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16 Ways To Draw Better

Tantowi grew up drawing and designing. Now she makes videos for a living and loves every second of it.


How can you learn to draw better? A surprisingly popular question. I’m still learning too and still getting better at it every day. It’s difficult to develop good drawing skills — it takes determination, time, focus, and commitment. Good artists draw from art. Great artists draw from life. It doesn’t matter if the life drawing has a heartbeat, it’s still an order of magnitude less complicated than drawing a person at rest. These are the best ways for people to learn to draw better.

Spend Time Observing

There are numerous ways that you can get better at art. Some revolve around studying and some revolve around drawing. One of the best ways to improve your drawing skills is to simply spend time observing. Don’t just read about what you see, actually look at it, even if it’s something common, like a coffee cup. Learn to draw by copying the things around you and let your drawing reflect experience as opposed to imagination. Observing helps you see and understand your subject so that it’s easier to capture its likeness. Staring at a desk or breaking a project down in front of you can help you improve both your art and your thinking skills. Studying other people’s work can also help motivate you — consider how they visualized a scene or made a choice that perfectly matches their thought process. You will be surprised at how much more captivating your sketches become when you pay attention to what others are doing, rather than just rifling through ideas in your head.

Plan Your Drawing

Planning your drawings helps a lot. It’s easier to take away than add to, which means it’s easier to improve an idea than make it perfect. Ideas that are divided into two or more parts are better for planning than ideas that are all jumbled together or only have one part. The less finished your drawing looks the harder it will be to sketch just what you want it to look like. For this reason, rough sketches with lots of mistakes and corrections can still be good ones. You want to make sure you show everything you possibly can in your sketch. You want to get a feeling for what kind of drawing will be most comfortable for you. Don’t be afraid to take some failing techniques from other artists and try them out. This step isn’t crucial for most people, but for those that want to improve their skills, it can be. Plan your work. Set goals and boundaries for yourself. Use the time before you begin drawing to clarify in your mind what you expect the drawing to be. And make sure that it will turn out just how you want it to be.

Draw from Life

Drawing from life is essential for improving. You can’t get better at drawing if you don’t see things as they are. But you can’t avoid the fact that drawing from life takes time. Wasting time is part of aiming to improve. Part of not giving up when things don’t go well, or when you start to doubt whether progress is possible. The long, frustrating, but ultimately rewarding effort is part of improving. You don’t need fancy materials; a sketchbook and a pocket full of pens are all you really need. In fact, many professionals still swear by pen and paper for their quick exploratory sketches, or what Leonardo da Vinci calls ‘studies.’ It doesn’t matter if you draw a stick figure, a human, or a cartoon — you’re continually improving your skills when you use your imagination. The more you draw, the better your drawings become and the more confident you become in your own ability to draw. Try adding some colored paper to your sketchpad or using a colored pencil to remove some sketchiness. It’s never too early, even for children, to start drawing — all you need to do is keep drawing in the order presented in the lesson plans or to improve your skill.

Draw as Often as Possible

I believe that if you want to learn how to draw, you have to draw for the rest of your life. The key to drawing better is practice. There’s no way to make progress in art without drawing. It doesn’t matter how well you can do anything else, if you don’t draw it means your drawings are going to suck. Drawing is the invisible skill of great artists and the visible skill of bad artists. There are many different ways to draw, but there is only one way that leads to better art: drawing more and worse art. Drawing should be practiced intensively and systematically. Your goal should not be ‘to improve.’ Your goal should be to draw more. So if you want to draw better, even if you already think you’re good at drawing, draw as often as possible.

Invest in a Good Sketchbook or Tablet

A good sketchbook or tablet is worth investing in. Don’t think of it as a possession or something you own, but as an instrument for creating art. You should invest in very good sketch paper and pens or a tablet if you are a digital artist. Working with poor materials is bad for your work, whether you realize it or not. I don’t mean by this that expensive things will make you better. I mean that using truly excellent tools will help you make your best work, but with very little effort expended on instruction or guidance.


Use the Right Tools

Sketching is about ideas, not tools. But the right tools can make the difference between frustration and effectiveness. This is not intended to be a treatise on techniques, or on the use of certain media. Rather it’s observations from a working artist about which pens, pencils, papers, and tablets work best. The use of the right tools can turn beginners into experts, or at least make them look like one. No matter how experienced or how novice you are at sketching, drawing instruments are essential. Without these drawing tools and accessories, you may be technically unable to start a sketching mission.

