How To Improve Your Drawing Skills

“Not a day without a line” is a famous quote, (presumably by Pliny the Elder – a roman, author, naturalist, and natural philosopher), that I try to adhere to in my drawing practice. While it is originally written relating to writing, it converts very well to a drawing practice. Cause if there is one thing I know about how to improve your drawing skills, it is the fact, that it takes practice, and preferably lots of it! I personally aim for doing some drawing every day. But I do have a challenge when it comes to spending a lot of time on it, so I try to find efficient ways of practicing, which is what I’ll be talking about in this article.

The Time Issue – Some Thoughts About Practicing

How to Improve Your Drawing Skills Pocket Watch


I am a pretty busy person… I have a family, a job, an education, and music that all take up quite a bit of time… (All that good stuff that usually comes with being a grown up… 😉 ), so sitting down for a full on drawing session is not always possible for me. Because of this, I have some thoughts about practicing, and getting the most out of my time. If you can relate to this issue, then read on, my friend.

Daily Drawing Exercises

The first step is to turn to my arsenal of very awesome and simple daily drawing exercises, that I have picked up along the way. When I apply the principles from this article to them, I am able to make good progress, even with very little time. Fortunately there are plenty of these exercises. Do a quick Google search, and you’re good to go. I also have a collection of my favourite exercises, that you can find right here. And I am constantly expanding on it, so keep checking back!

But for now, here are the principles, that I try to stick to, in order to progress my drawing skills as quickly as possible.

Kaizen – Baby Steps Become Giant Leaps


Kaizen-2.svg
By Majo statt Senf [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

 

Kaizen is a Japanese word, and a strategy, that is characterized by continuous small improvements on a daily basis. It has proven itself VERY effective, and as such it has been adapted widely all around the world in creative endeavours such as drawing, painting and playing, as well as in coaching, psychotherapy, health industries, banks, corporations etc.

Besides being very effective, it is also very easy to implement, and it is the first principle that I try to keep in mind in regard to my practice.

The idea in a nutshell, is that small daily steps add up, and amounts to big improvements in the long run. And it works! I can personally attest to that. I have used this principle for a good number of years, and it has helped me tremendously.

In fact most teachers will tell you that 15 minutes every day is a lot more beneficial for the development of skill work (any kind, not just drawing) than two hours once a week. The reason for this is the fact, that by revisiting the movements involved daily, you’re ingraining them into your nervous system, and thus your muscle memory. And that is absolutely crucial for applying that skill. Besides, it also helps to build a habit of daily drawing, because it’s a lot easier to commit to 10 or 15 minutes daily, than to an hour.

Work Smart – Not Hard

How to Improve Your Drawing Skills - Brain


This is another one of the principles that I try to adhere to. In most of what I do, including my daily drawing practice. I believe there is a lot to gain, by being smart about how I go about my daily life. And if I am to make any gains with these short practice sessions, it is essential!

Have you ever heard the phrase “practice makes perfect”?

-Don’t actually answer that… Of course you have! 😉 -I pose it as a rhetorical question, because it’s one of those things that we all heard so many times, that we stopped thinking about it a long time ago. But I will actually go out on a limb here, and claim that it is… Well not false, as such, but at least highly inaccurate! Allow me to explain:

When we are talking about something that requires fine motor skills – such as drawing, playing an instrument, or anything similar, we are practicing our before mentioned muscle memory. And the muscle memory is dumb! It doesn’t think! It only remembers what you do, NOT what you think or tell yourself. So if you make mistakes repeatedly, you are not improving upon those mistakes, you are ingraining them into your muscle memory, in essence you are practicing those mistakes!

Mindfulness in Your Drawing Practice

As an example, if you are practicing drawing circles, and you go forward too quickly, drawing circles that resemble crooked ovals more than circles, then that is what you ingrain in your drawing hand! So in actuality you are practicing a crooked oval, and NOT a circle… You should slow down, be mindful about your shortcomings, and draw your circle in a tempo and a manner that allows you to draw it as perfectly as possible. (As an added bonus, certain drawing exercises can become almost like actual mindfulness exercises, when you get into the repetitive, slow motions of them. Kind of like mandalas).

