Learning how to draw doesn’t come naturally to everyone. While some people just seem to have an instinct for it, I wasn’t one of those lucky ones but I’ve got some good news for those of you out there who are in the same dilemma.
A little mental trickery and you’ll get better. I promise!
Today I’ve got a few drawing exercises that can help you with overall creativity and with learning proportion. Try one or try them all, each of these can help in various ways when it comes to putting what you see on paper.
In your own way. Let’s get started with how to get better at drawing and you can see what I mean for yourself!
‘Tricking’ your mind is a good way to learn
A lot of why these tricks work has to do with how your brain works. For instance, when you are trying to draw a face, you have a mental measurement of how far the lips should be from the nose, how far the nose should be from the eyes, and so on…
When you try to draw that and you haven’t practiced a lot, it’s hard to put everything in place the way that you see it in your mind. With the right exercises, you can force yourself to think more about the shapes and different spacings until eventually putting it to paper is much, much easier.
Try a few of these exercises if you don’t believe me. You’ll see.
Draw it in component shapes to practice proportions
One drawing exercise that you can do can produce useful results that will last you a lifetime. It sounds simple when it’s written down but it’s going to be harder than you think. Instead of drawing something right away, try drawing it lightly but in the form of its component shapes.
For example, let’s say that you are drawing someone’s face and they are smiling big to show their teeth. The eyes are going to be ovals, with circles inside. The nose might be fairly triangular or could be a pear shape. The grin is a crescent, while the teeth could be rectangles or even triangles, depending on how much is hidden by the lips.
Breaking things down into shapes is a good habit for an artist because you can draw anything this way. Practice drawing just the shapes themselves and draw them lightly. Later, go back and try to draw the actual picture, erasing as-needed and filling in the details.
I think that you might be surprised how much easier this makes it to draw more accurately.
Set a timer and attempt to draw only the ‘essence’
Get yourself a kitchen timer and a few different things that you can draw. Set the timer to minutes and try to draw what you are looking at in the 5 minutes that you have, stopping when the timer goes off. Do this until you can produce basic drawings of what you are looking at in very little time.
This sounds tricky and it is, but if you practice this then you are teaching yourself to make the most of each mark that you make on paper. You will also learn which parts of your subjects draw your most focus, as you will be translating these onto paper.
With so little time, you can focus on a mix between economy and style in your artwork and you will see that the old saying is true. Less is often more.
Don’t use your dominant hand
Unless you are ambidextrous, one of your hands is not nearly as adept at drawing, and you should exercise it. The goal isn’t so much to become ambidextrous, although you might be surprised how well your other hand will respond to practice, but to build your understanding of the lines and shapes that make up an image.
By forcing yourself to use the less-skilled hand, you will be thinking more about how to produce the same quality image with less skill. This can be done with an understanding of shapes, sneaky shading, and more… it’s going to be up to you. Whatever you choose, challenging yourself in this way will just deepen your understanding of what makes drawings work and it will help you to add tricks to your toolbox when you encounter something that is harder to draw than you expected.
Visualize it upside-down before you put pencil to paper
When I was learning how to draw Halloween skulls I couldn’t get the proportions right at first. My mother, who has been drawing and painting longer than I’ve been alive, gave me a simple solution that works surprisingly well.
If you are trying to draw something from memory, then visualize it upside down. If you are looking at a picture, turn it upside down.
Then try to draw it. I’m not sure why it works, but turning or imagining the subject upside-down makes you pause as you put an image to paper. This mental pause makes you rethink where everything goes and that extra pause makes all the difference. That’s how I think it works, anyway, but try it for yourself and see what you think.
Take a picture that you want to draw and try drawing it normally first. Then put away your drawing and try again later that evening (or wait a day), with the picture inverted, and see how much better it comes out. It’s weird, but it works.
Don’t assume it has to be photorealistic
Sometimes what causes us the most problems are our expectations. Yes, there are folks out there who can draw pictures with pencils that are photorealistic. That said, who says that you have to be one of them?
Learning how to get better at drawing to that level isn’t something that happens overnight. I guarantee you that artists who can do this have put in a lot of time and more importantly, have drawn many things in many different styles to get to the point that they can draw like this.
So, relax a little. Take a deep breath.
If you wanted to produce photos right away, you’d be practicing photography right now. As an artist, the best thing for you right now is to find out where your skills are their sharpest and where they need practice. Maybe you are great at shading. Maybe hands are easier to draw than faces. Take an inventory of what you do well and where you need improvement and focus on these areas. Above all, don’t expect everything to be perfect. Along the way you are going to find that you develop your own style and that you will find ways to express the things that you cannot draw yet.
Caricature is a great example of this. A good caricature artist can capture important details that are instantly recognizable as the person that they are drawing, but it’s a collection of exaggerated features, rather than an assemblage of perfect lines and shading that make it look like a photo.
“it’s a collection of exaggerated features, rather than an assemblage of perfect lines”
Don’t expect photo-level work of yourself right away. Just practice and know that you can expect progress. You’ll get there, don’t worry.
Try drawing in a continuous line
Another great little trick that forces you to think about what you are drawing is this. Try drawing something employing a single, continuous line. This means that you don’t get to pick your pencil up and put it in another place. Rather, you start outlining the outer shape by putting your pencil down to start the line and keeping it on your paper for the whole time that you are drawing.
This is possibly the hardest exercise on the list, but you can really learn a lot by forcing yourself to draw something in this way. Also, while you can’t lift your pencil from the paper, you can decide how hard that you are pressing down and thus how distinctive a mark that you are making on the paper, so you are also going to learn a little bit about bold lines versus thin ones.
It’s a fun challenge and it’s quite educational in the bargain, so be sure to give this one a try. It can really teach you a lot!
Try just having fun with it
Not all art practice has to be serious. Find an ugly potato and draw it with your friend’s face. Draw a lego house in a realistic outdoor background. Having fun with your art is one of those simple joys that you want to make sure that you never let yourself lose and taking yourself too seriously is like shooting yourself in the foot.
That’s because sometimes you’ll be drawing or painting something and you’ll get an idea that seems so far out there that it might just come out brilliant… and you might not try it because it’s too weird or sounds absurd.
Play with your drawings every now and again and deviate from your norms. Experimentation is your friend and you never know when a fun little experiment might inspire you to draw or paint something that turns out to be completely and uniquely you.
If you worry too much about producing work that looks like everyone else’s then you can’t do that. Remember, imitation can teach you lots of ‘established tricks’ but letting go and just drawing to amuse yourself might teach you something NEW.
Just a little food for thought!
In conclusion: The best practice is the kind that forces you to think differently
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little list of useful drawing exercises. Hopefully one or more has ‘called’ to you as to how to get better at drawing and you’ve already fetched your favorite pencils and a sketchpad. If you didn’t like any of them, I still urge you to give one or more of them a try.
The human mind is strange and wonderful and when you force it to solve a problem in a new and different way, amazing results can occur. So, challenge yourself with these exercises and see what a little thinking outside of the box can do for you. Shapes and proportions get much easier and by trying different exercises, it feels less like work and more like what it should be.
That pure and simple act of creation that we know simply as Art.