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How to Get Back to Drawing After A Long Break and Keep Drawing

Back in 2017, I quit drawing after teaching myself how to draw portraits for about a year. And it took me five long years of not making any art (almost) to return to drawing again in January 2022, and ten months in, I’m happy to report that I have been able to draw consistently again (so far).

The hardest part of getting back to drawing after a long break for me was to deal with the fact that I could no longer draw the way I could before I quit art and it will take me considerable time before my art skills reach that level again.

So in this post, I share some tips that have helped me to overcome my art block and start drawing again, which I hope will help at least some of you in reviving your interest in art.

So how do we start drawing again?

Getting back to drawing after a long art break requires:

  • Assessing what made you quit drawing earlier.
  • Coming up with a plan.
  • Summoning your activation energy.
  • Selecting one subject of drawing and learning everything you can about it.
  • Finding yourself some great artists, books, teachers, and communities.
  • Make drawing fun to repeat.

Tip 1 Be honest about why you quit drawing before.

When I wanted to return to drawing, I felt that I’d never be able to sustain my interest in drawing for long unless I truly understood why I gave it up in the first place.

Everyone has their reasons for quitting art. For me, it was

  • the constant comparison with better artists on social media.
  • My limiting belief is that I’ll never be as good as other artists, ever, so why should I even try?
  • My lack of patience and excessive focus on getting better at drawing ultimately sucked the joy from the whole process of learning and creating art.

I think asking why we quit drawing can help us a lot in making an effective plan to counter those reasons, so we don’t stop drawing again.

Tip 2 Write your goals and come up with a plan.

It’s no secret that writing your goals can help the brain remember and plays an essential role in achieving them. And in my opinion, if there is anything worth doing in your life, such as creating art, then it pays to spend 15 minutes planning how you intend to maximize your chances of doing it consistently.

When planning to get back to drawing, it is helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why exactly do you want to start drawing again, and is it something worth sacrificing your time and energy?
  • Reasons why you quit drawing before, and what do you plan to do about it?
  • What are the specific art goals that you think you can achieve if you put in the time and practice?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice to make time for creating art?
  • How will drawing become a part of your identity in the future?

I got to think about the last question after reading the book: Atomic Habits by James Clear, which suggests that to form lasting habits, we need to make them a part of our identity.

For me, it involved shifting my mindset from ‘I want to make art because it makes me happy’, which is focused on the outcome, towards something more intrinsic like ‘I want to draw because I am an art student aspiring to become a concept artist’.

Tip 3 Summon your activation energy.

Once a pattern of behaviour such as drawing gets wired in our brain, we start performing those habits almost on autopilot. But as creatures of habit, taking the first step towards starting something new is often the hardest because it disrupts how we are used to doing things.

So if you want to start drawing again after years of not making any art, whether or not you actually end up doing it consistently ultimately depends on you to ignite enough spark in yourself to plow through those initial batches of bad drawings until it becomes a regular part of your routine and you begin to enjoy the art process.

Here are some ways I have found helpful in getting myself to pick up the drawing pencil:

  • Plan to draw before or after something that is already a consistent habit, like drinking the morning coffee. Deciding not only to draw but the also the activity that drawing will be cued to is likely to increase the chance that you’ll do it consistently. My cue for drawing is listening to my favorite classical music playlist on Spotify. After doing this over and over these last few months, I now get triggered to start drawing everytime I listen to Beethoven.
  • Make drawing seem less daunting. If you can’t get yourself to draw for 30 minutes, just plan to sketch for 10 minutes. Once you get yourself to actually start drawing, you’ll usually end up drawing for longer.
  • If you’re a perfectionist like me who is too protective of his sketchbook and wants to create the perfect art every time, sketching on loose sheets of paper can reduce your anxiety and help loosen up.
  • Watch your favorite artist draw on Youtube and follow along.
  • Promise yourself a small reward for following through with your commitment to draw. This can be a small chocolate, a cup of coffee, and (rarely) shopping for some art supplies.

Tip 4 Select one drawing subject that piques your interest and learn everything you can about it.

In the early stages of developing your drawing habit, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself by trying to master all the different art mediums like pencil, watercolors, digital painting, etc., at once or learning how to draw all sorts of drawing subjects simultaneously like portraits, figure drawing, still life, botanical illustrations, character design, landscapes, and so on.

By dividing your time and attention between multiple subjects and mediums, you risk spreading yourself too thin, which can cause you to get demotivated because you don’t see improvements quickly enough.

I think it is best to immerse yourself in a single area of interest and choose one or two art mediums while your drawing habit is still in its infancy because the earlier you get past the initial set of bad drawings due to your rusty art skills and get to see some actual progress soon, the higher the likelihood that you won’t give up art again.

When I got back to drawing, I restricted myself to learning how to draw portraits using only pencil and paper at least for the first six to twelve months.

Now that I am more consistent, I am thinking about learning how to do figure drawings while working on my art fundamentals like perspective, color theory, and composition with the ultimate objective to learn character design for my art portfolio.

Tip 5 Find yourself some great artists to inspire you, books and teachers to learn from, and an art tribe to share your art progress.

Over the past few months, I have loved getting my weekly dose of inspiration by seeying artworks and tutorials posted by Loish on her Patreon page, as well as reading art books specific to portrait drawing like Drawing The Head And Hands by Andrew Loomis.