... As perfectly AS POSSIBLE!

Now, I said practice in a manner that allows you to draw your circle as perfectly AS POSSIBLE. And that’s an important point, cause drawing a perfect circle is difficult! And it takes practice… So if you’re not supposed to ever draw an imperfect circle, how are you ever going to improve, right?!? 😉

The point is that it is important to be mindful about it, notice where your weaknesses are, and try to improve upon them. What you’re not supposed to do, is practice the same imperfections again and again… Cause that’s the way they get ingrained into your muscle memory.

The Pareto Principle – The 80/20 Rule

The Pareto Principle is another theory that has found use in MANY areas, as varied as economics, science, sports etc. It states that for many events roughly 80% percent of the effect comes from 20% of the causes. I am a big believer in this! And it ties in very well with the principle of working smart.

Now this doesn’t mean that I believe one should only do 20% of the work AT ALL TIMES, and just be happy with that! There are definitely times, when you should bust your butt, and work hard. But as far as practicing your skills go, it is very useful to identify that crucial 20%…

Exercises vs. Actual Drawing – Remember the Joy


The principles that i have outlined in this article, are meant to improve your skills, and to maximize efficiency in that aspect. It’s a very goal oriented approach, that works well in regard to saving time and staying productive, while improving your skills as quickly as possible.

BUT… DON’T FORGET TO ENJOY IT, AND HAVE FUN!

Drawing is a fantastic thing, and it is a creative outlet, unlike anything else. It allows you to see and interpret the world in a new light and in your own way. It allows you to capture moments and pictures with your own emotions embedded, to create your own vision. To play with shapes, colours and sizes, and so much more!

These are absolutely fantastic attributes, and while it is exciting and useful to go into the nuts and bolts of the whole thing, there is also the danger of almost forgetting the pure joy of it. So just keep in mind that the drawing exercises should be a tool for developing your skills, which in turn will allow you to have a more open channel for your artistic endeavours.

To Make Good Art, We Have to be Willing to Make Bad Art


This quote from Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” is a bit of a mantra to me, and I consider it a very important part of developing as a creative person.

To improve your drawing skills it’s important to be focused, as I’ve talked about in the previous paragraphs. But sometimes, in order to open your creative channels, you just wanna let loose, be bold, and just draw… Whatever comes to mind, and comes out from your hand and your pen. Sometimes this will result in “poop on paper”, and sometimes it will result in what many call the “fortunate accidents”, and you draw something really cool. The important thing is that you keep drawing and keep practicing. And as you improve the poop will become less, and you will create cool stuff more consistently.

The Take Away


1) It’s better to do a little bit every day, than a marathon session once in a blue moon.

2) Be mindful about your shortcomings and work on those.

3) Practice slowly and deliberately, and only speed up as you improve.

4) Allow your self to make bad art, and very soon you will find yourself making good art.

If you keep these four principles in mind, short 5-10 minute practice sessions, will still allow you to improve your drawing skills a lot. And of course more time will yield better results, but the same principles still adhere.

Repeating The Good Patterns – An Exercise


Here’s a quick exercise to try out these principles for yourself.Circle

We all know that circles is one of the most basic shapes you need to practice, so let’s work on those.

But instead of just drawing 10 circles, draw ONE! And draw it REALLY well. I mean it! Take your time, and spend maybe one or two full minutes drawing ONE circle. And then trace your line though that circle over and over again, as many times as your pencil, your paper or your patience can handle, which ever gives in first!

If you find it really difficult to draw a decent circle free-hand, there’s also the option of using a compass, to draw a template, and then draw over that.

