There goes a saying in the art world that anyone can draw, and anyone who can draw can always improve. I do believe that to be true, but it’s also a fact that drawing well is usually a struggle for beginners. I gave up creating art six years ago because I felt I was unable to improve my drawing.
So in this post, I share what makes drawing so hard for beginners and four strategies I have learned from other artists since getting back to drawing last year that help me to tackle difficult drawings.
Why is drawing so hard for beginners?
Drawing well can be challenging for beginners because, besides requiring knowledge of fundamental art concepts and techniques, it involves fluid coordination of hands and eyes that results from the muscle memory that is cultivated naturally over time through repetition, practice, and patience.
Based on my experience, these four things make drawing well really hard for beginner artists.
1. Drawing requires precise, fluid, and confident motions of arms and hands in coordination with the eyes.
Learning to draw can be like driving a car for the first time. Initially, you are second-guessing your every move. But, when you do it over and over for a few months and get a hang of it, it becomes so natural that you can coordinate the movements of your limbs and eyes on autopilot without even thinking about it.
Artists who can draw more fluidly rely on the muscle memory acquired by investing thousands of hours in practicing their craft. It is challenging for beginners to replicate that level of draftsmanship in their drawings, and as a result, their artwork can often look a bit stiff and, sometimes, overly cautious and jittery.
2. Art fundamentals have a relatively steep learning curve.
Knowledge and practice of art fundamentals like perspective and anatomy are critical to drawing realistically. These can take considerable time to get the hang of and apply to your drawings.
Even after one year of devoting most of my free time to learning and practicing the basics of portrait drawing, including anatomy, head construction techniques, value studies, perspective, etc., I feel like I have not even scratched the surface of what I can potentially learn about this one subject of the drawing.
3. To draw something well, you must learn to see it well.
When drawing something from life or a photo, you need to record your observations on paper in the scale of your drawing, and sizing your marks correctly relative to the scale of the object you’re drawing is especially tricky for beginners.
Drawing also requires you to go back and forth between your reference and your drawing surface, which takes a bit of getting used to.
A more advanced drawing skill is to see what aspects of a reference you want to emphasize in a drawing and what you need to improvise or cut down altogether to create a drawing with a good composition. As beginners, we pack in everything we see in our drawings, making the artwork too busy and unattractive.
4. Drawing well requires a lot of patience, persistence, and sacrifice.
The biggest reason people find drawing hard is that they fail to study and practice drawing beyond the point where they would actually start seeing the gains of their labor and give up drawing on the assumption that drawing is for only those with natural talent.
A positive attitude toward learning, approaching other artists for feedback, and being open to constructive criticism is also necessary to improve your drawing skills quickly.
4 Strategies for reducing the complexity of a drawing
Strategy 1 Learn to construct your drawings from boxes, spheres, and cylinders positioned in their relative perspective in space.
Beginners often focus on copying the silhouette of the object’s shape they are drawing and add shading to enhance depth without considering how it can be built up using a combination of simpler three-dimensional shapes like boxes, spheres, and cylinders.
This was a mistake I was making when I started drawing too. I noticed that whenever I skipped drawing an object using basic shapes, the final drawing looked relatively flat and needed more depth.
For example, when drawing portraits, instead of copying the outline of the face and its elements, constructive drawing techniques like the Loomis Method allow you to draw the complex organic shapes of a face systematically from a simple sphere.
Draw A Box shows excellent examples and exercises on drawing different things from simple shapes in perspective. The principles you learn from it will significantly reduce the complexity of any drawing you can think of, so it is worth investing some time in it initially if you’re new to drawing.
Strategy 2 Study how other artists simplify shapes, rely on viewers’ imagination, and recycle certain elements of their artworks to reduce the complexity of their drawings.
Studying the workflow, art style, and thought process of other artists in approaching their artworks is a great way to learn ways to simplify your drawings.
I struggled to draw faces well when I returned to drawing last year. Here are some of the things I learned by analyzing drawings by other artists that helped me in finding a more straightforward process for drawing portraits:
- Instead of drawing a multitude of different face planes, showing one or two powerful rhythms of the face, such as that running downwards from the cheekbone and shading it slightly to make the side plane different from the front plane, can go a long way in creating a more dynamic portrait even if you don’t know the whole Reilly Abstraction.
- You don’t need to do detailed, realistic shading of an entire face to draw a face that looks aesthetically pleasing. Using a softer minimalist art style can help create portrait drawings that look nice and easier to draw.
- Instead of drawing streaks for each eyelash, you can use a broad pencil stroke to indicate a single shape for the eyelashes.
- Many artists, especially those from the animation industry, draw complicated things in a specific way really well, such as the eyes, a certain pose, or the hands, and reuse those in their newer drawings instead of trying to draw exactly as the reference.
Consider incorporating artist study practice into your drawing routine because you can learn so much from artists who have spent decades learning the craft and creating a process that works for them.
Strategy 3 Find better drawing references.
Many beginners need help to draw well because they choose references and subjects clearly outside their skill level.
I remember being upset at myself for not capturing the likeness of Khaleesi when drawing her portrait, even before I had gained little practice in drawing faces in general. Once I had practiced drawing random faces in relatively easy poses by learning the Loomis Method, I was better equipped to take on more complicated portrait drawing projects.
Finding drawing references and subjects that may be challenging but not outside your skill set can help beginner artists avoid the frustration of drawing something too complicated. While pushing yourself outside your comfort zones is essential in growing as an artist, it is equally important to pick your art battles wisely to avoid unnecessary heartbreak.
Strategy 4 Do quick sketches to study different aspects of a drawing you plan to do.
Suppose there is a more complicated drawing you want to attempt. In that case, it is much easier to do some preliminary sketches before the actual drawing instead of taking it head-on without understanding enough about the subject and visualizing how you want the final drawing to look.
This is especially useful when creating an original composition for a drawing. Concept artists in the entertainment industry are used to sketching smaller thumbnails to explore various designs and poses quickly before committing to a specific composition.
Doing smaller-scale quick sketches before the final drawing can help artists of any skill level filter ideas and draw the final piece more efficiently and confidently.