December 19, 2014

6 tips to get better at drawing

I can’t say that I’m the best artist out there, but I can certainly draw better than when I started this sketch blog. I’ve read a lot of advice about getting better at drawing over the years. Some advice has been very helpful and some advice just hasn’t worked for me. I want to share just a couple of tips that have helped me improve, particularly over the last four or five years.

1. Draw a lot. How much is a lot? Malcom Gladwell says its takes about 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert at it. (I recently did a back-of-the-napkin calculation with my father and we figured he had done over 80,000 hours of surgery!) So the more you do every day, the faster you’ll get good. In 2004, I attended my first San Diego Comic Con, where I nervously showed around my sketchbook to artists I admired. One of these artists was Paul Davies, who recommended that I fill up one sketchbook
a month, at minimum
. I did just that, several months over, and was amazed at how quickly I progressed over that time. I also recommend that if you have the means, to get a job where you draw. It’s much easier to get in a lot of hours of practice when 8 or more of them are guaranteed everyday.

This is your best friend.

This is your best friend.

2. Slow and Steady. Especially when learning to do cleanup, whether it be with pencil, brush or crow quill, go slowly. It’s just like practicing a musical instrument. You start as slowly as you can without making mistakes, then you speed up. Go as slowly as necessary to have control over what you’re doing on the page. This is particularly important when trying to ink ellipses and other curves freehand. While it’s best to sketch an ellipse in a single quick stroke, I’ve never seen an artist I admire ink an ellipse that way. Most will carefully and deliberately chunk out the ellipse with smaller controlled ink strokes.

Watch how Jake Parker does it:

Inking Missile Mouse from jakeparker on Vimeo.

3. Learn from the best. Another musical analogy. I met a guy once who played the violin in high school. His music teacher gave him this piece of advice: If you want to be first chair, don’t set your sights on first chair, set your sights on the best violinists in the world. Particularly with the ubiquity of information on artists available on the internet, there’s no reason you can’t learn from the best. Find the artists you admire through google or twitter. Start a correspondence with them. Ask them questions. You’ll find many are generous and willing to help. Read what they have to say on their blogs, and watch their video tutorials. The recently launched ArtCast Network is a great place to do this. If you can’t get in touch with an artist you like, then copy their work. Download, or buy high resolution images of their art and practice making exact replicas. When I started learning how to ink, I would download hi-res images of Frank Cho’s art, convert it to blue-line, print it out on Bristol and ink over it trying to copy his line quality. The same can apply to any artist you want to replicate. Look at their art, study it closely and figure out how to replicate it. Just one caution: make sure and give the original artist credit if you show your studies to anyone else.

One of the Frank Cho images I would practice my inking on.

One of the Frank Cho images I would practice my inking on.

4. Fix it until it’s right. When working on a difficult piece, redraw it until you get it right. Especially if you’re starting out, I recommend using mechanical pencils with a good eraser. They erase easily, and you can re-work and readjust a drawing until you get it right. Set a high standard f0r yourself and work to achieve that with every piece. Look at your drawing in front of a mirror, or flip it around and hold it up to the light. Seeing it in reverse will reveal problems in the drawing. Don’t take this suggestion too far. If you’re really hitting a wall, abandon the drawing, or start over. It’s more important to draw a lot than get stuck on one drawing.

5. Study the Fundamentals. Study the best books and videos on perspective, construction, anatomy, rendering and color theory. I highly recommend the resources found at Gnomon Workshops (Some of the best stuff I found on Gnomon were tutorials by Feng Zhu and Scott Robertson on how to draw a straight line freehand.) Go to live figure drawing classes, weekly, if possible. Go to the zoo every week, or more, if you want to learn to draw animals. Ernest Norling’s Perspective Made Easy will teach you everything you need to know about perspective. Preston Blair’s Cartoon Animation is the best place to get started with construction.  I’m still really searching for is a good book on anatomy. I own several books on anatomy, but none that really satisfies me. If anyone has any recommendations, please contact me.

draw_better

UPDATE July 16, 2013

I’ve since found a handful of anatomy books that I really like. Michael Hampton’s Figure Drawing: Design and Invention is probably the best place to start. It’s a great introduction to construction and drawing with form (I might even put it ahead of Preston Blair) and it does a fantastic job of breaking down and abstracting the human form in a logical and methodical way.

