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10 Drawing Mistakes That Delay Art Progress

It has been approximately 20 months since I resumed my drawing journey following a five-year break due to an art block. Though the journey has been quite a rollercoaster, I am proud of how far I’ve come.

One crucial lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that while improving your drawing skills can be an uphill battle especially when you’re just starting out, there’s no need to make the process any harder than it needs to be.

In this post, I’ll share my top 10 drawing mistakes that beginners make relating to art technique, process, and mindset. I’d advise avoiding these mistakes if you’re just starting your art journey, and I hope this helps you improve your drawing quickly without any unnecessary struggle.

10. Being too precious with your sketches.

As a beginner, I tried to create perfect drawings every time I opened my Moleskine sketchbook, often resulting in spectacular failures. The issue with approaching drawing with the mindset of creating beautiful sketches all the time is that it hinders your ability to learn, experiment, and discover better ways to draw.

To grow as an artist, it’s crucial to grant yourself the freedom to create art without fearing messy drawings. It helps to devote a substantial portion of your art practice towards quick, loose, and imprecise sketches aimed at learning something new. Once you’re comfortable with the idea that not every drawing will be a masterpiece, you’ll witness exponential improvement in your skills.

I recall the advice of Yousaf Ejaz, a senior concept artist based in Sweden, whom I met at a local artist meetup. He was kind enough to review my sketchbook and offer some feedback.

He immediately noticed that I was too precious with my sketches and suggested I do three things to loosen up and draw more freely as a beginner:

  • Stop using expensive sketchbooks.
  • Start practicing sketches on loose sheets of cheap printer paper.
  • Devote most of my drawing time to doing lots of quick sketches instead of only a few time-intensive drawings.

Looking back, I think this advice helped me a lot in being less precious of my art, experimenting a little, embracing the imperfection in my artwork, and drawing more freely.

9. Spreading yourself too thin.

One of the primary reasons my art progress stalled and led me to quit drawing seven years ago was my tendency to spread myself too thin and overwhelm myself with a lot more art information than I could put into practice at the same time. I attempted to learn various subjects and use multiple tools simultaneously, from portraits and animation to character design and landscapes, using different mediums like watercolors, graphite, ink, charcoal, and digital art.

What I’ve learned since getting back to drawing last year is that niching down to something small and manageable, such as drawing portraits in graphite pencils, until you become reasonably proficient, can lead to substantial progress and motivation.

Many beginners like my past self give up drawing before overcoming the initial frustrating phase of learning to draw. I think having clarity about the one thing you want to be obsessed with drawing well from the outset can simplify your art journey significantly.

8. Starting with small details.

A common mistake among beginners is starting their drawings with small details, neglecting proper structure. This approach often results in wasted time and frustration due to repeated corrections or abandoned sketches.

A good rule of thumb is to start your drawings by blocking out larger, simpler shapes before delving into smaller details. Once you’ve established the overall proportions and perspective, you can focus on the finer elements of your drawing.

If you’re interested in portrait drawing, consider learning the Loomis Method, which forces you to construct the head starting with basic shapes and correct proportions.

7. Expecting improvement too quickly

Most of us embark on our drawing journey with high hopes, only to become demotivated when our skills don’t progress as quickly as we’d like. Self-doubt among beginner artists often arises from setting unrealistic expectations for rapid improvement in their drawing skills.

Drawing, like any skill worth attaining, requires considerable time, practice, and knowledge to master. And from my experience, respecting the gradual nature of this process can make your journey more rewarding and sustainable.

6. Breaking art rules before learning them.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,” said Picasso. Many beginners skip learning the art fundamentals such as academic drawing, anatomy, proportions, and perspective because they find that boring, and jump into the fun stuff like drawing a stylized character.

Just like learning music theory and practicing the scales and chords is essential to playing the guitar well and creating good music, studying and practicing art fundamentals is crucial to drawing well and making good art.

What I have realized the hard way is that dedicating time to learning and developing your art fundamentals is essential for becoming a more versatile artist and the effort you put towards it pays off throughout your art journey regardless of your chosen art style or subject.

5. Drawing with only your wrist.

Drawing with a tense grip and using only your wrist can lead to stiff drawings and this is something I struggle with occasionally even now. If you often find yourself making small, squiggly pencil strokes, try these techniques to achieve a looser, more fluid motion:

  • Hold the pencil further away from the tip, similar to holding a spoon.
  • Elevate your drawing surface slightly to prevent hunching, allowing for a more relaxed and fluid arm movement.

4. Not using photo references.

Another mistake I have noticed among fellow beginner artists is relying solely on memory and imagination to draw without utilizing photo references. In today’s digital age, where high-quality photo references are readily available on platforms like Pinterest, this can hinder your art progress unnecessarily.

Using photo references in your drawing process is always a good idea because it can not only help artists draw in a consistent art style and figure out complicated things like the human anatomy in their artwork, but it can also provide a strong foundation to start a drawing which is something many beginners find challenging to overcome.

3. Not copying other artists.

For a long time, I had been a passive admirer of art on various social media platforms like Instagram and Artstation where I got to discover incredible artists whose art style I adored. So when I got back to the drawing board last year, I wanted to draw in my own unique art style that aligned with my aesthetic sensibilities, and which people could associate with me.

But I didn’t want to copy other artists as I thought it would interfere with the process of finding my creative voice and being original. In hindsight, this was a big mistake.

My initial struggles with forcing myself to conjure up an art style without allowing myself to copy and be influenced by those who I admired taught me one thing: To find your voice you first need to learn to sing in the sound of others.

I feel many aspiring artists, like myself, desire to develop a distinct art style that reflects their visual taste right from the beginning but don’t actively study the artists they look up to for inspiration.

I think a better strategy is to allow yourself to study and use what you like about how a certain artist draws something knowing that over time your distinct style will emerge. I love this quote by Austin Klein in his book Steal Like an Artist:

“Study everything about one artist. Then find three people that the thinker loved, and find out everything about them.”

2. Copying without creative thought.

While copying references is a valuable skill for beginners, merely replicating details without experimenting, simplifying, or improvising can limit your creative growth.

Even when aiming for realism, there’s room for creative choices. Don’t be afraid to omit or modify certain details from a reference to improve your composition. I find that working with references that offer less detail helps to encourage creativity and interpretation in your drawing process.

1. Not showing your work.

If you’re an introvert like me, you’ll know that sharing your artwork with others can be intimidating.

I am naturally hesitant to show my drawings to others and until recently I kept my sketchbooks to myself. That’s until I stumbled upon ‘Show Your Work’ by Austin Kleon which made a case for sharing your creative journey with others.

Reading this book really opened me to the ideas of being more comfortable in sharing my art with others, teaching drawing on this blog, carving out a space for myself in the digital world, and how an effort to contribute something of value to others has the power to transform your creative journey.

Getting over the fear of sharing my art journey allowed me to improve a lot in a short span of time because I was able to get feedback from those more experienced than me who were kind enough to point out the flaws in my drawings as well as encourage me to keep going when I felt particularly hopeless.

While we don’t have to show our every drawing to others, I feel like sharing your artwork and processes in intervals that make sense to you can be a game changer when it comes to building a supportive community around you and staying motivated in your art journey.