Draw Familiar Objects Before Trying New Subjects

On the whole, it is easier to draw what you know, rather than what you see. If you have a model before you, choose an object close to your hand which is familiar. Make a sketch of it from memory before picking up your pencil for more complex subjects. When I began drawing, I worried that taking the time to sketch familiar objects would slow down my learning to make more ambitious pictures. It didn’t. Sketching everyday objects was practice with both line and composition, and it made everything else easier. Working from imagination is great practice, but familiarity with objects will help you draw crisp edges. It’s tempting to skip over places like this, thinking, “I don’t need to do that until I can draw that object perfectly.” However, at this stage in your drawing skill, it is better to draw the object well enough that you know where to place the edges. Then the new skills you have learned will snap these into place in future drawings. Drawn things can sometimes help us build our confidence or teach us new techniques. We sometimes draw things just for fun. Drawing can be both. You should consider the impact your drawing has on what you feel or perceive about the world around you. Among the best exercises for improving your drawing ability are drawing pictures of familiar or prototypical things.

Train Your Brain to See Things Differently

Some people are born good at drawing. I wasn’t. So I had to figure out a way to train my brain to see things differently in order to be able to draw better. The brain needs the training to see things differently. When you draw you have to transform your perceptions into lines and shapes, and that magic happens in the brain. It’s a way to practice the skill with which you perceive and express the world around you through art, intuition, instinct, and vision. Training your brain to see better will help you think more clearly about everything else in life. The world is a 2D canvas. When you draw objects in 3D space, your brain automatically knows what’s inside and outside the box. You can distort the world around you in three dimensions by drawing shapes and lines of the right size or using negative space. This is why good artists draw circles and squares and triangles and share a wide variety of objects.

Come Up with Composition Rules

Composition is about taking an idea or image and arranging it in a way that makes sense. It’s about thinking about how things fit together and thinking about how different things would work together if you rearranged them in different ways. Just as we arrange our desks in a way that works best for us, we can arrange our bodies in a way that makes us most effective. The fundamental principles of composition are essential to all art forms. As with any art technique, there is always an element of personal interpretation which shapes what works well for you. Focus on the main figures when drawing a portrait or a sketch. Concentrate on how your eyes move around, looking forward and backward. Keep in mind the depth and the foreground/background texture as well. Try to make your figures as interesting and as composite as possible. Here are some composition rules you should know:

  • Rule of thirds

The Rule of thirds is a guideline I’ve used for a long time to help me draw interesting and balanced images. It’s based on an orthogonal grid which allows you to place solid object parts at the boundaries of areas you want to feel the most spacious. A boundary is typically made up of three elements; vertical, horizontal, and vertical. When placed correctly it creates an area that feels larger than it actually is while at the same time being intimate. It’s basic geometry but can apply to just about anything.

  • Rule of odds
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The rule of odds can be used to help you assemble a better image. In an image with a lot of moving parts, it can be difficult to determine which part is most important. The relationship between each part and its relative importance will help you determine how important a particular portion should be considered when choosing a composition. For example, in the image above there are several poses that are clearly important but which are inconsistent in terms of how they look overall.

  • Rule of space

The principle of the rule is to separate objects from each other with visual space, or “negative space”. This keeps the parts separate into the viewer’s imagination. The rule of space is used in drawing, photography, and filmmaking.

  • Simplification

The importance of simplicity in the art cannot be understated. If you want to learn how to draw better, you need to understand the basics of how light works and how colors work together to create pictures. If you’re not paying attention to the visual details in your work, you’re missing out on something huge. Simplicity doesn’t mean cleanliness either; you don’t want to draw cluttered/unkempt pictures. Draw clean lines, no more than three lines in a row, try not to mixed up your colors, and keep everything simple.

  • Shallow depth of field

Shallow depth of field is a special kind of framing technique in which the foreground and background are not as sharply defined as in typical architectural or landscape photography. This results in an image that has more surface area against which the foreground and background have been blurred; this is how things look larger when seen at a small size. It is the opposite of the dramatic perspective, which makes things appear smaller. Shallow depth of field can also be used as a means of blending two images together — creating an interesting effect when used effectively.

