February 25, 2018

How to Practice Drawing: Phase 2 — Study

To get better as an artist you need to establish a practice, and do it right. The core of this practice is the Study Phase.

The Study Phase is meant to be a mental workout. When you push yourself past your comfort zone in a physical workout, you body adapts and becomes stronger. The same is true of a mental workout. When you push past your mental comfort zone, your mind will adapt and become smarter. In short, you will become a better artist.

Be prepared. The experience will be frustrating. You will feel awkward, clumsy and incapable. That’s okay. In fact, that is what you want to feel. That’s the feeling of your brain working hard to learn something new. Embrace that feeling and seek it out when you study.

To make herself stronger, an athlete needs resistance. She puts weight onto a barbell, pushes off the ground with her feet, or pulls through water with her arms. Her muscles, tendons and bones are overwhelmed, and they grow stronger to adapt. The drawing centers of your brain work the same way. They need tools of resistance to adapt and grow. The tools of resistance for an artist are Life and  Other Artists.

If I could be so bold as to make a modification on bit of advice from some of  best animation artists out there: Study of Life and Study of Other Artists should come before Imagination. For this reason, we’ll save Imagination for the Application Phase . For the Study Phase we need to look outside ourselves.

Now we know what are tools are, this is how we use them:

Create a Library

Start creating a library of art that looks like the stuff you want to do. This can be paintings, design, drawings and photography. You can do this on pinterest or keep a series of folders locally with artists that you like. Whatever inspires you. Take some time and look carefully at what appeals to you about these images and  what you would like to incorporate into your own skill set. You can see my collection on pinterest.

List Your Skills

Start to list skills you’ve identified from looking at your library. Getting critiques from other artists will also give some ideas for skills to study. I keep my list on a google drive spreadsheet, but you can put yours anywhere that’s convenient for you. Put down every skill you can think of.

Choose a Focus

Choose one skill you would like to study. This will be the focus of your practice. If you are starting out, I recommend you choose a skill that involves either construction or design. For more experienced artists, you can start drilling skills that expand your visual catalog. My focus on this blog is primarily on draftsmanship, so I’ll constrain most of my commentary to those three areas of emphasis, but more experienced artists can also drill rendering and color.

Make this the only focus of every study session for the time being. Do not plan what comes next. You are not trying to get anywhere. You are not working towards a milestone. You want your focus to be on the work at hand. Not on some future point.

Of course, at some  point you will want to move on to a new skill… but that’s a discussion for another time.

Choose a Drill

I’m going to try and provide more drill ideas in the future. For now, here are some ideas to get you started. Remember, you are working on one skill, so just choose one of these drills for now.

(If you have a skill you’d like to focus on, and it’s not covered in the drills below, just leave a comment and I can make a recommendation.)

Reverse Construction:  Choose a piece of art you like. Draw simple 3 dimensional shapes over the top of the objects in the image (refer to Phase 1: Warm Up to see what types of shapes). You can use Photoshop to do this or print out the image and use tracing paper. Draw the image again on a separate sheet of paper without tracing. Compare the two. Look at the types of shapes used. How do they compare in their dimensions? Where are the most complex shapes?

Simple structural study of a painting by Dean Cornwell.

Simple structural study of a painting by Dean Cornwell.

Composition Study:  Choose a series of images you like from a single artist. This can be a series of illustrations, a comic book, or even stills from a movie. With a large marker, sketch out the layout of the images as simply as possible. Use big, broad strokes – no detail. Just identify the major areas of focus and flow of the image. What does this artist do that is new to you? Identify relationships between images. What are some generalizations you can make about how this artist composes an image? (For more on this approach see Marco Mateu-Mestre’s Framed Ink.)

2 page spread from Tetsuro Ueyama's Senkigaku Mitsuyoshi

2 page spread from Tetsuro Ueyama’s Senkigaku Mitsuyoshi


Using simple shapes to understand the layout of the above spread.

Gross Anatomy:  Choose an area of human anatomy. Find a technical drawing of that area of anatomy. Make a copy of the drawing. Label the names of the muscles and the major landmarks of the bones.

Anatomy studies from Frederic Delavier's Strength Training Anatomy.