Now you’re practicing your muscle memory the smart way. Five minutes of this will improve your circle-drawing-abilities way more than 10 or 20 minutes of circles done half-assed. Of course you can repeat this exercise with any shape you like: ellipses, squares, rhombuses etc.

 

Happy drawing!

 

 

 

Beginner Drawing Lessons – Three Great Resources

When I restarted my drawing journey, after a prolonged break, the first thing I decided, was that I was going to treat this as if I was an absolute newbie, and find some beginner drawing lessons. Fortunately there are plenty to choose from, as drawing is a very sought after skill. But this also poses a challenge in deciding which one(s) are worth my time and money. If you’re anything like me, maybe you can find some inspiration here, as I’ve tried out quite a few of them, and I will try my best to pass on that information, so you can decide for yourself which one(s) are right for you.

The Search for Good Courses

The biggest challenge, really, is that there is SO much information out there today, and literally thousands of courses to choose from. So where does one begin? I started out looking around on the internet, googling and reading and looking. Just trying to find something that appealed to me aesthetically. I figured that the more pleasing to the eye my drawing attempts would be, the more I would enjoy the journey. And then I started reading reviews of the courses I came upon. First off there are obviously reviews on the specific pages where the courses are offered (Amazon for instance) but I also looked outside of those pages and did searches like: “[specific drawing course] review” and to see what other people had experienced. This was a pretty good exercise, and I came up with a good list of courses that I found interesting.

Style and Ambition

There are so many different drawing styles and just different ways of approaching drawing in general. And these are obviously reflected in the drawing courses that are offered out there. This was actually one of the things that presented a bit of a challenge for me, in my search. I have a pretty clear notion of what I like to draw and look at, which is very much in the cartoon/adventure/street art type genre, with an absolute edge to it. And not so much in the very realistic end of the scale. This obviously means that the cartoonish/adventurous/streetart-ish style is what I’d like to do myself. On the other hand I know that any sort of complete drawing “education” (if you will) involves a good portion of realistic drawing, like still lifes, portrait drawing etc. this was also confirmed to me by looking into many of the beginner drawing courses that I came upon.

Now the problem with that (for me) is that I am not very drawn to this way of drawing (pun intended). If I look around at different works, there are these enormously talented artists that can do hyper realistic portraits, that look almost like photographs. And while I am -of course- impressed by the amount of skill that goes into doing something like that, it just doesn’t move me very much. On the other hand I can look at the drawings of someone like Tim Burton, for instance. His works are actually quite simplistic to the point of almost being childish in their expression, but they just have this fantastic charisma to them, which I for one, find very appealing.

     

Top Left: Photo of James Mylne using a Bic Cristal ballpoint pen to create a photo-realistic drawing of Steve McQueen.
Top Right: My own rendition of Jack Skellington, one of Tim Burtons most iconic characters. It’s obvious that my drawing skills pale in comparison, but the style of Burtons character is just so much more appealing to me.
Below: Me drawing Jack Skellington

So the dilemma is: do I jump straight into the fun stuff, and start doing cartoon characters and adventure landscapes, or do I pay my dues, struggling through portraits of fruit bowls and apples to hone my basic skills. The truth, uncomfortable as it may be, is that I will probably never be able to do the fun stuff to my own satisfaction, if I completely skip the more mundane stuff. After all, there’s probably a reason why pretty much every single drawing course out there starts with some variation of drawing circles, boxes and cones and a bit further down the line, still lifes.

Having Fun With it

One thing I know for sure, is that if I want to be successful at honing my skills, I need to be consistent with it. And the best way to be consistent with it, is to find a way to experience at least some degree of fun, and -preferably- success. Obviously there is a certain degree of discipline that needs to be in place as well, but personally I have a family, a job, school, and a music career to attend to at the same time, so drawing should be a source of joy to me, and not a chore.

This brings me back to the point that I’ve hit upon previously, that finding good beginner drawing lessons will just make my drawing journey so much more enjoyable. Also, the easy beginner drawings that I’ve written about in a previous post is a good way of finding joy and a sense of achievement.