Find a Reference Photo to Focal Point Your Drawing

Drawing is mainly about observing, so it’s natural to be distracted by the details of a subject that isn’t actually present in the image itself. To help avoid this you should add a focal point to your drawing that will draw your attention away from the background and let you see the details in the drawing more clearly. Look through a number of photos and try to pick out pictures that have similar focal points. Reference photos are very important. Find one focal point for each. There are times when you’re able to read a person visually, but most of the time you have to ask yourself what makes them look like they do (personality, background, etc.). The best way to figure that out is to sketch from photos. The focal point is where you want all the visual attention to go when people look at your drawing, or where you want it to come together and feel like it all makes sense on that one spot. It is usually towards the center of your drawing and helps your viewer feel like they are ‘reading’ your image smoothly from left to right, up and down, and so on.


Draw from Imagination with Basic Shapes

Starting with basic shapes is a great way to get started drawing without feeling overwhelmed. By drawing from imagination, it’s easy to create a limitless amount of unique drawings. Imagine that what you’re drawing is not directly in front of you, but rather in your mind. Let’s start by just sketching basic shapes from imagination. When you draw from imagination you can’t use real-life images as references. Imagination drawing gives you the freedom to draw anything you can think of in any way that you want. Most great illustrators and comic artists draw or sketch from their imaginations. Usually, they first use a few basic drawing shapes to draw the picture out in their mind before they start to add more details.

Deconstruct the Subject into Parts

One approach to drawing is to deconstruct the subject you’re trying to capture into simpler forms. For example, if you want to draw a person, start by drawing a handful of stick figures, then add a couple of cylinders and some cones, and connect everything with lines. Or if you want to draw a landscape, first draw the horizon line, one or two trees, and maybe one building then work out from there. What we see in the world is made up of some basic shapes, edges, outlines, and fills. If this is the case, then it makes sense to learn how to draw using nothing but lines and shapes. It is especially important to sketch out the anatomy of the most complex parts of the subject. Make a few notes about what you can eliminate. The more complex an object is, the more points you need to consider in your drawing.

Use Scales, Patterns, and Grids

Scale, pattern, and grids are tools for making your drawings better. They can be used independently or together. One way to achieve accuracy is to use a grid. What scale you use depends on the size of the objects you’re trying to draw. The larger the object, the smaller the grid-scale. Drawing on grids consistently will result in drawing which is more proportional and balanced while using different scales of patterns within your composition will result in a more dynamic and interesting piece.

Work with Values

In art, values can be thought of as the relative light and dark within an area of drawn space. The lightest value is white, the darkest is black. All other values and colors lie somewhere between these two extremes. Value is the most important single element to study in your drawings, and also one of the trickiest to master. When you draw something, make sure your value scale is right. Do a rough sketch first, with simple shapes that have distinguishable high and low lights. Carefully observe the scene from different angles and distances.

Take Courses or Ask an Instructor for Help When You Need It

I recommend taking a sketching or drawing class, although an instructor won’t be able to help you on your own time. A good instructor will sit with you and show you the techniques in person. They should make sure that you get different kinds of models, as well as drawing from art and photographs (paper and digital). It is a good idea to learn from someone who already knows how to draw well. If you’re serious about improving your artwork, take art courses at a local college or university.

Don’t Compare Your Drawing with Another Artist

When you are about to compare your drawings with another artist’s drawing to improve your drawing skill, it is best to avoid doing that. This type of approach usually fails because the artist will always be better. Instead, do your best. Then you will be able to discover your strengths and weaknesses when you know how to self-evaluate your drawings by comparing them with other artists’ works as well as what you have drawn before. Every drawing has an identity, every drawing is different from the others which means that there can’t be any established rules and standards of good or bad drawings. Since every drawing is unique, there can’t be a universal guideline for the realization of your ideas.

The best way to draw well is to follow a sequence of thoughts or a method. You can break down a scene or object and analyze its parts. What does it need to look good? How can I make it better? Drawing has an air of mystery about it; it’s about letting your imagination run wild and discovering things about the world that aren’t real.

© 2021 Tantowi Gilang

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