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Cartoon artist quickly completing three different drawings.

7 Simple Strategies You Can Use To Get Better at Drawing

The last one will surprise you.

Half of the battle in becoming an artist is making consistent effort. If you can find a way to accomplish that, you’re sure to improve. Even if, by chance, you learn something incorrectly, the muscle memory you develop will give you greater control over your hand and the lines you make as you course correct your work.


Today, I’m going to show you how to make consistent effort and get better at drawing by applying a few simple strategies.


Make a habit

If you want to make consistent effort you need to build a strong habit. There are many different strategies to start a new habit, but the easiest is something I picked up from James Clear about intention.


1. Intent

This simple trick is backed by science and DOUBLES your chance of success. No motivation required.


Most of us have the desire to draw, but the ones who actually stick with it and make consistent effort do one thing differently. They make a plan! Not just any plan – one that commits to a specific time and place for drawing. Researchers refer to this as an implementation intention.


When situation X arises, I will do Y.


This can come in different variations and get as specific as you want. The important part is to be specific enough with your intention that you have enough clarity to follow-through. For example:


·     After I pour my cup of tea, I will draw for one hour at my desk.

·     At 2:00PM, I wall draw for 30 minutes on my iPad in the living room.

·     I will draw for 15 minutes at 5PM on the porch.


If you ever watched The Office, you’ve probably seen the episode where Jim trains Dwight to desire a mint every time he boots up his computer and hears the startup sound. This is what intention implementation is doing to your brain. Eventually, you’ll feel compelled to draw at the time and place you laid out. It becomes a habit through repetition.


2. Show up and correct for error

You have a life and responsibilities outside of art. There will be times when those get in the way of your intent to draw. The more days you miss, the harder it becomes to stay consistent, especially at the beginning of a new habit. Showing up for yourself, even if only for a fraction of the time you intended, can make all the difference.


I make it a habit to draw in the morning but today I went hiking with my cousins. I worked on a little sketch in the evening even though it wasn’t at the usual time. It helped me feel accomplished – proving to myselfI was committed to the new drawing habit.


Keep in mind, if something is consistently getting in your way, consider changing the time and place of your intent implementation. Sometimes, you’re just in your own way and have to step out of it.


3. Track your habit

You might think it’s unnecessary to track your habit, but I think it’s not only important but vital to your growth. The difficult part is that tracking your habit is pretty much its own habit. Thankfully, it has its own built-in reward that makes it easier. It feels good to mark off the things you accomplished – you feel proud of yourself and it makes you confident.


If you don’t track your habit you won’t know how long you’ve been working on it. That’s the simple truth. It then becomes easier to excuse yourself for missteps and harder to feel accomplished when you make gradual improvements.


You can look at your art from months ago, compare it to what you’re drawing now, and see the incredible improvement. Drawing is almost its own form of habit tracking. But imagine if you didn’t see that improvement. Maybe you don’t see that your drawings are better (yet) but you’re drawing for 30minutes longer than you usually do. Keep track of your habit so you can see all the momentum you’re gaining, no matter how small.


How to get better at drawing

The other half of the battle in becoming an artist is drawing.Technically, there’s no right or wrong way to study, but you can be extremely efficient or inefficient with your time. Fortunately for you, I’m going to help you adopt the most efficient and effective study techniques.


4. Draw from reference

If you hope to draw anything, you have to build a visual library. It’s one thing to look at the world around you every day but it’s another to actually draw it.


There was a time when it was frowned upon to use reference at all. Even now you can hear it whispered among beginners or strange teachers, but the majority of the art world will encourage you to use it. You need to draw from reference to improve your understanding of the world and the characters in it. Not just their expression and gesture but the way you craft the lines to tell the story of that world.


Drawing from reference is the first step to mastery.


5. Draw from memory

Sadly, most people stop at drawing from reference, or they try drawing from memory and find the difficult, uncomfortable nature of it enough to woo them back to drawing from reference. It happened to me and I’m here to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.


When you draw from memory, you reinforce the drawings you made from reference. If all you ever do is draw from reference, you will never be able to retrieve it from your memory when you need it. It makes sense, right? You practice drawing from reference to be able to draw from reference better. If you try to draw without it or want to change parts of your reference, you need to practice doing that too. This is why you draw from memory.


When you draw from memory you’re strengthening your ability to recall the information you learned when you drew from reference. You also increase your ability to freely manipulate that information. For example, youcan look at photo reference of a portrait, but change the lighting because you know multiple lighting scenario’s, not just the one in the photo.


6. Draw from imagination

You build your library, you reinforce that knowledge, and then you draw from imagination to create your own concepts and designs. Each step builds off of the next. In this last step, you're taking the knowledge you’ve reinforced into a “real world setting” by designing your own characters, environments, creatures, or anything else you want to come up with.


The bonus strategy – Self compassion

I talked about this in my last article and it may be last on the list but it should really be number one. You need to develop a healthy relationship with your art. You do that by practicing self-compassion.


Realistically, if you were modestly applying effort to becoming an artist, you could do it in five years. I’ve been at it for nine years and counting. Some of you may be at it for even longer. At this point, most people become hobbyists or give up completely. You can’t do this for this long in a healthy way without being kind to yourself. It’s not fun when your bad at what you love to do over and over again.


If you have the drive but also feel the struggle of this art journey, you know where I’m coming from. I’m going to help you get there and we’re going to do it together. Be kind, believe in yourself, and hold onto that always.


You can succeed in your art journey


If you simply want to draw or paint what’s in front you, you can do that. This isn’t for you. This is for designers. The character concept artists, the environment artists, the video game artists, the anime artists, the artists who want to create worlds that don’t exist and populate them with everything they find exhilarating. That’s what I want to do. I imagine if you’ve read this far, you do too.


These simple strategies will help you have a successful art journey. It’s not always going to be easy. In fact, most of the time it’s going to be hard. If you’re kind to yourself and remember to have fun along the way, you can survive it. I believe in you and I’ll be learning with you every step of the way. If I can struggle this much and still find a way, then I know you can too.



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