I’d also recommend Frederic Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy. It’s a fantastic reference for anatomy in motion with call-outs to muscle groups and other landmarks with every image.

Last, I’d recommend Elliot Goldfinger’s Human Anatomy for Artists - an exhaustive technical reference that leaves no stone un-turned.

6. Repeat until you die. This is probably the most important step. There’s always something new to learn. Thank God! One of the greatest joys of drawing is having those break-through moments that come from constantly challenging yourself. Keep at it. The fun is in the process, not in the prize.

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Comments

  1. Spot on, I especially love #6, so many underestimate the ongoing training… that you are never finished. Well written piece.

  2. Shining Aurora says:

    I copy a lot and i never get better at drawing. I can draw ONLY what i see, but when i try to invent i draw as i drew 4 years ago. Flat, tiny, wrong figures with several anatomical mistakes and all charatcers that look the same

    Looking image in the mirror doesn’t work with me. When i draw something as better as i can and i flip the image i see the image exacly as i see it when i look at it normally, so i can’t correct mistakes (and i know there still are mistakes, because i receive critiques about them)

    And yes, I study. Not improvement at all. I can just copy and copy and copy, the only thing i have been able to improve.

    • When copying other works it’s also important to analyze it, and figure how it differs from your own. Ask yourself: what is my work missing to look like this? Focusing on that gap is how you stretch yourself.

      I’d be interested to see you work over the last 4 years. I doubt there’s been no improvement at all. Sometimes we can be very hard ourselves.

      How much time do you spend drawing every day? How quickly can you fill a sketchbook?

  3. Thank you for this it’s very helpful.

  4. Hi…Sorry for my bad english, but I am from Brasil. I fond your draws looking for sketchs in google, and then, your blog. In your Tip n 5 (study the fundamentals) you said that you own several books on anatomy. The only recommendation that I can ofer is Andrew Loomis books. I am starting draw now, I do not have a work that I can draw (only when I am on the phone), please, send the name of you books references.
    Tnks. You´re a great worker…good luck.

  5. great advice…100% spot on all six tips!!

  6. Shining Aurora says:

    No problems. Recently my drawings are suddenly improved. I still pratice every day.

    The only problem is about mirroring images. Why when i do that i’m still blind to mistakes?

  7. thank you for the helpful advice. I’m aspiring to be a cartoonist but just can’t seem to draw as perfect as i want to and i don’t practice sketching that much. These tips. were really helpful again and i hope to thank you properly in the long run :)

  8. Arianna! says:

    Thank you very much for such great advice. I am fourteen years old, and ever since I discovered and read JtHM by Jhonen Vasquez, I have aspired to become a cartoonist of his high caliber. I’ve always been into art, of course, but never took it too seriously, not until that point. I’ve already improved SO much after just reading JtHM, and yes, I have drawn some of the characters before, but now you’ve opened me up to many new techniques and ideas. I hope to keep improving until the day I die. Thank you.

  9. Have you heard of “Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life?” It’s given me a whole new perspective on figure drawing.

    • I’ve seen smaller Bridgeman’s books, but I need to check out a big compilation from him. I’m sure there’s some good stuff there.

  10. Thanks so much! my drawings have improved so much because of you!

  11. Cool! I’ll try these tricks and hopefully improve my skills. I want to be a cartoonist, after all!

  12. Can I get some tips on my drawings ? I have to wait to send them on my computer… I think my main problem is self doubt and never practicing

  13. Have you ever picked up “Anatomy for the Artist”? I found it to be nice because it was pretty detailed.

  14. sarathi says:

    Try “bridgman’s complete guide to drawing from life”.
    Draw each and every drawing from that book.
    Definitely you will see big change in your sketches.

