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2 Most Common Mistakes in Drawing and How to Quickly Improve

I'm passionately interested in the arts, especially drawing and painting. I work as a professional web developer.


Frustrated With Your Drawing Skills?

Most people at some point in their life have taken a fine art class. Some love it and develop a passion for the arts, but some find themselves completely incompetent and frustrated. This article is aimed toward pencil drawing in particular, but it may apply to other arts as well. The human mind is processing information much more in a linguistic and logical manner, and visual thinking is not our usual mode. However, it's a great way to relax, develop, and even solve some problems that you couldn't in other ways. Here are two common reasons people can find drawing frustrating. I'll also offer some solutions on how to overcome these hurdles.

1. Coordination: If You Can Write, Then You Can Draw

You may have a very beautiful and elaborate picture in your head, but frustration can build when you try to transfer that idea to a blank piece of paper. In most cases, this is because of hand-eye coordination or poor visual vocabulary. If you can write, you already have some hand-eye coordination, and you probably learned that by repeatedly practicing some shapes and movements that create the letters. Drawing may require different coordination skills, but the concept is basically the same. You need to create a "muscle" memory, in other words, your body needs to learn the movements, and that is done by repeated practice. Take baby steps, and focus on small tasks, like drawing a circle, a sphere, a cube, a straight line, and a gradient from dark to light. Those simple exercises will give you confidence and control over the pencil and over yourself. That is the foundation of great drawings.

2. Representation: The Pitfalls of Visual Vocabulary

If you take a look at children's drawings, you will soon notice that they are drawn in a symbolic way; they are using approximations of realistic objects. One reason for this is that they don't really have the greatest coordination, but the other reason is that they are not necessarily drawing visual representations. They just want to communicate concepts.

In the image below, a smile is drawn to the sun. It's not a person, but maybe the child is happy to have a sunny day, and it represented that in the drawing. If you want to draw in a more realistic way, you need to think more in terms of the shapes of dark and light. Some call this shading or rendering, but it can be even a broader field of study. A tonal study can be done from life or photographs. Try to notice these kinds of "mistakes," and they will become very obvious to you in the future.


Study the values of darkness and lightness; the way light falls on objects and reflects. Think in terms of 2D shapes that create the illusion of depth. The human eye perceives in this way. It registers the amount of light that falls on photoreceptors, and those values are interpreted by the brain. The 2D patterns that the brain is processing are then used to reveal information about 3D space, surfaces, light, etc. It's best to start by studying simple objects first to get to know how the light is falling on those objects, and which parts reflect the most light or where the hardest shadows fall. After you have some understanding, try to draw some more complex objects. A classical subject is the human form—try doing a figure study for example.

Don't Worry About Talent

In many arts, the outcome is not the important part. If that were so, the best musical composers would be those that write fast or short music, so that they reach the finish line of the composition before the others, but this is not the case. It's wiser to aim towards uniqueness, creativity, and developing your own way while enjoying the process, it's more about your state than your results.

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Some people tend to create a belief that sounds something like this: "I don't have a natural gift that other people have and it's magic." This is not a good way to think about drawing and the arts in general. Yes, it's true that many things we don't know, and part of the beauty is exactly that, but we admire some people for doing it in a good way. These people approach the same problem in very different ways, and that is producing very different results. You have to go outside your comfort zone to grow artistically and the good news is that even now you are doing that. By informing yourself, you are changing the way you look at things, and this is an immediate improvement.

A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.

— Johann Wolfgang Gete

Don't concern yourself with concepts of talent and ability, and don't get stuck by measuring your results too closely. Just enjoy doing the activity.


How Kids Draw

Drawing has great educational and creative value for kids. Some famous artists have encouraged that same attitude in adult artists as well because as we mature we tend to have much more definitions, goals, and concepts that get in the way of simple expression. When adults engage in a creative activity like drawing, they are much more likely to find themselves incompetent in terms of the skill of execution and this will quickly turn into frustration in disappointment. But don't get discouraged so quickly!

What is discussed in this article will give you a great starting point, and direction towards improving your drawing skills, so that your drawing becomes more realistic or precise when you want to. As I have discussed previously, sometimes good technique is maybe not the point of the creative activity or exercise. It can be just developing creativity, but if you want to technically improve as well (and that is very advisable), to transcend the skill levels that you had in the past and produce visually much more sophisticated drawings compared to what you could do when you were a kid, follow the advice mentioned above.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

— Pablo Picasso

Enjoy the Process

Remember to pay lots of attention to developing good coordination and how you visually represent objects in given lighting conditions. The way you represent space and light can make a huge difference in your drawing. Be ambitious, but don't forget that being creative and enjoying the process is even more important than the results.

These Two Key-Points Are Just the Start, Learn More

© 2017 Filip Stojkovski


sufia on May 06, 2017:

Really wonderful article.