Committing to One Course  (Or Not)

So as I’ve mentioned a few times, one of the biggest challenges (though a bit of a luxury problem) is that the sheer volume of courses out there is enormous. So one might start out on a course, work with that for a while, find a different one, and think “Hey… This looks good!” and start out on working with that, and so on… I know I have definitely been guilty of that in the past (not only when it comes to drawing!).

I would say, that ideally this should be avoided. Any good beginner drawing course, will have a structure to it. One that the author have put some thought into. And there’ll be a certain progression to the lessons, that develops your skills as you move through them. However,… I am not one for dogmatic thought in general, and if I happen to come upon a different course, or lesson, or just a motif, that I want to try my hands at… I’ll do it! This doesn’t mean that I’ll completely abandon the course I’m working with, it just means I’m taking a small detour…. Once again, this ties into the point that I’ve struck so many times, that it’s important to have fun with the process.

It’s Your Journey – Make it So

There are many, many beginner drawing courses out there, and I think that honestly most of them are pretty good! If you do a minimum of research before spending your hard-earned cash, I don’t think you’ll go completely astray. I do think it’s a good idea to find a course and stick with it for the duration, but I also don’t think that you should refrain from experimenting outside of it, and jump between styles and approaches a bit. It’s YOUR drawing journey, so make sure you’re having fun with it. Do your own research, make your own experiences, try out a bunch of different things, just make sure you keep drawing, challenge yourself, and have fun with it!

So here are some of the Beginner Drawing Courses, that I’ve worked with :

Mark Kistler: “You Can Draw in 30 Days – The Fun Easy Way to Learn to Draw in One Month or Less” – Definitely a favourite! Simple and intuitive, with a good amount of basic skill work, and wide palette of areas as you work through the book. Mark also has well over 30 years of teaching experience, and it shows! (Sidenote: The picture at the top of this post, is one that I drew about a week into his course, heavily inspired by one of the lessons).

Andrew Loomis: “Fun With A Pencil: How Everybody Can Easily Learn to Draw” – Another great place to start. More centered around the human figure, and in a definite cartoonish style. Also touches upon perspective and dimensions towards the end.

Scott Robertson and Thomas Bertling: “How to Draw: drawing and sketching objects and environments from your imagination” – This one is a bit more serious. Very detailed and thorough lessons on perspective, and the shape and anatomy of lines. For artists, architects and designers. Approachable for beginners and more advanced. Very high quality teaching, and comes with links to video tutorials.

Easy Beginner Drawings – Making it fun to start!

Drawing is a skill. And one that takes practice. This makes consistency probably THE most important factor in getting good at it. Finding some easy beginner drawings that appeal to you, makes this a lot easier. They can offer a sense of achievement, which is great for motivation and for making your drawing journey a lot more enjoyable. Besides that, they also offer some awesome ways to practice your basic drawing skills.

In Order to Become a Good Artist, You Must First Allow Yourself to be a Bad Artist.

When you start out on a mission to learn to draw (or to learn anything, really) it is easy to get caught up in the idea of talent (or lack there of) being the defining factor for your success. And also having a notion, that anything you create should be your next masterpiece. These things could not be further from the truth!

What you need is practice and more practice. Draw all the time, if you can. Have a sketchbook with you, that you use for doodling as well as sketching. Draw on any paper, that you see lying around. Use anything you have handy: ballpoint pens, markers, pencils, whatever! Anything to develop your hand. (This also has the added benefit, of giving you a sense of the different materials available to you, because they ALL feel different, and they all give different results.) And DO NOT be afraid of drawing things that turn out horrendously! How else are you going to learn?!? If you only draw things that you already know how to draw, you’ll never truly develop as an artist!

