Since returning to drawing last year, I struggled to draw more freely. I was too precious of my drawings to the point that it was stopping me from experimenting and getting better at drawing. And if you’re curious, listening to Beethoven while sketching didn’t seem to help either.
So recently, I have been trying to understand how good artists can sketch so freely and effortlessly without worrying about making bad art, and in this post, I share the six small changes that I have made to my drawing routine that are helping me achieve this goal.
Tip 1 Overcome the fear of making bad art.
Looking back at my struggles with drawing freely, it’s safe to say that the most significant contributor to the problem has been the fear that I’ll mess up a drawing which was forcing me to draw cautiously all the time.
And while the fear of messing up a drawing still occasionally creeps up from time to time, I have been able to reduce it significantly by doing these three things:
- Realizing that making bad art is a necessary part of growing as an artist, and if I stop making bad art, it will be at the expense of making good drawings in the long term.
- Not sharing each drawing I make on social media so that every time I sit to draw, my mind is not constantly telling me that this drawing needs to be Instagram-worthy, and I can relax and make art for my own sake.
- Getting inspiration from artists with messy sketching styles, so I get more comfortable in trying out a less controlled style of drawing.
Tip 2 Practice gesture drawing and warm-up sketches.
One mistake I repeatedly made in my drawing routine was an over-emphasis on doing finished pieces of art instead of focusing on increasing the volume of my sketches by doing quicker gesture-type studies and warm-up exercises.
Even if you like doing detailed drawings with intricate shading and realism, mixing them with low-pressure warm-up sketches helps you practice drawing flowy shapes without worrying too much about how the final sketches compare to the original references or an art style.
I remind myself that these warm-up sessions are meant to be a playground for experimentation, and at the end of a session, if I don’t have my stack of awful-looking drawings, I’m probably doing it wrong.
Tip 3 Make a habit of going from bigger shapes to smaller shapes when sketching.
One tip I picked up from another artist I met at an art meetup many years ago was approaching a drawing like a sculptor who carves out a sculpture from a big block of clay.
In the initial phase of sculpting a face, for example, the sculptor would be least concerned about the small details like the shape of the lips or the nostrils because these details will emerge and be built upon once the basic shapes of the head are placed in the correct proportions.
Whenever I focus on smaller details early in the drawing instead of the bigger shapes, I stifle the drawing process because I have to catch up with the marks I have already committed.
Working on my drawings systematically from larger to smaller shapes helps me find flow and rhythm in drawings that are necessary to draw loosely. One thing that helps me do this when starting a drawing is to step away from whatever I’m drawing or zoom out in case of a photo reference so I can’t make out the small details and focus on the big picture instead.
Tip 4 Make a habit of redrawing your lines without erasing them.
I am guilty of overusing the eraser in my drawings which I think can have the undesirable side effect of killing your rhythm because it trains your mind to be critical of every mark you place on the paper. And it doesn’t help that my favorite pencil (Blackwing) already has a neat little eraser installed on it.
I feel I can draw more fluidly when I restrict the use of erasers and sketch with the intent of redrawing over the lines and marks I have already placed instead of aiming to draw the perfect line every time.
Tip 5 Take steps to avoid becoming over-precious of your drawings.
Here are some practical steps I find helpful in embracing your messy artwork:
- Forcing yourself to draw with blunt pencils.
- Using cheap printer paper instead of expensive sketchbooks.
- Studying and redrawing loose sketches drawn by other artists.
- Learning to draw with inherently more loose tools than graphite pencils, such as color pencils, watercolor, charcoal, and even graphite sticks.
- Resisting the urge to share your drawings on social media more than once a week.
- Allowing yourself to depart from the reference and improvise.
Tip 6 Draw from your shoulder instead of the wrist.
I used to draw like I usually write (actually still do when shading and drawing fine details), and the result was that I didn’t involve my shoulders when drawing.
Drawing fluidly requires you to make big and confident arm swings, and when you lock out your shoulders because of the way you hold the pencil, your mark-making becomes restricted, and this stiffness becomes evident in your drawings as well.
A couple of things helpful in activating the shoulders while drawing is to hold the pencil like a spoon and use a drawing board or a spiral-bound sketchbook that you can work as a drawing board. Although these can take a bit of getting used to at first, but the resulting fluidity in your drawings is definitely worth getting yourself into these habits.