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Design

7 Sins of Beginner Artists: What Keeps You From Being Good

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Everything is hard when you're a beginner, but the problem with drawing is that everyone thinks they know how to do it. Drawings turn out well or they don't, but you can't blame the artist—it's talent that matters, right?

Absolutely... not! If you haven't seen any progress despite practicing a lot, it doesn't mean you don't have the talent necessary to be a good artist. It may mean you're just practicing wrong! If you don't believe me, let me show you common mistakes made by beginner artists. Simply avoid them to kick-start your improvement!

1. I Want to Draw It All

You draw because you have an urge to draw, it's that simple. Even though your skills limit you, you don't want to limit yourself—you have so many ideas to draw! One day you draw a dragon fighting a robot. Next day you work on a landscape. Later you decide to practice perspective to draw a whole city. You're constantly inspired, and it feels great. If only your hand would listen...

What's Bad About It?

Drawing isn't a single skill. Even though every drawing is made of lines, using similar hand movements, it's what happens in the brain that matters. And the processes in the brain are different for various types of drawing.

Think about it: what is the difference between drawing and writing, in a technical sense? Isn't the latter about drawing letters? Forget about the tool for a moment; you can draw with a ballpoint pen and you can write with a pencil. So, if you can write, you can already draw! What's more, you even have your own style!

The difference is in the intention, not the result. And different parts of the brain are used for different intentions—different purposes. A written word may be constructed of the same number of lines as a sketched horse, but for your brain they come from two very different processes.

For example, drawing an animal is usually about "feeling" the px of the body. Your job is only to wrap this feeling into lines. Drawing a city, on the other hand, requires mathematical thinking—make one line too short or at the wrong angle and everything will be ruined. Drawing a landscape may not be even about the lines themselves—you should rather focus on the light and shadow, and re-create it on paper with a series of sketchy lines.

By trying to draw every idea that comes to your mind, you unknowingly make it hard for yourself. You may draw a nice cat, but it doesn't mean you should also be able to draw a background for it without any problem. And constructing a human may be very different for your mind than constructing a spaceship!

How to Fix It?

By drawing many different topics you improve at your "general drawing skill" (B). It's huge, because it includes all the topics you can draw, so it grows very slowly. Instead of trying to take it to 100%, focus on maximising the smaller skills (A). For example, it's much easier to get close to 100% at drawing cats!

what to learn drawing

You need to decide what you want to be able to draw. Instead of trying to mix Latin and Chinese signs and wondering why they don't mean anything together, focus on one. Don't jump from one topic to another just because you feel like this. 

Try to improve at one topic at a time, and most importantly, don't look at all your drawings as indicators of your "general drawing skill". If you were great at drawing cars, nobody would call you a bad artist only because you couldn't draw a lion!

2. I Know How to Draw It, Just Let Me Try

You have seen many dogs in your life, so of course you know what they look like! It's only that your hand doesn't understand what you tell it. You try to draw the paws, and they turn out very weird, not as they should. And you know how they should turn out, so why don't they?

You try once again, and again. You get a different version of paws every time, but none of them fits your vision. Ah, how nice it would be to have talent! You obviously don't, so your only chance is to try harder...

What's Bad About It?

You don't know how the paws should turn out. If you did, you'd draw them that way. Don't believe me? Come on, describe them in detail. No, don't draw them. I know the need is strong, but hold on. Imagine you've already drawn them. What do you see? Describe it!

In most cases you'll discover you can tell very little about the object you want to draw. You have this feeling you could draw it with all the details, but, surprisingly, you can't even tell where these details are. Yes, the head of a rhino is big, and it has a horn... or two horns? There's a little eye... somewhere in the face, and the mouth is... where?

The more questions you ask yourself about the object, the better you understand why you fail. You don't really know what you're trying to draw. You're just able to recognize if it is what you wanted when it's already drawn. That's why you try again, and again. Every time you give yourself something new to recognize, but it doesn't mean you are any closer to your vision. You're playing a guessing game!

why cant i draw from imagination so hard
You don't really know where the eyes should be exactly—you can only tell if it looks "good enough" when it's already drawn

How to Fix It?

