But then I decided to take a closer look at my art skills, habits, processes, mindset, and knowledge. I analyzed everything and took small steps to fill in the biggest gaps, following the advice of other artists. And guess what? It actually worked! Over the past year, I’ve seen some real improvement in my drawing.
So, I wanted to share the six steps that I believe played the most significant role in my progress. Hopefully, these tips will help many of you, especially those in the early stages of your art journey.
1. Expand the range of values you use in drawing.
As a beginner, I was scared to push the values in my drawings. I was too protective of my artwork and lacked the confidence to make bold pencil strokes without worrying about messing up my sketchbook.
But you know what helped? Lots and lots of value studies (obviously) and switching from expensive sketchbooks to cheap cartridge paper. With the cheaper paper, I could practice without the fear of creating a mess.
Another trick that improved the contrast in my drawings was starting with four major tonal groups: highlights, midtones, shadows, and darkest shadows. Once you define these major tonal shapes in your drawings, you could add more subtle variations between them and I find this process a lot easier than trying to nail the precise values outright.
Check out this video by Chris Hong for a great example of basing portrait drawings on these broad tonal groups.
2. Draw complex shapes by starting with big simple shapes first, and layering smaller forms over them.
Using constructive drawing techniques can really up your drawing game. Instead of just copying the outline of the subject, which is how most beginners approach drawing, try starting with simple dominant shapes and then layering smaller forms on top of them. From my experience, not only does this make drawing easier, it shows a better sense of volume in your artwork
When I was into portrait drawing, I used to copy the general outline of the face and its parts, shading in the details, without really understanding the major shapes that make up the head. But after studying and practicing the Loomis Method, I realized how effective it is to start with a simple shape like a sphere for the skull, and gradually build it into a more complex form.
This tutorial on structuring drawings with simple shapes is helpful to get a basic idea of constructive drawing techniques.
3. Learn to see and draw things in perspective.
Okay, so here’s a confession: when I started drawing, I used to draw things isometrically without considering how eye level affects perspective. Even after studying how perspective works, It took me a while to get the hang of drawing perspective that looks somewhat believable.
One tip that really helped me, from Andrew Loomis’ book “Successful Drawing,” is to imagine everything as if it’s inside a box.
This tutorial by the late Kim Jung Ji is an excellent demonstration of drawing from eye level (horizon) and using perspective lines to control the proportions of objects in your art.
4. Make it a habit to draw from the forearm instead of fingers.
When I got back to drawing as an adult, I naturally used the motions of my fingers and wrist, gripping the pencil as if I were writing. But that ended up making my drawings look stiff and lacking energy. It was only when an experienced artist at a sketch club suggested using my whole arm, especially in the early stages of a drawing when you’re defining its structure and gesture.
To involve my arm more, I find it useful to hold the pencil like a chopstick, and this forces me to activate the muscles of my arms and shoulders when drawing instead of relying on my wrist and fingers. This takes some getting used to but is definitely worth doing for improving your drawing.
5. Train like an athlete.
Improving your drawing skills is ultimately all about practice, practice, practice. But here’s the thing: not all practice is created equal. I’ve noticed that people with a similar amount of practice can have a drastically different level of progress in their drawing skills over time.
So what sets those who improve quickly apart from the rest? From what I understand, the following combination of factors set those beginners who improve their drawing fairly quickly apart from those who don’t:
- Having the discipline to work on art fundamentals (even if it gets a bit boring).
- Finding good art coaches, resources, books, and courses to learn from.
- Seeking feedback from other artists, evaluating your weaknesses, and tackling them head-on,
- Drawing consistently.
- Establishing a drawing routine that works for them.
6. Pick a single subject of drawing and get really good at it instead of spreading yourself too thin.
Here’s a mistake I made in the past: I tried to learn how to draw too many things at once, and it led to frustration and ultimately quitting. So, I advise picking one subject and getting really good at drawing it before branching out.
For me, I chose to focus on drawing portraits first. Now, after drawing portraits for a little over a year, I feel more confident in my drawing abilities, and I am beginning to explore other areas of art like fashion illustration and figure drawing.
While not everyone struggles with finding the motivation to keep making art, the confidence that you can draw at least one thing that doesn’t look too horrible can help push some beginners like me to draw more often and get better.
So, if you have the tendency to quit drawing, it will help you to focus your drawing efforts on one area of interest like portraits, landscapes, still life, etc., and get better quickly at that one thing so you don’t lose momentum by giving up art for a while.
Minimizing the time you take to pick up the pencil again after an art break will really help you to reap the compound benefit of drawing consistently over time.
I hope these tips and resources help you on your drawing journey. Remember, it’s all about taking small steps, being patient with yourself, and embracing the process. Happy drawing!