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Why It's Not Too Late to Take Up Drawing

When you're a child, drawing is simply one of the things you do—one of many games that adults invented for you. And just like with other childish games, you abandoned it many years ago without even thinking about it. But today you see adult people who turned that simple childish game into art, maybe even a job—and you're so jealous!

Most artists, when asked when they started drawing, reply: "I never stopped!" It's very discouraging to hear, because what if you stopped? Can you never start again, just because you were interested in other things than drawing when growing up? Are you supposed to simply accept your fate?

I dedicate this article to those of you who don't want to accept it. If beautiful drawings make you sad and angry, if you keep thinking "what if...", if you want to change something in your life, I will show you the way. Believe me—you can learn how to draw if you want to. It's too late only when you act like it is!

Preview image credit: Female portrait by Pressmaster.

Those Talented Children

Let's go back in time to your simpler days, the ones filled with fun and few responsibilities. You were drawing a lot, just because it was pleasant, even though you didn't really understand the process. You drew something, you recognized it, and it was awesome.

But there was another kind of pleasure in drawing, too—the appreciation of your parents when you showed them your work. We are social animals, so what others think of us is very important. We don't usually think about it this way, but our bodies reward us with pleasure if we do something that increases our chance of survival—in this case, convince others that we're worth something.

But being worth something is relative. You're not worth "x much", but rather more or less than someone. You are the best artist not when you reach a certain level of skill, but when you're better than others.

That's why, when other children were praised more than you, you felt bad, and maybe even angry. They raised the bar above the level you were able to reach. You were using the same tools, you were taught by the same teacher, and they could draw better than you. Not fair at all!

You heard adults call it "talent". Apparently, this was something that every good-drawing child possessed. You had to be born with it to have it; this wasn't something you could gain. Talented children were encouraged to keep drawing, to participate in contests, to pursue art as their career... And nobody cared about your art. You didn't have talent—it was pointless to keep drawing, so you stopped.

what is talent

Today you have art all around you. The internet connects you with all these talented children from all over the world, now grown up, better than ever. Some of them work in artistic fields, some only treat it as a hobby, but they have one thing in common—they're still much better than you. Nothing really changed... or did it?

The Illusion of Quality

Let's be honest—when you're a child, you can't really make accurate judgments. You simply don't know enough, so you must trust the adults. You can't judge the quality of your drawings. The only way to estimate it is to observe the reactions of adults over your drawings and those of others. Yes, you may be aware that the main criterion is the realism of the artwork, but it's still the adults that rate the level of realism, not you. A good artwork is the one that receives a lot of praise, and that's all you know.

You're an adult now, so you know more about drawing. You are able to rate an artwork as bad even if many other people say it's good. But your main criterion is still: "Is it better than something I could create?" I want to show you something to change your perspective.

As a child, I often heard how talented I was. I don't have many drawings from my early days, but I found a drawing in a journal I was writing during a summer camp in 2003. I was 12 back then, and this drawing clearly shows the level of my skills from that time:

drawing of a talented child

Is it a pretty drawing? Are those realistic people? And most importantly, would you consider yourself talented if you could draw something like this today?

Talent and Skill

Teachers call a child artistically talented if his or her drawings are better than other kids' in the class. That's all. Talent, in this meaning, is not "an innate skill required for drawing"—it's simply a sign of potential in this field.

A talented child doesn't know how to draw. His or her drawings tend to turn out better than yours, but there's no skill involved. When asked, "How do you draw so well?" I answered, "I don't know, I simply do." I was also better at drawing animals than humans. Does it mean I was born with a potential to draw animals? I believe the answer is different: I loved animals and paid much bigger attention to their look than to humans'.

Talent can lead to skill, but these two are not equal. Look at the drawings below. The first is created with talent only. I wanted to draw a girl and a boy, so I pressed a pen to the paper and let my hand do it. It was guesswork—I had no idea how it would turn out until it did. And I wouldn't know how to fix something if it turned out wrong. I didn't draw it—my "talent" did.

The second one, drawn seven years later, includes certain skills. I learned some human anatomy and the basics of shading, I created a dynamic pose, a facial expression, and I even managed to make the jeans look wrinkled! It wasn't a guesswork anymore—I knew what I wanted to draw, and I had to learn it first.

talent versus skill
The second drawing isn't better because I was seven years older, but because I spent lots of these years learning

When you look at the art of those adult talented children, it's not a result of talent. Talent doesn't grow up with a person! A talented adult who stopped drawing as a child will not draw much better than a talented ten-year-old.

Knowledge of perspective, anatomy, shading, composition, and color don't come with talent, but talent gives you the motivation to learn it all. Those talented kids have never stopped drawing, so they have years of practice behind them. And those years of practice, not talent, have made them what they are today.

Best Time to Learn?

And this may be your problem. We learn the fastest when we're growing up, and we also have a lot of free time in this period. But it's already behind you, and you have wasted it! You will never catch up with these kids...

There's some truth in this, but I'd like to show you a different view. You have something that children and teenagers lack: discipline, patience, and, well, money. Your life is more stable, so you can create long-term plans and stick to them without problems. Your character is more developed, less chaotic, and you know what you want. This is the best time to learn!

How to Learn to Draw

Even people who understand that talent is nothing more than potential tend to say bitterly: "Yeah, practice makes good, but you need talent to be the best." All right, let's assume it's true. But do you really need to be the best? Nothing less will make you happy? Isn't there some "good enough" level you would be totally glad of?

