Learning to draw is tricky. Sometimes you can look right at a picture and get the lines wrong. That’s because seeing the right proportions is very different from putting them on paper. Thankfully, there are some tried-and-true methods that can definitely take your drawing to the next level. Today I’m going to share some tips with you that will help you to do exactly that, but you need to make the commitment to work through them regularly if you truly want to make an impact.
Skill is built, piece by piece, and you need to build yourself a foundation and work slowly up from there. With a little persistence and by following the advice I’m giving you today, you’ll start to see some significant difference.
It’s going to happen quickly too, but you’ve got to stick with it!
Practice every day
You hear this all the time from other artists and the reasoning is simple. If you don’t practice, you aren’t going to learn. One of the best ways to do this is to pick 4 different reference scenes that you can find on the internet, print up, and practice with daily. Just select 1 item from each of the 4 and spend just half an hour a day to see how much you can capture in that brief time.
Try printing up one of each of the following suggestions:
- Fruits (for spherical and other interesting shapes)
- Faces (try to get 2 or 3 in one shot so you can try your hand at expressions)
- Landscapes (quickly defining a realistic landscape is useful and good exercise)
- Anything that requires a lot of shading (to get a sense of light and how it affects what you are drawing)
By limiting yourself to half an hour, you’ll be teaching yourself to quickly sketch out basics, and when it starts to become intuitive, you’ll unlock a lot of potential for more complex subjects that’s just waiting for you to find it!
The upside-down method
If you are having trouble getting proportions right then you are certainly not alone. While you can look at a picture and see the spacing, that information gets translated through your brain, to your hand, and somewhere in the middle it gets muddled.
That’s okay, you just need to learn to think like an artist. Turning your perspectives into a drawing and getting the spacing right is a lot easier with this little trick. Turn your reference picture upside-down.
The human brain sometimes ‘cheats’ when it thinks that something is easy, applying processing power in different places and when you are starting out with perspective this happens all the time. By turning your reference upside-down but trying to draw it right-side-up, you trick your brain into applying a little extra thought to perspectives.
If you don’t believe me, try drawing the item with the reference picture right-side-up and then try it again, with your reference upside-down. If you’ve been having problems with perspective, you will definitely see a positive difference.
You can learn a lot from tracing
Wondering how to get better at drawing? Tracing, that’s how!
While some aspiring artists frown on the thought of tracing paper or feel that it’s cheating, it’s actually a great way to practice. Tracing some things which you are trying to learn how to draw, over and over, eventually sets the shapes and spacing into your mind and after a while, you can do it on your own. This is also a good way to learn a little about shading.
You can trace something twice, just getting the general outline, and then try tracing the shading once and then use the other outline to do it on your own. If shading is a little tricky, exercises like these with tracing can help you to learn proper shading while you’re also practicing new and useful shapes.
Quality paper can actually make a difference
While standard printer paper is plentiful, it’s not always the best for your practice and you really should consider trying some different types of paper. This goes doubly so it you are having problems blending
“Consider trying some different types of paper”
or shading, as you might be practicing a technique correctly but printer paper is simply a poor medium for that.
Try a little quality paper for your practice. It costs a little extra, sure, but you’re going to see a world of difference.
Break complex things down into basic shapes
You want to get into the habit of looking at things and breaking them down into basic shapes. A face with a goatee, for instance, will have 2 ovals for eyes, a basic oval for the face, a triangle on the chin, and a pear-shaped nose. If you get in this habit, you can capture the basic shapes of something, drawling them lightly on the paper so that they are easy to erase.
Once you’ve got them down, then you have a great set of guidelines to try and draw the regular image. Your shape-breakdown will help to keep your spacing and overall perspective in check so that you’ll have a much better drawing in the end.
Avoid smudging by putting something under your drawing hand
It’s an irritating moment that every artist will experience at some time. You carefully keep your hand at a distance as you are drawing something and then an accidental brush and whoops – you’ve smudged your work. An easy way to minimize this is just putting something underneath your hand. You can tape a little tracing paper into place without sacrificing dexterity or simply hold a little in your hand and let it fan out underneath to minimize smudging.
This is very useful with charcoals and worth looking into.
YouTube tutorials are free art classes — use them
Today’s generation has an amazing advantage at their disposal – free art classes all over YouTube. While you could go and pay for an expensive online or college course, can you think of any good reasons why you shouldn’t use tutorials that are completely free and waiting? YouTube tutorials are an excellent resource and just about anything that you want to learn how to draw probably already has a tutorial there. Try a search for something specific that you like and want to learn and you can see for yourself!
Learn all of your pencils
There is a reason that art pencils have those fancy alphanumeric ratings like 4H or 4B. The ‘quick and dirty’ explanation is that ‘H’ pencils have harder graphite while your ‘B’ pencils will be softer. There are also ‘HB’ pencils that lie somewhere in the middle. While a mechanical pencil is one of the best ways to do precision work, you’re going to get noticeably different output based on the pencils which you have selected.
To practice these, line up all of your pencils and when you use one, move to the next one, until you have to start over with the first one that you used. Do this for a couple of weeks so that you can learn the differences. You’ll be surprised what you can do with your sketching once you know the differences between your pencils.
This is definitely a way how to get better at drawing!
Spice up your lines
While we’re on the subject of pencils I have another bit of advice that is good for you. Don’t limit yourself to making the same lines. Try making your lines darker and more defined with a little pressure. Try loosening up your hold and letting your drawing flow. Finally, angle those pencils from time to time and try drawing at that angle and when you get to that, try drawing a line at an angle and shifting the pencil while you draw.
You’ll get lines that get thicker and thinner, almost like a ribbon that you’ve twisted slightly and this makes for much more interesting drawings once you start to get the hang of it. Give it a try and have a little fun with it.
As an exercise, take one of your favorite drawings and try to reproduce it after you’ve played with this
“Compare the new version with your line-play to the original”
technique a few times on some practice paper. When you’ve reproduced your favorite sketch, compare the new version with your line-play to the original… which one looks more interesting? Do you like this new one better?
Play with your lines and you’ll learn more control and quite a few interesting effects. Practice it a little and you’ll see, there’s a lot you’re going to learn.
Stuck on shading? Try a blending stick
Shading properly with your pencils is hard to learn and it’s not always even the best way to do it. To that effect, there is a cool little trick which you can try that will really make an enormous difference in shading your sketches.
Get yourself a few blending sticks of different sizes, some spare paper, and some charcoal or a little soft graphite. Next, instead of trying to blend in your pencil lines for shading (which can be quite difficult), rub some of your charcoal or graphite thoroughly on your practice paper and then use your blending stick to pick up some of that dark coloration.
Now try creating a little blended shading on your sketch by transferring the dust from your blending stick to your sketch on paper. You can produce some really excellent shading this way with a lot less effort than simply trying to scribble and blend your way to it with your pencils.
If shading has been really difficult for your sketches (or if you’ve never tried this technique before) then give it a go and see what you can do. It really takes a lot of the trouble out of whipping-up some successful shading.
Some closing commentary on how to get better at drawing
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the lessons which I’ve shared with you today. The next step, of course, is to take a few of these or even all of them and schedule yourself a little practice. Even half an hour a day can make a lot of difference, so don’t try to convince yourself that you have no time. With a little dedicated practice every day you can take your sketches from ‘meh’ to ‘amazing’ and it is going to take a lot less time than you think.
Try some of these exercises for just a week and you can see for yourself!