Sure, there is a chance you'll guess the right combination of lines eventually, but for what? Just to prove to yourself you can draw it from imagination, without any help? If this is your goal, fine, pursue it, but don't blame lack of talent for your failures. You chose to play this game on the highest difficulty level, so don't cry that it's hard to beat.

To draw something from imagination, first you need to create a mind-recipe for it. That memory of a dog isn't enough—you need a different form of a memory to convert it into lines. It's like a photo of a dish and a recipe—it's almost impossible to re-create the recipe from the photo when you're just a beginner at cooking.

The mind-photo is something like this: "four legs attached to a body, long neck, long head, long, hairy tail, hooves". This is all the information you need to recognize a drawing of a horse, but it's not enough to draw it realistically. This is a description of a childish scribble!

drawing from imagination

The mind-recipe is much more detailed. It contains the proportions between legs and torso, defines where the leg bends exactly, and specifies the kind of joint there is in that point of bending. It doesn't just tell you that the body of a horse is covered with hair—it defines the direction of the hairs. So that information in your mind should look more like this:

drawing from imagination how to learn

There are three ways to obtain such a recipe:

  • Draw the same object many times using various references—your mind will look for shortcuts for you to draw it faster each time.
  • Analyze various references of the object, create an actual recipe (a reference sheet), and practice it until you remember it.
  • Find someone who's already created a neat reference sheet and practice it until you remember it (be careful here—you may repeat the mistakes of the author!).

Before you start drawing, make sure you know the recipe. If you don't, and you don't want to learn it, simply use a reference. It's not cheating! Sure, it's nice to draw something from memory, but first you need to put it there!

You can learn more about this topic from my articles:

3. It's Too Late to Give Up Now

Drawing isn't easy, you know it. You're sketching this dragon and every couple of minutes you stumble over some problem. These problems accumulate, but you keep going—when you add the colors, nobody will notice something's wrong. And you can't stop now, after all these hours!

What's Bad About It?

Basically, you're trying to decorate something broken. Even if it looked promising at the beginning, obviously you're doing something wrong now. Don't pretend it can be fixed by adding the colors—it's unlikely. If that leg bends wrong, and you can't erase it, why do you keep trying to finish the picture? Even if you covered it with gold, it would not fix that anatomical nightmare!

bad drawing continue
That pose was doomed from the start, but I refused to believe it. Art by me, 2010

How to Fix It?

If you can see your picture's going wrong, stop. No matter how much time you've already invested into the creation of this piece, there's still some time you can save if you stop now. It often takes less effort to create something anew than to fix it over and over.

If you're afraid you won't be able to draw anything so cool ever again, it reveals a bigger problem than that wrongly bent leg. You're not confident about your skills, which means you should practice before investing hours into one picture. It's understandable that you want to show others how good you are, but the truth is, for now you aren't. Don't hide that truth by pretending you haven't made a mistake. Learn how to avoid it next time instead.

4. Every Drawing Is Sacred

You don't only finish every drawing you start. You also always remember to post it to social media, for your friends and fans to see. No matter what it is: a polished masterpiece, a sketch, or a study, you share everything. That's just how you roll.

What's Bad About It?

On the surface, it seems pretty harmless. The problem lies deeper. When you are aware that the drawing you're working on will be seen by someone, you automatically try to adjust it to their needs. That drawing must be perfect! And because you post every drawing, you're not even allowed to make a mistake—ever.

Mistakes are a natural side-effect of doing something new. If you want to avoid them, the best method is to avoid new things completely. That's what may happen to you if you share your every picture: even when filling a page in your sketchbook with studies of a hand, you'll only choose the easy poses you feel comfortable with. It just feels scary that your fans could see a bad drawing of yours!