  15. I want to be an interior designer so I need to draw well. Your advices have helped me greatly! thanks!!

  16. Trinity says:

    Hey, a really good anatomy book is Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck
    And check out Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth as well.
    If anyone knows any good animal anatomy or graffiti reference/books, feel free to respond or email me at mikeybubble@yahoo.com

  17. Your advise was so helpful! I just started to draw yesterday, and discovered that I had some antitalent, these tips really help! You should put your work up on the internet more often!

  18. thank you it really works

  19. Thanks for great tps! My story: When I was abou 10 years old I saw manga anime on tv. It was pretty fun and I tried to copy pictures. I have few sketchbooks of manga things but after ~5 years I stoped drawing… Now when im 18 I found out that I have talent drawing realistic! I really enjoy it but when I fail like making mistakes in anatomy or smth I stop again. I want to draw perfect at first time while I know I need to practise. I cant make myself to do that. I better go play video games.. Also I want to show my drawings to others but it sucks when they say “hey, I saw same pic on the net”… so i dont want to copy anymore.. when I try to draw from my head or atleast go search for drawing references and put something from head like clothes, weps, scenery I feel that “art block”… I dont draw much now i spend more time surfing the net and find some photo drawing challenges where I could copy it and there wont be mad people. idk I feel that art should my life but I need something which would show righr way…

  20. FloodedRiver says:

    Thanks so much for this! I’ve been using the technique of tracing a picture I admire a lot, and it’s really helped me get the feel of the anatomy of what I’m drawing. I can see myself improving a little bit everyday, and it’s a great feeling, and a real confidence booster, knowing that what you love to do is also something you’re getting good at.

  21. Anatomy book – Sarah Simblet has written an amazing one!

  22. Calvin Quallo says:

    I think I can givr answers to the artists who don’t see mistakes.

    I have had the same problem.
    Try looking at your picture as a whole. If you see an area that seems off, focus on that spot and look for the flaw. Flipping the picture is just a way to unfamiliarize your eyes with the picture. Also I’d love to see your works.

    • Brandon says:

      Calvin,

      That’s the right attitude. Critical analysis of your work is essential to growth. BTW, you can see my work by clicking on the “Portfolio” link a the top of the page.

      Thanks!

      Brandon

  23. Thank’s for these advices Brandon. My name is Marc Vers and I’m a Illustrator. I study the Grade Senior Technician in Plastic Arts and Design Illustration in a public art’s school of Barcelona, it’s called “La Llotja”. It’s a very old school, the most old of Spain, over 300 years. I appreciate your tips to be a better artist, thank’s a lot. I leave you the address of my blog if you wanna look it and if you want to give me your opinion.

    Regards from Barcelona.

    • Brandon says:

      Glad it can be of some use. I hope you take some time and check out some of the other articles about practicing drawing. Keep at it and best of luck!

  24. Sylvia Consta says:

    Hi Brandon,
    Your blog is wonderful and your tips are so helpful!
    I am focusing on pin up art so I try to study the human anatomy as much as possible and practice by copying the masters.
    In the tip “learn from the best” you say that we improve our drawing skills by trying to produce images that are as close as possible to the original work. I do that and it does help a lot.
    But does it help if we copy the same work (image) several times (allowing weeks or months before the 1st attempt?). Does that help in our effort to get better faster?

    Thank you for your reply and I really love your work.

    • Brandon says:

      Sylvia,

      That’s a very interesting idea. I’ve honestly never deliberately tried that approach, but I know I keep returning to the same great art over and over again. A great piece of art can be studied in many different ways. You could do a structural study of it, a compositional study, a color study ect. It really depends on what your focus is and what you want to learn from the piece.

      It could also be helpful as you continue to refine your mastery of any one area of focus.

      It’s certainly worth experimenting with. Please let me know how it goes for you!

      Best,

      Brandon

  25. >”Go to the zoo every week, or more, if you want to learn to draw animals.”
    But what if I want to learn to draw dragons? T_T

  26. I don’t have a lot of money, I barely have enough money for essentials. I’m lucky enough to have a computer to use, but buying proper art supplies isn’t remotely within my budget. I’m practicing drawing using G.I.M.P but I’m wondering if drawing on a computer, or drawing on paper is better or worse.

