repeat!
Tip 5: Hand Training
Exercise: Gesture Drawing
You’ve probably stumbled upon gesture drawing somewhere. For those who’re not familiar with it, it’s a quick drawing that captures the essential gesture/motion of a subject in as little time as possible.
The attempt will be sloppy and incomplete. Don’t worry, this is how it’s supposed to be. The priority is for the outline. Work on the essence of the pose. Save details for later.
This works best with moving objects; humans or animals. We don’t care about proportions nor likeliness here. We’re trying to capture the motion; what the subject is doing rather than what it looks like. A common practice is to imagine an axis that works as an action line to center the movement around.
Practice: 10 to 20 minutes of gesture drawing daily can have dramatic effects on your drawing skills. Quickposes has a timed practice exercises that we find quite useful.
Gesture drawing requires minimal time and material. It also does a great job in understanding human form and range of motion. Moreover, it produces significant results in a short time.
We have written extensively on gesture drawing, make sure you read it here.
Tip 6: Light Training
Exercise: Explore a Value Scale
When artists refer to ‘value’, they mean how light or dark a color is. A simple value scale is a rectangle that has different values of the same color ranging from light to dark. Value is about light, it determines how we see things. We see values not just colors. This is why this exercise is essential.
Start drawing your own value scale, be it 5 values for starters. Use your pencil to produce the values. Then, define a light source to your painting and start applying the full range of value to the drawing.
There are 2 ways to practice here:
First, try drawing an object with its shadows to notice light interactions with objects.
Second, move your light source around to see how it affects the appearance of the object and try to apply your range of value to it.
This might be challenging at first, but you have to be patient. Shading is an indispensable tool for a painter. Gradually it’ll be intuitive to you.
Tip 7: Coordination Training
Exercise: Continuous-Line Drawing
Continuous line drawing is a well-known technique among artists. This exercise targets hand-eye coordination skills. The rule is that once you put your pen to paper you don’t take it off until you’re finished.
Try your best to capture the object. Surely, the one line restriction makes it hard to get right. But you have to do your best. Choose an object with well-defined curves to ease the process.
Tip 8: Differentiate Textures
This one is a bit advanced. You don’t want the texture of human skin to look like a metallic surface. You might have experienced difficulty drawing hair or grass textures before.
You can try to replicate different objects in your home. Consider how textures vary; wood, cloth, glass or metal. Another common practice is to rub against the paper with a piece of aluminum foil or something. This is known as Frottage.
Tip 9: Take a Class
If you’re serious about the drawing thing. You ought to sign up for some drawing classes or workshops. They will help you wrap up the basics of drawing in a short time.
Having a mentor will upgrade your learning process. An expert eye closely monitoring you will point out your mistakes and tell you how to improve them.
If you can’t afford or find a class near you. Look for online courses or YouTube tutorials. Even though they lack the interactive part, they have a very similar effect on your progress and they offer a wider variety.
Tip 10: Speed Drawing
Give yourself a limited time of about 30 to 60 seconds to do an entire scene. At first, you might find yourself obsessing over details that won’t fit into the limited time. As you practice, you will start to take a grip on the important stuff.
You’ll learn what to favor and what to sacrifice, what makes a difference and what doesn’t. Another way to do it is to limit the number of strokes instead of limited time.
Resources to Start Drawing
At a very basic level, you’ll need a sketchbook and a pencil. Here is what we recommend.
We recommend Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil Pad as a starter sketchbook. This lightly textured sketchpad will be a nice companion on your learning journey. The paper has a smooth texture, but it's thick and durable.
These are best used with pencils, charcoal or watercolors. Sharpies or similar pens might bleed through paper. We’d recommend them for your daily art practice. For a more complete review of this sketchbook, please read our article on best sketchbooks for colord pencils.
For sketching pencils, you can't go wrong with LYRA Rembrandt Graphite Drawing Pencil. It is a durable pencil with an affordable price but without a comprise in quality. We have covered this pencil in our article on best sketching and drawing pencils (among with other pencils obviously).
We'd hoped the 10 tips above are useful for your journey as an artist.