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6 Hardest Things To Draw Well as Beginners

There are some things all beginner artists struggle to draw. Hands, for example, are universally accepted as one of the hardest things to draw well, even for professional artists. But a lot of what someone finds difficult to draw can depend on the artist’s personal art interests and experiences.

Since I am fascinated by human anatomy and characters, much of what I find challenging to draw relates to these themes.

So in this post, I share a list of six things that I think are hardest for beginners to draw well based on my experience as a beginner artist and my explanation of what makes it challenging to draw, as well as some strategies I have found helpful in taming these art demons to some extent.

What are the hardest things to draw?

Some of the most challenging things to draw include facial expressions, foreshortening of the human body, drapery folds, drawings based on your ideas instead of a direct reference, hands, movement, and gestures.

1. Face expressions

Drawing faces with a neutral expression is hard enough to draw for beginner artists like me, but when it comes to drawing more expressive portraits, that is just a whole new ball game.

After a year or so of learning to draw portraits, I am okay with drawing an expressionless robotic face. Still, I find drawing faces with even subtle expressions infinitely more complex. After lurking in online art communities for a while now, I think it is safe to say that many beginners struggle with expressive faces.

I think what makes drawing facial expressions challenging is that it not only requires a good understanding of the anatomy and proportions of the face, it requires a thorough observation of the different parts of the face that can squeeze, stretch and even change their position relative to one another, making it tricky to figure out the face proportions.

One tip I learned from another artist for drawing better facial expressions (I forgot the name of the artist, so I can’t credit this tip to him or her) is to focus on those landmarks of the face that doesn’t change due to a specific expression.

For example, a smile might change the position of the eyebrows, but the brow ridge does not change at all relative to the rest of the face.

2. Foreshortening of the human body

When viewing an object from close range, the sense of perspective becomes exaggerated so that the part of the object that is closer to view appears dramatically larger than the part that is distanced.

Drawing organic forms of a human body that is subject to foreshortening is incredibly challenging for beginners because it conflicts with their preconceived idea of how big a part of a body should appear relative to the rest of the body.

For example, a certain pose of a person might make one arm appear multiple times bigger than the other arm because of an extreme angle, and beginner artists might find it tricky to observe these drastic variations in proportions and let go of the need to draw the pose more conservatively, which often leads to a stiff drawing.

One thing that helps draw a foreshortened pose is learning to draw overlapping forms to indicate what part of the object is positioned in front and which part is receding backward. Here is a link to a helpful tutorial on drawing the overlapping forms of the human torso, which explains the key concepts well.

3. Drapery folds

Drapery is something I find deceptively hard to draw well because it requires you to efficiently capture the variations in its texture, folds, swirls, tension, pattern, and, most importantly, the underlying form without taking too much attention away from the main focus of your drawing (e.g., the person wearing the dress).

What I find helpful in drawing drapery is improvising the reference to create a more rhythmic and simplified composition by focusing on tonal shapes.

Aiming for minimal shading so that there is just enough to indicate the tension in the cloth from the stretching of the surface underneath instead of trying to mark every wrinkle and fold helps to make the drawing process easier too.

4. Drawing something based on your ideas instead of directly from references

I am at a point in my art journey where I am comfortable drawing something from observation. But despite having some ‘cool drawing ideas’ in my head, I have trouble drawing them out on paper.

Coming up with a concept idea for drawing, finding useful references, drawing, and iterating until it looks close to what you imagined requires an entirely different mindset and skills than drawing something straight from a reference and improvising it until it looks good.

Concept artists and illustrators do this well. One great way to practice drawing something from your ideas and imagination is to participate in prompt challenges like Mermay, Inktober, Artstation Concept Art Challenge, and Character Design Challenge. Participating in these is definitely of my art goals for this year (as they were last year, but that didn’t push me to participate either, if I’m being honest).

5. Hands

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer.

No list of the hardest things to draw is complete without the mention of hands. I guess it’s that one thing that never gets easy to draw (unless you’re Durer or Michelangelo), but you learn to draw it less worse over time.

What makes drawing hands so tricky? For one, they are just so dynamic. There are hundreds of hand gestures, so it’s not easy to familiarize yourself with the general shape of the hand in the way that you learn to draw something static like a skull.

Here are some tips I have found helpful in making hand sketches more manageable for beginners:

  • Learn the mechanics of hands, how the bones are structured, and how the different joints of the hands and fingers function to assist and restrict movement.
  • Instead of focusing on the silhouette of the hand and fingers, start drawing from simple shapes and try to get the relationships and angles between these basic shapes right relative to the reference.
  • It is easier to learn to draw hands from references with two or three fingers positioned close to each other so you can draw them as one basic shape instead of hand references with all fingers doing their own thing.

6. Gesture of a body in motion

Studies of men in action by Leonardo Da Vinci. Old masters like Leonardo demonstrated the skill of effortlessly capturing a gesture of movement in their drawings and sketches.

Gesture drawing is about capturing the energy, feeling, balance, and movement of the subject of your sketch. The most challenging aspect of drawing the gesture of a moving body is how you can communicate all this information using minimal marks.

The most important lesson I have learned by studying the artworks of the old masters is to be selective in your gesture drawing. The point of sketching a gesture is not to pack all that you see in a pose but only its bare essence, and this skill can take years (if not decades) of honest practice to get reasonably good at.