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Cartoon artist laying down on the ground drawing with study material scattered around him.

Can You Teach Yourself To Draw?

The short answer is yes, but let's outline what you need to make that happen.

There are a lot of successful self-taught artists out there. If you want to be successful, and use your time efficiently to get there, you need more than just putting pen to paper.

The simple answer to "can you teach yourself to draw?" is yes, but let's talk about what you need to make that happen. Here are six things you need to teach yourself to draw.

Prove the journey is possible

As you begin learning to draw, you will inevitably hit that first moment of frustration. You're trying to learn and get better at drawing, and when that doesn't happen as quickly as you want, you're going to start to think that you don't have what it takes or that it's not possible. It's nice to be able to see somebody's successful journey as proof to know it's actually possible.

One incredible artist with the kind of substantial proof you're looking for is Miles Johnston. Miles created a progress archive that spans across six years of work, from the beginning of his journey to his career as a professional. It's extremely helpful to know that the art journey is possible through the lens of his progress. The only downside is comparing your own art journey to his, as he improved very quickly. I would love to talk to him about how he improved so fast, but I'll leave that for another time.

If you want to check out his progress archive yourself, you can find a link to it here.

Focus on putting in effort

A lot of people confuse the amount of time they spend studying with the amount of effort they put in. These are not the same thing.

There's that quote that everybody loves using about how you have to put in your 10,000 hours. That's been proven to be a myth. If you draw for an hour but spend that hour multitasking (checking your phone every few minutes, watching a show while you draw, etc) that's not going to be as effective as somebody who did serious practice for 15 minutes.

There is a correlation between time and effort. You have to spend a lot of time to get better at drawing. However, without the effort component, you're largely wasting your time. If you want to teach yourself to draw, you have to actually put in effort.

Build good habits and start small to compound your effort

If you're just starting to teach yourself to draw or you took a little break and you're coming back to it, it's hard to put in effort. You have to show up and be consistent at your practice to get better at drawing. The only way to do that is by making good habits.

Think about when you try to start being more healthy. Many people like to commit to a new exercise habit as a New Year's resolution. The first month of January, there's tons of people at the gym, but by February most of those new people are gone. They failed to create good habits. If you try to do too much, too soon, your brain is gonna fight you on it. You have to start small and work your way up. Make one percent improvements.

I learned a lot about this from James Clear. His book, "Atomic Habits" demonstrates how making one percent improvements helps you make small gains, to prove to yourself that you can show up and do the thing that you want to do.

I did this to get myself to exercise again and it worked! I started at five minutes, and through small improvements, made my way to 30 minutes of exercise. I'm still trying to improve from there. I'm using this exact same concept for learning how to draw.

My threshold for drawing is a lot higher. I'm able to draw for an hour without my brain revolting, but you may not need to start lower. Essentially, you want to start small enough so that your brain says, "I can do that!" without any hesitation. You will show up and draw. If starting small means you need to draw for five or ten minutes, do it. As you progress and prove to yourself that you can show up consistently, you will create a successful drawing habit.

If you're having trouble putting in effort, build good habits. And do that by starting small.

Draw from memory

I'll be covering this in a lot more detail so consider this a light introduction. Drawing from memory is the single most important concept to understand if you want to learn how to draw quickly and efficiently.

Every memory has a storage and retrieval strength. When you study something from reference you are increasing that storage strength. If you want to actually recall it from memory, you need to practice drawing that same information from memory. Otherwise, its retrieval strength will stay near zero. You still have the knowledge within you but it's impossible to recall the information.

It's going to feel really uncomfortable to draw from memory. It's going to be worse than your studies from reference, at first, but give yourself an opportunity to try. I promise you will see a big difference in, not only your ability to draw whatever subject you're drawing, but also how much faster you're able to learn that subject.

Enjoy your drawings

Even when you build a habit to learn how to draw efficiently, you are not going to enjoy every day. You're going to have your bad days and you still need to show up, be consistent, and put in the work. But if you are dreading drawing every day then clearly something is very wrong. You should still be having fun even when you're learning.

If you're having trouble enjoying drawing here's some ways that you can make a better relationship with your art.

  • Buy fun materials like sticker sheets, cute notebooks, or even new brushes rather than your usual drawing supplies
  • Stop studying things you find boring
  • Double down on drawing the things you like the most
  • Find your tribe so you can cultivate excitement over similar interests
  • If you're bored, challenge yourself with new or more difficult concepts

Whatever you can do, find a way to bring some more excitement back into the process of learning to draw.


Here are the six things you need to teach yourself to draw:

  1. Proof - Prove that the journey is possible.
  2. Effort - Focus on putting in effort.
  3. Habits - Make good habits to ensure consistent practice.
  4. 1% Improvements - Start small and compound your effort.
  5. Memory - Draw from memory to learn faster and remember more.
  6. Fun - Don't forget to have fun with your drawings.

Take the time to incorporate these six things into your life and you'll be well on your way to become a successful, self-taught artist.



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