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Good at Drawing: A Learned Skill or Talent?

Hey, fellow art enthusiasts! If you’ve ever picked up a pencil and tried to draw, you’ve probably pondered the eternal question: can you get really good at drawing by learning and practicing, or is it all about having that elusive ‘natural talent’?

In this post, I’ll give my take on artistic talent, whether it exists, and how some people are so effortlessly good at drawing while so many struggle to draw well despite consistent practice (I know it’s totally unfair). And finally, is there any hope for people like me with seemingly zero natural flair for drawing to excel at it through consistent practice?

Is drawing well a matter of skill or talent?

Based on my experience as a student of drawing, the advice of my art mentors, and following the art progress of several artists, I feel confident saying that drawing is a skill that can be learned by anyone. While some people are naturally gifted in some way that makes it easier for them to master drawing, others with apparently little talent can ultimately catch up by adopting a better approach to learning and practice.

Seven years ago, I gave up drawing after just one year. I decided I was just not cut out for it. Fast forward five years, watching TEDX talk convinced me to give drawing another shot, and two years of regular drawing later I’m thinking, “Hey, you know what? If I remain consistent, I might become good at drawing one day”.

But the question about whether I ‘have’ what it takes to master drawing has always lingered in my mind as I’m sure many of you have wondered the same at some point in your art journey. While there can never be a subjective answer to a question about whether (or to what extent) drawing well is determined by your talent or skill, I think its answer ultimately boils down to these sub-questions:

  1. Is there any such thing as ‘natural talent’ and what plausible evidence demonstrates that having it can help you draw exceptionally well?
  2. In the absence of any natural talent, can you improve your drawing skills to a reasonably good level?

Is there any such thing as talent when it comes to drawing?

I think some people do have a natural talent in the sense that drawing or learning to draw seems really effortless to them compared to others just like some people find maths easy to learn. Some people naturally have better perceptual skills that help them figure out the proportions quickly, others have naturally better control over the pencil, some have better creative imagination that helps them compose better drawings, while some freaks of nature have it all.

I remember taking a short course on drawing a while back. Although it was only a class of about six or seven students (I know that is not exactly a big sample size), it was evident from the initial batch of our drawing assignments that everyone was fairly new to drawing. Over the course of the class which lasted for about 3 months, one student really stood out in terms of the progress she made compared to others including myself despite following a similar drawing routine.

While I don’t want to dismiss the hard work of artists who are brilliant at their craft, the existence of talent cannot be denied especially when you see artists who draw in a way that is exceptionally hard to replicate despite consistent practice.

Take for example an artist like the late Kim Jung Gi who could visualize and draw intricate scenes for hours to an end all from memory. I can’t fathom the effort he had put in his craft but it’s also hard to explain how he was able to do what he did without acknowledging his gift of storing millions of references in his visual library that he could summon instantly from memory when drawing.

No matter how much you practice it is almost impossible to replicate this sort of mastery and this I think is enough evidence that talent exists. But having talent is obviously no guarantee that you’ll draw well and conversely, from what I have observed, having little of it is not a guarantee that you can’t ever be good at it either.

How can you learn to draw well with zero talent? 👌

So how do most of us who let’s just say aren’t exactly art prodigies get reasonably good at drawing to the point that we:

  • Can often enjoy drawing,
  • Can occasionally be proud of what we draw,
  • And rarely, someone (apart from our own mothers) can look at our sketchbooks and be like ‘Hey, you’re so good at this’?

Well, here are 4 things that I think can help anyone become reasonably proficient at drawing.

  1. 10,000 bad drawings.

Ten thousand bad drawings. My art instructor once told me when I asked him how long it takes to become good at drawing. The quicker you get those 10,000 bad drawings out of your hand the faster you’ll improve.

It makes sense. Like any skill worth attaining, irrespective of whether you’re remarkably gifted or not, if you don’t put in the practice and churn out hundreds and hundreds of bad drawings, you’ll never make it far in the drawing. Acknowledging that there is a learning curve to drawing helps to manage your expectations.

I think the toughest phase of learning to draw is the first few months when you don’t like the way your drawings look despite spending so much time. You can’t help but compare your art to the curated selection of best drawings that people post online and wonder if you’ll ever be able to draw that well.

You need to trust the process at least long enough until you start seeing visible improvement in your drawing skills and from there on I think the link between effort and getting better at drawing becomes established and it starts to overcome your self-doubt.

2. You need a plan that works for you.

Not all drawing practice is created equal and everyone’s aptitudes, interests, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses are different. It becomes a lot easier to improve your drawing skills when you figure out a plan that works for your unique circumstances.

Here are some strategies that can help you find the path of least resistance toward mastering drawing:

  • Focus on a specific art subject that you’re genuinely passionate about – be it figure drawing, fashion illustrations, or portraits– and become reasonably proficient at it before branching out.
  • For quick improvement in drawing skills, attack the things you find most challenging in your chosen drawing subject head-on because the magic is usually in what you’re trying to avoid.
  • Break down what you’re learning to draw into specific skills and aim to improve one aspect of drawing at a time like perspective, structure, or values.

3. Find a way to enjoy the journey.

Learning to draw is a lifelong journey, and burnout is real. Find joy in the process – share your progress and celebrate the small wins. It’s a lot more fun when you’re learning to draw with others so finding a supportive art community can be super helpful too.

And in between art practice that you don’t particularly enjoy but is necessary for your growth as an artist, it’s also important to carve out some time to draw the things that you utterly love to draw without feeling guilty about it.

Parting Wisdom

Hey, to whoever needs to hear this – yes, drawing is a skill you can absolutely learn and not having talent is not a valid excuse for not getting better at it. Go grab that sketchbook, dive into the messiness, and tell your inner critic to take a hike. You’ve got this! ✏️