    • Connor,

      Unless you’ve got a cintiq too, I’d recommend drawing on paper. You don’t need any fancy supplies, just copy paper some pencils and maybe some micron pens. The benefit to drawing on paper is it allows you to anchor your elbow and turn the paper as you draw. This makes for more accurate drawing and puts less strain on you hand. Plus, you can take paper with you anywhere. Hope that helps.

  27. That was really interesting specially cause this days i’m trying to push myself. I’m 22 years old and I feel like I lost my time until today. I wish to work with this and i’m already too latte for it.

    So I WANT to get better!

    • Dude, I’m 36 years old, and I still feel like I’ve got a TON to learn. You’ve got plenty of time to learn what you need to. A little bit of effort every day can go a long way over time. Make sure to check out my articles on How To Practice too. I’ve learned some things since I wrote this article!

  28. drawuntilidie says:

    Thank you so much for those tips! Now I’m really inspired, I’m going to draw a lot. Starting this day, starting the line I’ve once stopped, I’ll continue it again. Okay, that was deep. Actually, I used to draw a lot before, drawing was my life, art is. I never once let a day pass without drawing once. I used to think I’m good at drawing, then one day someone said my drawing was ugly. That didn’t make me stop though, it made me strive to get better, more and more. That’s why I never stop. Then one day, I really made it. I’m starting to get on that part of an Artist life, that beginning. I draw with my mouse, not a tablet. I can color really really well. Everyone then, says so. But then, that thought of “I’m good already.” made me think I am. I stop practicing and said, “Tomorrow, I’ll draw a masterpiece.” and then, one day, I can’t draw anymore. I lost it, I lost everything. I spent months of my life, feeling empty and so on. Then I realize, reading this, looking back at my first drawing book, the reason why I feel so empty. I want to draw, I want to draw my world. How cheesy it may sound, but it’s true. My heart race so much when I got a new idea and I’m getting so happy whenever I drew something good. I guess then, it’s my passion and I’m going to start again. :D

  29. Cristian says:

    Hey! I like the idea on filling up a sketch book every month (well, at least one). However, I was wondering, what if my current sketchbook has a lot of pages. O.o It seems like radical to expect to fill it up so fast. What’re your thoughts on this?

    • I say you give it a shot. You might be surprised how much drawing you can do in a month when you really put your nose to the grindstone. Carry it with you, draw it while waiting for appointments, draw while watching (listening) to movies. Draw while out to eat with friends. Fill every moment with drawing in your sketchbook and you’ll fill the sketchbook quickly.

  30. Ive seen my improvement for the last 4 years. And im happy about it.
    But only problem is that i already got the anime faces covered but i still dont get the hands and the body
    Suggestions? :)

    • Draw hands and bodies a lot!

      The books I’ve recommended are a fantastic place to start. Learn how to draw the body, then study how other anime artists stylize it.

      Best of luck!

  31. Thanks for the great tips. i started drawing when i was 4 and when i look back at 4 year old art that i created back then i am amazed about how i grew better over time. i really love drawing and i’m always looking for ways to improve my art.

    • Great to hear. That’s an attitude that will take you far. I have to constantly remind myself that getting better is attainable with hard work.

  32. Billy Blaze says:

    Hey I just want you to know, that some of the info on your website seems to be the most practical artist advice i can find on the net. Some is stuff I already do and i have told beginning artists to do. (I’ve used the cartoon animation book for practice and study since I was 14 when John K recommended it to me on MySpace). I consider myself to be a “perpetual beginner” as there is so much to learn. I want to thank you for this page. I will definitely forward it to my friends!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] reading Brandon Dayton’s article 6 Tips to Getting Better at Drawing, I’ve decided to keep a sketchbook. This is nothing new, I’ve started several sketchbooks over [...]

  2. [...] while back, I thought I’d put down some practical ideas about how to improve as an artist. It’s become one of my most popular articles, but since that time I’ve spent some more [...]

  3. […] considered a talent, there are some exercises and techniques which anyone can do in order to know how to draw better. Make sure of following these seps in order to learn the right way of expressing your creativity […]

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