Motivation Through Achievement

While working on difficult designs, and not being afraid of failure in drawing is essential, motivation definitely is as well. There are many ways to get motivated, but one thing we know for sure is, that motivation is fickle. It comes and goes, so it’s good to have some methods to boost your motivation. And one way to do this is through a sense of achievement. Drawing something that turns out well. It gets very frustrating if you’re constantly struggling to make anything look halfway decent. Spending a good amount of time on a drawing, and just not being happy with the final result is quite disheartening. Easy beginner drawings to the rescue! Drawings that are easy to master, and give a satisfying result in the end, can be just the encouragement you need to keep going. Fortunately there are plenty of them around. You can find them on Pinterest, Instagram, or just by doing a Google search, and there are loads of options.

Easy Beginner Exercises - Bendy Girl   Easy Beginner drawings - Gangster   Easy Beginner Drawings Chef

“Bendy girl”, “Gangster” and “Chef”. Three drawings I did from from the book “How to Draw 101 Cartoon Characters” by Dan Green. These are perhaps a little too simplistic and silly for my taste, but nevertheless, I found them to present a fun challenge at the time. In his book Dan breaks all the drawings down into small steps, making them very easy to follow along with. The “Wise Owl” at the top of this post is from the same book.

Lines – Awesome Exercises for Skill Practice!

At the core of it, drawing is just putting lines together… That’s all it is! So for us, as aspiring artists we would be wise to practice our lines.

Here’s a collection of really simple drawings that I drew, consisting of mostly straight lines. I came upon these somewhere on the interwebz, and found them to present a nice beginner challenge for myself, so I’ll pass them along to you. Go ahead and have some fun with these. (I sketched them out in pencil first, and then I overlined them in black ink, to make them stand out better for this article, but you absolutely do not need to do that).

Easy Beginner Drawings Collection

Exercises Based on Tracing Your Own Lines

There are many drawing exercise based on the idea of tracing your own lines over and over again. You can do it slowly and deliberately, using a straight line, a curved line, an s-shaped line, etc. and being very thorough, tracing their exact paths as smoothly and as evenly as possible, in a relatively slow tempo. You could also do it in a more flowing style using different patterns involving circles, squares and any other shape you can think of. And a third option is using some simple and easy drawings instead of just lines. You can take any of the drawings above – the pencil for instance – and just retrace the lines. Do it as many times as you like. This will develop your muscle memory, and the next time you go to draw a pencil (or anything else with a similar shape) it will be a little bit easier and come out a little bit better.

These types of exercises are in the category of “smart practice” (something I will talk about a lot more in later posts) and they are pure gold for developing your drawing hand!

Repetition – A Great Way to Challenge Yourself

Another great way to practice your drawing is by simple repetition. You could very well repeat a lot of the drawings you do, and you should! Think of a basketball player practicing his 3 point shot… He doesn’t just do it until he makes the shot, and then considers it done… He practices until he makes the shot hundreds of times! This is the same exact thing! You do the drawing, and then you do it again and again, paying more and more attention to the finer points as you go. And the easy beginner drawings are an excellent tool for this, precisely because they are easy to do… If you’re working with something way above your level, this process can easily get frustrating and tiresome.

There are many more ways of challenging yourself, by drawing the same thing repeatedly. Another one I like a lot is simply making the drawings themselves progressively more challenging by adding more detail to the drawings, as you repeat them.

Here is an example of this, where I drew a very simple rose, and then added som difficulty by drawing a bunch of them, and making them into a bouquet. (This is from a lesson in the very recommendable book “You can draw in 30 days” By Mark Kistler)

Rose easy beginner drawing

Roses easy Beginner Drawing

If you’re drawing a character, an obvious way to do it, is to change their actions or poses. Perhaps draw a hand differently and add a walking stick or a cup to it. Take one leg and lift it up, as if your character is walking up a flight of stairs… Then add a flight of stairs to your drawing (or if the stairs are too difficult, just draw a box or a rock instead)

You could also try different facial expressions. This is a great way to get a sense of how powerful your lines really are. The smallest of variations can make an enormous difference. Simply the way an eyebrow is slanted, or a slightly different angling of the mouth, can make a huge change in the expression of your character.