Having the public observing your every step makes you less prone to risk. If there's a chance you may lose, it's better not to play at all and to pretend you could win, if you wanted. You miss an opportunity to learn something by losing, just because you don't want others to see you lose!

How to Fix It?

There are two ways. First, draw for yourself. Share only the pictures you like the most, and leave the sketches for yourself. When studying a topic, don't think how cool it would be to show others a full page of sketches ("Look how productive I was today!"). Subconsciously, it makes you try harder and be less eager to experiment. And studies aren't for you to boast over—they're to learn from!

how to study drawing
If you really want to brag about your productivity, it's better to combine your studies into big batches, so that the failed experiments aren't really visible

The other way is to... relax. Learn to feel comfortable with the thought that others can see your mistakes. Embrace your imperfection and let yourself be bad. It's better to show others all your pictures, good and bad, than to draw only the things you are sure will look good.

When you're a beginner, every drawing seems sacred. You start something, then you must finish it and show it to others. It's not really the case! Go, try it—sketch something, then tear it apart, just like that. It's not the last drawing in your life, nor is it the best picture you'll ever draw. The more attached you are to your drawing, the harder it is for you to learn and change.

Mistakes are inevitable. Don't pretend you never draw anything bad. Let yourself be bad, and then find the mistakes and see what can you do to avoid them next time. Draw to be better, not to be praised.

5. I Draw Only What You Want to See

Maybe you're not the best artist, but there are some things you're quite good at. For example, people love your ponies. Every time you post a pony you get a lot of positive comments; it's very nice. You used to draw other things, too, but nobody reacted to them at all, so you stopped.

What's Bad About It?

Because you feel good when someone praises your artwork, it's natural you want to create what they want to see. The problem occurs when this need becomes pathological—you can't create anything new in fear it will not be received positively.

Additionally, you become a slave to your public. Your needs don't matter—your job is to please them. In return, you get praise, but wouldn't it be nicer to get praise for something you've chosen to draw yourself?

fan art foxy fnaf realistic
Fan art is cool, but make sure it's not the only thing you're allowed to draw (picture from Paint Foxy From the Five Nights at Freddy's Series in Adobe Photoshop)

How to Fix It?

Follow your heart! If you like drawing ponies, fine, but don't do it just because you think it's the only thing they want to see. If you want to have fans of your art, not the style/topic you use, you must do your thing. Fan art may be a great method to bring attention, but it shouldn't be the only way to keep your public.

And sometimes it's better to have few real fans than to serve dozens of those who don't really care about you.

Here's something to read if you want to know more:

6. These Weren't My Lines, But They Are Now

You have many ideas, but you find yourself unable to start a drawing. You bypass this problem by using line art and bases offered by other artists, and sometimes you use a photo to create your own line art by tracing its lines.

What's Bad About It?

It's OK if you draw only for fun, but if you want to be a good artist, this will not take you anywhere. Arranging your house isn't the same as building it, and you can't call yourself a builder just because you put a sofa in the living room. Similarly, you're not really an artist if you are only able to finish someone else's job.

And it's not only about the definitions. Starting a drawing is the hardest job—you'll never learn how to do it if you simply avoid that part. The people who created the line art for you had to learn it first. You can do it, too—if you only give up on easy solutions.

The worst version of this "sin" is when you trace and use bases, but you pretend you don't. That's like taking a bus to the finishing line of a race. Even when everyone praises you, the truth doesn't change—you can't draw, no matter how good your pictures seem to be.

why tracing is bad
It's not about the result, but about the process that leads to it

How to Fix It?

The solution is very simple: to improve, do what is hard. If it's hard, it means you can't do it yet, so if you manage to make it easy, it will mean you are better. Avoiding hard things does the opposite—it's very uncomfortable to come back to them once you learn how to bypass the difficulty.

You can fantasize about how talent makes everything easy and justify your cheating this way, but it's all about your laziness. People spend hours every day trying to learn how to draw, and you just say, "I don't have talent, so I must... help myself to create anything".