Previously, I never uploaded any of my art online, which felt really isolating because none of my (imaginary) friends that I hang out with really like to draw. I recently found some great art communities on Reddit though where I love to share my drawings and get some feedback as well as interact with other budding artists like me.

Overall, I think finding an art community that you like and art buddies that you like to talk to about art is a great way to boost your motivation to keep drawing.

Here are some of my favorite art communities:

Tip 6 Focus on improving your drawing 1% every day.

My portrait drawing seems to be improving gradually. Right most is the newest one.

Back in the day, I wanted to draw a masterpiece every time I sat to draw, and the weight of creating a perfect-looking drawing to the best of my ability every time just wore me down and led me to quit drawing for five years.

One perspective I learned by reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits is how tiny improvement of 1% each day makes you 37 times better if you do something consistently for a year.

Now that I’m focusing on micro-improvements and approaching learning art with a more humble mindset, I’m able to enjoy drawing more than I ever did. I think managing your expectations when learning to draw again is necessary to avoid frustration and sustain your passion for art over a long period of time.

Tip 7 Make drawing fun to repeat!

The best way to ensure your renewed love for drawing doesn’t die down like before is to make the drawing process more fun, so that it gives positive vibes to your brain and it keeps craving for more.

Here are some ideas to make drawing more enjoyable:

  • Listen to your favorite songs while drawing.
  • Share your best drawings and your art progress with your art tribe. However, overdoing it can negatively affect your motivation to draw.
  • Have a cup of coffee, chai, chocolate, or whatever you like during or at the end of your drawing session.
  • At the end of each drawing session, reflect on what you have learned or particularly like about your drawing.

A Dava

Saturday 30th of December 2023

Thanks for this. I really needed to hear this and can totally relate. I grew up as an artist going to private art classes, going to art school, showing my art in galleries. I’m in my 40s now and haven’t created art in about 6 years now (I’m a graphic designer, but that doesn’t count imo).

Recently getting back to it, I felt like I’ve reverted so much. My lines aren’t straight; I’m chicken scratching my sketches, proportions are all off. It’s been a bit of a drain on my motivation. But I’m determined to do it again and relearn those habits and skills I used to have.

What you’ve written is a great reminder and inspiration for the path forward. I appreciate it.

Ammar

Sunday 31st of December 2023

Thanks so much for your appreciation and letting us in on your art journey Dava!

I think you might be surprised how in a matter of few weeks of consistent practice you'll find your drawing rhythm again and from there on I assure you it will get a lot easier.

Do let me know about your progress in a few weeks. I'm also planning to build a small online art community here where artists can keep each other accountable so I'll share details with you if you want to join when I've sorted out the technical details.

Wishing you good luck and hoping to hear from you soon! You got this 😊

Dave

Wednesday 27th of December 2023

Great article to chance upon when looking to reignite my drawing. I went to art college years ago but pursued another line of work but carried on pencil drawing over the years. But for the last 15 years or so I really haven’t done any drawing. So it was good to read your own circumstances similar in some ways especially expecting to create a masterpiece every time and thinking I’m not as good as other artists. I love your drawing by the way. I am going to put up on a shared WhatsApp for my nephew and nieces to post their art and I will join in and see if I can improve 1% a day. I think I need to draw. It enriches me as a person and a meditation of sorts. Not sure where you are but I’m UK based. Thanks 🙏🏻

Ammar

Thursday 28th of December 2023

Hi Dave. Thanks for your kind words and also for sharing your art journey and goals. Loved your idea of creating a drawing group on WhatsApp with your love ones and I'll take the inspiration from you to start my own little art group with my nieces who occasionally like to draw. Do give us an update on your art journey in a few weeks and I hope you find a way to create drawings again for the love of it. The first few weeks will be the hardest but if you can just stick around till you find your rhythm again it will be all worth it! It's remarkable how you can just lose yourself into drawing for an hour or two and just zone out from all the worries and stress that accumulates in your mind over time so I can totally relate to your expression of drawing as a sort of meditation. I live in Islamabad by the way and I do hope to visit my brother who is based in Glasgow probably sometime next year. 😊

Rachel Blondeau

Wednesday 22nd of November 2023

Great article! Great tips! It felt like I was almost reading exactly what has happened to me! After drawing portraits I too have stopped for 6-7 years now and terrified I have forgotten! I look at my old drawings and can’t even remember where to start. Thank you for the great tips, I will be trying to put these in to practice. Keep up the great efforts and thanks again!

Ammar

Wednesday 22nd of November 2023

Thanks so much for the kind words Rachel! I hope you get back to drawing portraits again soon. I can relate to what you're saying about the fear of forgetting everything you knew about drawing after a long break.

Personally, I didn't expect to get back to the same level of drawing after 5 years within just a few months so speaking from my experience if you're consistent, everything you already know about drawing and the muscle memory will just start to get back to you in a few weeks.

Just remember to take small steps in the right direction as often as you can and although you'll have to muster up some courage and will to get back to it for the first few weeks, your effort will be all worth it and your obsession with drawing will reignite before you know it!

I'm so excited because this is like the first comment ever on this blog 🙈 and so happy to know that someone's actually reading what I'm putting out here. I'll remember your comment for a long time and your kind words just made my day. So, honestly, thank you once again and hoping to hear of your progress soon! 😊