Anatomy studies from Frederic Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy-3rd Edition

Take Note

The point of studying life and the work of other artists is to understand the general rules that make a drawing work. Take notes during your study. Ask questions about why things are the way they are.

You could read about these rules in a book, or listen to them in a lecture, but when you come to understand them through your own effort and searching, your wisdom will be far deeper.

This is what makes the Study Phase so powerful

You are determining the course of your artistic journey. You are the one setting the curriculum and writing the rules. In a world that is so flooded with derivative work, you have the opportunity to develop your unique artistic voice, and stand out from the crowd.

It takes work, but once you develop the tools you can really start getting creative.

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  1. titorat says:

    I don’t understand study of life???

    • Brandon says:

      Study of life means drawing real things. For example, you can draw what you see around you, you can go to the park or go hiking and draw nature, or you can do figure drawing. It’s being observant of the real world and making your artistic interpretation of it.

      Make sense?

      • titorat says:

        Thank u very much
        But more question i want to be cartoonist and draw better than any ome
        How to do that? And how much time will it take?

        Sorry for bad English

        • Brandon says:

          That’s a hard question to answer. Some have said it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated study to master a skill. So it could take years, depending on how much time you spend practicing every day.

          • titorat says:

            Ok but what skills i should have?

            Plz tell me all of them and thank u very much 🙂

          • I know it’s an old post but. You should study fundamentals. If you wounder what they are Sycra Yasin has a video on what fundamentals you need to know.


            I just want to add one more and that is texture to the Basic Fundamentals

          • That’s a really great video. Thanks for sharing. In my teaching and coaching, I like to focus on a narrower range of “fundamentals”. You can see them in the post below. The reason for this is that I tend to focus more exclusively on draftsmanship as it relates to comics and animation, but I also think these 3 fundamentals will support any other subject or skill that you want to master. For example, studying construction will reinforce your study of perspective. That being said, this is just my approach. I think there are many other valid approaches for refining your art skills.


  2. Brandon says:

    This is a good place to start: http://brandondayton.com/2013/06/3drawingskills/

  3. Jacob Grossman says:

    Hi Brandon, could you please explain the List your skills paragraph a little. Do you mean list your skills that coincide with the list of things you like about other artists or do you mean just list the things you are good at/find out what you are good at in regards to drawing?


    • Jacob, that’s a good question. Let me clarify: list the skills you would like to have, or that you would like to improve. The essential part of practice is focusing on where you are lacking and working on that. Spending time with a skill you already feel comfortable with might be fun, but it won’t make you any better.

  4. Hmm I guess you are never too old to learn the draw? I just started out and I’m just stumbling around..Well anyway good post. Thank you. ^^

    • It’s never to late. Stumbling around is part of the process. Hopefully I can help to clarify things a bit.

  5. Hi! Just wanted to let you know that the first image (presentation by John K, Nick Cross, and Marlo Meekins) is broken. I have a feeling I’ll be referring to this article a lot, so it’d be cool to see it–thanks!

  6. Hi Brandon, thanks a lot for writing this article, it really helps. I’m a beginner artist doing this for hobby, but I’d like to be able to bring this to the next level one day. I tried to improve things & learning new things/skill on every drawing I do. My question is, is it better to “focus” only on one thing on the artwork & leave the rest for later, or to finish it? For example whether it’s better to only learn to draw the lineart until I can do it real good then start learning to colour them all later, or just finish all process concerning one artwork drawing at a time? (from composition to colouring)

  7. Francisco Joaquín Chantada says:

    Brandon, the first image seems to have been deleted, just telling you so you can re-upload it or something, thanks for your help and tips on drawing, they are coming in handy.
    Sadly my teacher does not know how to drive me to learn construction well, but I will give the advices of the warm-up part a try or maybe 20, but I really want to improve.

  8. The first image appears to be broken for me.

  9. thanks alot for the help you geven me am just a beginer in this world but i hope to improve on it folowing the lines you just geve me from above

  10. i love this


  1. […] Once you’ve done the warm-up it’s time to move on to the Study Phase. […]

  2. […] is perfected through study and application. Study involves in depth-analysis and copying of the works of other artists and […]

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