If you want to be a good artist, change your mindset and start working hard. If you only want to be praised, even due to false reasons, then... why are you even reading this?

7. It's My Style!

You know your drawings aren't perfect, but they're decent. You love it when people appreciate the time you spent to show them your art, but you seethe with resentment when someone does the opposite. How dare they tell you what's wrong with your picture?? It's your drawing, you know the best what it should look like!

What's Bad About It?

First, two definitions:

  • Fact—truth for everyone, based on objective attributes ("water is wet")
  • Opinion—truth for some people, based on subjective attributes ("roses are beautiful")

People commenting on your work are simply voicing their opinions. "It's so beautiful!" isn't a fact, because not everyone will agree. This statement doesn't "define" your artwork as beautiful, nor does it change its state somehow. All it means is that the person likes your picture.

Analogously, when someone says "You can't draw", it's their opinion. It doesn't mean you can't draw (according to some objective standard), only that this person doesn't think highly of your skills. Their opinion doesn't change the truth!

The problem is humans tend to simplify everything to think and react faster. Fact is something that everyone agrees on, but "everyone" may be simplified to "everyone I ask". Then, if you ask ten people, each of them has the power to create a "fact" by stating their opinion!

When you take it that way, every opinion you hear is very risky. Sometimes it's better to shut them off completely ("No comments please, I'm just learning"). But then you won't get any positive comments either, so you'll never know if your picture is good! You have two ways to solve it:

  • Draw something perfect to get positive opinions only.
  • Draw something imperfect, and then call every negative opinion false.

The first way is impossible—you'll never please everyone (but you can simulate this situation by showing your works to favorable viewers only). The other is simply dishonest—it's as if you said: "Only those who agree with me are right".

How to Fix It?

Let the opinions be what they really are—statements of personal feelings. If you don't like tomatoes, you don't need to explain it to anyone; they just taste bad to you. It's neither good nor bad, unless someone who loves their home-grown tomatoes asks you to judge their taste. Your dislike doesn't make them bad, but the farmer may feel disappointed.

Everyone has a right to not like your art, just as you don't have to admire Mona Lisa. Someone says your picture is bad? Fine! They're just as right as someone who says it's good. React to both the same way. However, there are objective standards you can use to state a fact.

We separate things from other things by creating definitions for them. If something doesn't meet its definition, it's either an abnormal version of this thing, or simply not this thing. If you encounter a bird that doesn't lay eggs, it means it's not a bird. If you see a horse with wings, it's not a horse. But a horse with its knees bent the other way is still a horse, just an abnormal one.

its my style anatomically wrong
From left to right: a cat, an abnormal cat, and not-a-cat. You can't blame someone for noticing that in your style cats look abnormal!

It means that if someone says "Wolves have longer legs", they're stating a fact, not an opinion. Shouting "It's my style!" doesn't change the fact that "your" wolves have shorter legs than the real ones. They just do. People may not like it (opinion), but a person noticing the truth is simply right.

Facts can't be good or bad—only your opinion about them makes them so. Your anger at them simply means you'd like them to be different. For example, if someone says your bear doesn't look like a real bear (because it's digitigrade, like a dog), and you're angry, you're really angry at your inability to draw a realistic bear. And, again, you think that it's the person who states the fact who creates it, so you're directing your anger towards them.

If you want to be a better artist, you need to be more open to critique. These are only words about your artwork, nothing more. You can ignore them or use them to improve. Ask that commenter, why do they think it doesn't look like a real bear? What should you do to make it more realistic?

Your commenters often see more than you. Listen to the facts, learn from them, and apply their teaching to your pictures. With time you'll get fewer comments like this, because there will be little to improve! Don't pretend you're already good, or you'll never be.

Read these if you want to know more:

Conclusion

Drawing is deceptively simple, and our misconceptions about it can easily become an obstacle for our improvement. I hope these seven sins will never stand in your way again!

If you're interested in the topic of improvement as an artist, you should also enjoy these articles:

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