A third option, and something you really should be doing, is to experiment with shadows and colors. Shadows are a fantastic way to add more dimension and depth to your drawing, and should really be a focus point of your drawing journey in general, so that is an obvious next step to take in regard to using easy drawings as a practice tool.

All of these exercises can be tools to really lift your drawing skills, and take them to a new level.

I Love Easy Beginner Drawings!

They’re an awesome tool for facilitating your drawing journey. They’re a good basis for exercises that work your basic drawing skills, as well as a great way to lift your motivation through a sense of achievement.

Don’t shy away from using them, because of a notion that everything you do should be great art. This is a misunderstanding, that can actually hinder your development as an artist. It is important to allow yourself to be a beginner, and simply put, this involves two things: the “failed” attempts at drawing something difficult, and the “successful” attempts at drawing something simple.

The key is in your mindset…

…and being honest with yourself about this. You can use the easy drawings to develop specific skills by deliberately using some of the exercises described above, or you can just have fun, and play around with them. This will also develop your skills, just not as deliberately. More so in a general manner of just adding to the fun you’re having while drawing, and through adding to your overall “drawing mileage”.

No matter how you look at it, it’s a winning situation.

Happy drawing!

About Michael

I Used to Love to Draw…

When I was a kid, I could sit for hours and draw little men with big noses, weird fantasy creatures, aliens, epic battles, gigantic swords, submarines, and anything else I could think of. And I got to be somewhat decent at drawing.

As I came of age, and my “grown up life”, became more and more prevalent, drawing kind of slipped out of my hands, and I ended up leaving this amazingly creative outlet behind, and pretty much stopped altogether…

Over the years, I’ve tried to pick it up again on several occasions, but nothing really came out of it. I would draw a little, get frustrated over the (lack of) quality of my work, and after a little while, the interest would dwindle. I always had a notion, that drawing was something WORTH doing, and I kept telling myself that eventually I would have more time, and THEN I would start again!

The Problem With Eventually…

…is that it keeps being eventually, until you decide that eventually is now! And for me, I have finally decided that eventually is now! At 44 years of age, as a father, a musician and a pretty active person in general, it’s not like I have oodles of time to spare, but I just decided, that I couldn’t wait any longer. And thus the idea of The Drawing Journey was born.

I am starting now, and I created this website as a means to document the process, and to keep myself accountable. And perhaps along the way -if I’m lucky- I might inspire a few people, to pick up on a new, or a long-lost passion for drawing as well… Or perhaps on some other way of being creative. Inspiration and creativity are universal, and they come in many different forms.

You Too Can be an Artist!

Yes, I said it… An artist! Don’t be afraid of the word…

In fact, you might already be one… If you create art, you’re an artist, period!

The trick to becoming a good artist is to allow yourself to be a bad artist, so you won’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, and practice your art, without too much of the tiny self criticizing voice, that most of us know all too well.

And through practicing, and in turn creating art, you develop a way of observing the world with more attention to detail, and a keener eye for the innate beauty of everyday objects, as well as other more tangible benefits, like stress relief, improved hand-eye-coordination and much more.

Spending the time developing an artistic mind- and skill set, is worth it… Have no doubt!

So in Short…

-The purpose of My Grown up Drawing Journey, is to document the rekindling of my own artistic flame, and in doing so, hopefully inspire and empower a few people to do the same. I believe the world always needs more art, more creativity, more beauty and more exploration into the depths of the human mind… Your mind!

Take the plunge with me, and if you ever need a hand or have questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to help you out.

And Lastly…

You’re welcome to use any of the material you find on my site!
All I ask is that you mention where you found it, and leave me a comment, so I can get a sense of how much participation is taking place.

All the best, and happy drawing

Michael Bjorn

TheDrawingJourney.com