1. Draw the shape – not the duck
Duck? who mentioned a duck?
OK, I’m using a duck as an example, but it could be any object. If you are a beginner and you try and draw a duck, your brain starts by trying to simplify the duck to shapes that can be drawn easily and will be recognizable. Your brain will guide you to draw that simplified version of the duck so that others may recognize your drawing. The trouble is that the simplified version that your brain is telling you may not look anything like the real duck that you are trying to draw. It leads to confusion and frustration as you try and draw what your brain is telling you while comparing your drawing to the real duck.
Whether you are trying to draw a duck, a car, a persons face or a bowl of flowers, the principle is exactly the same. Your brain will try and draw the object in the simplest way it can, while also modifying the shapes so that your drawing will be recognizable. The secret to drawing is to follow the real shapes that you are seeing rather than drawing what your brain tells you to draw.
2. Look more at the object than at your own drawing
Of course, you can’t follow the shapes of the object if you aren’t looking at them. One way that you can start training your mind to follow the shapes that you are seeing is to focus more on looking at the object that you are trying to draw than your own drawing. If I put an object on the table in front of you, the tendency of beginners is nearly always to briefly look at the object then put your head down and concentrate on the shapes of your own drawing. The trouble is when your head is down, you aren’t looking at the object. Most beginners will glance at the object when they start, but then barely look back at it while drawing. This means that you are letting your brain tell you what you should be drawing based on memory and your brains ideal simplified shapes.
You can rapidly improve your drawing skills (the same principle also applies for painting) by learning to put more emphasis on observation. When I am drawing from a reference object or photo, I estimate that I look at the object in front of me about 70% of the time and only 30% on my actual drawing. Blind contour drawing is a great, fun way to train your mind how to do that. You are forced into looking at the object rather than your drawing.
3. Draw Lightly
One of the key fundamentals of drawing is to control the pressure of your pencil on the page. Learning to press lightly on the page can make a huge difference to the quality of your drawings. By relaxing your grip on your pencil you will find that your linework becomes smoother and more accurate (and much easier to draw). If we are gripping the pencil tightly we press harder into the page which leads to trying to over-control the line. We will end up with dark lines that score the paper and cannot be erased easily.
To start a drawing, as you are developing the shapes, create light lines that you can rub out easily. As an exercise to improve your pencil control, use a 2h pencil and try to create lines that you can barely see. Press so lightly on the page that your pencil is barely touching the surface. This might sound simple, but requires a lot of practice to perfect. Once you have mastered that, create long lines across the page that vary in thickness from super thin and light to thick and heavy and back again to light. The idea is that don’t want to be able to see where the line starts or ends because it tapers off so lightly.
Using this method in your drawings can instantly improve the quality of your drawing. Check out my post on The Light Touch for more info.
4. Keep checking your proportions
Learning about proportions is one of the most important lessons in drawing. At all stages of the drawing process, the size of the shape that you are drawing compared to the size of the surrounding shapes is what defines how successful your drawing will be. If we are drawing a person and the head is drawn too big compared to the body, it will look weird and wrong. Similarly if we draw one eye bigger than the other, the face will look wrong. If one arm is drawn longer than the other it will look wrong. As you can see, every shape that you draw needs to be in proportion to other shapes in the picture.
Experienced artists can do this mostly by visual judgement. They can look at several shapes and draw them in the correct proportions to each other. This is a learned skill that can take years to develop. For beginners, there are a few tricks that you can use to make sure that you are getting the proportions right. I will be putting more tips and tricks posts up to go through those techniques. The easiest way is to take measurements with the tip of your pencil and your thumb. You can use that measurement to compare the shape to other shapes and see which ones are of similar size, or compare the size of the next shape to see how much smaller or bigger it may be. The key is to keep checking! Keep checking the size of your shape compared to the other shapes around it. It may be difficult at first but the more you practice this, the easier it gets.
5. Have FUN drawing
The most important tip is to have fun with it. Don’t stress yourself out with trying to get everything perfect. If something goes wrong with your drawing, think of it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and make improvements for next time. Lets face some facts, No matter what level of artist you are, you will always make mistakes. Lines will be drawn in the wrong spot, or too heavy, or too small, or on the wrong angle. That is how we learn to draw, by making those mistakes and learning from them. It is easy to get frustrated and annoyed by those mistakes, but just keep remembering that it is a perfectly normal thing to do and an important part of learning how to draw. By keeping your lines light it is real easy to rub out the line if it wasn’t right and draw it again.
My advice is to Laugh about your mistakes! Make it part of the process. You know its going to happen so make it fun for yourself when it does. If you are enjoying it you will learn much faster and get better and better each time.