After all, there's no "best" level of skill. You can go to the front page of ArtStation and see a whole wall of "best" artworks in many different styles and techniques. And in many cases, "best" means "the most appealing to me", which has nothing to do with the level of skills or talent of the artist!

Remember: you don't need to be a master of chess to enjoy playing it. You only need it if you want to win a contest, and creating art is no competition. With so many styles, there's no way to be the best at everything, and there's no need to. If you enjoy your art, if you put heart into it, you will find fans (and clients!) sooner or later.

So, are you ready to fight off other obstacles?

How to Start Drawing

When you were a child, drawing was automatic, because you didn't have any expectations. Now you do, and man, how high they are! Nothing can stop you more efficiently than the fear of not being good enough.

Here's the thing. To be good at drawing, first you need to create hundreds of godawful sketches. It means you need to start drawing them and then see them being created, knowing how bad they'll look at the end. And you need to live with it, because it's a necessary part of the process!

Treat it like learning how to play an instrument. You may know exactly what melody you want to play, but it doesn't mean you'll manage to do it right away. Your first efforts will be horrible to listen to, but it doesn't mean you should stop after not getting the first note right. You need to make mistakes and learn from them—this will make you better.

You may feel ashamed to draw "like a child", but the truth is there's no drawing "like an adult". Children draw this way because they're unskilled, and so are you. The passing years didn't give you any additional points in this skill. Don't try to jump over this child-adult gap, because adult professionals you see today have not jumped over it either.

how to come back to drawing

You need to learn like a child again. Your first goal will not be to draw a fantastic dragon, but rather to draw simple lines without using an eraser. Take small steps, and don't be hard on yourself. Don't compare yourself to people who have been drawing all their life, just because you're the same age!

To start, you can try my series for beginners:

How to Make Up for "Lost Years"

Let's get it straight: there are no "lost years". Maybe you weren't drawing when growing up, but you did other things. Maybe you practiced some sport, or you socialized with friends, or you simply enjoyed your free time in a way that seemed the most reasonable at the time. Those years have made you who you are now, and you shouldn't regret them.

Let's take care of the future instead. Yes, learning how to draw takes time, but so does every other activity you want to be good at. And if you know what you're doing, you can actually progress quite quickly as an adult.

Learn Smart

Ask yourself: what is my goal? If you answer simply "I want to draw", then you'll never reach it—it's just too ambiguous. Find out exactly what you want to achieve. How would you recognize that you reached that goal? What would the evidence look like? Imagine it clearly and vividly.

This must be something objective, unrelated to your emotions. If your goal is "to be glad of my art", you may never spot this moment. Today you may think you would be glad if you could draw a straight line, but once you learn it, you'll want something else. Pick a criterion that someone else could check for you—for example, "I want to sketch a realistic cat from imagination in less than five minutes." 

Now, get yourself a nice notebook. It can be a normal school notebook, or something more fancy—it may feel more serious if you choose something with a hard cover and golden lettering. Plain sheets are very welcome! On the first page, note your goal (clearly, without any ambiguity) and the date of your start.

Flip the page. You need to divide your goal into smaller pieces now, written in an "already achieved" form:

  • I can sketch.
  • I can sketch a realistic cat from a reference.
  • I can sketch a realistic cat from imagination.
  • I can sketch quickly.

Leave some space under each point and make it even more detailed (answering question: "what do I mean by that?"):

  • I can sketch.
    • I can draw quick, loose lines.
  • I can sketch a realistic cat from a reference.
    • I can copy the set of lines from a photo of a cat.
  • I can sketch a realistic cat from imagination.
    • I can draw a set of lines very close in look to a real cat without looking at a real cat.
  • I can sketch quickly.
    • I can draw a chosen set of lines in less than five minutes.

And again: what exactly do you mean by that?

  • I can sketch.
    • I can draw quick, loose lines.
      • I can hold the tool properly to create marks on paper.
      • I can create simple lines.
      • I can draw simple figures.
  • I can sketch a realistic cat from a reference.
    • I can copy the set of lines from a photo of a cat.
      • I can look at a photo and see the lines I want to draw.
      • I can draw the same lines I see in a photo.
      • My drawing of a cat looks like a real animal.
  • I can sketch a realistic cat from imagination.
    • I can draw a set of lines very close in look to a real cat without looking at a real cat.
      • I know what a real cat looks like.
      • I know what sets of lines create something recognizable as a cat.
      • I can imagine the lines I want to draw.
      • I can draw precisely the lines I imagined.
  • I can sketch quickly.
    • I can draw a chosen set of lines in less than five minutes.
      • I can plan the drawing quickly before I add the first line.
      • I know which lines are necessary, and which I can leave out (my strokes are economical).
      • I don't feel a need to use an eraser.

Congratulations! You have created a list of skills you need to obtain to achieve your goal.  You also need to find a way to evaluate the level of skill. For example:

I can draw the same lines I see in a photo I can recognize that the drawing was based on that photo
I can draw precisely the lines I imagined I don't feel a need to fix something after I draw it

Now decide what kinds of exercises you should do to learn these skills. For example, for "I can draw precisely the lines I imagined", you can try:

  1. Draw a figure.
  2. Memorize it.
  3. Hide it.
  4. Imagine it.
  5. Draw the figure from imagination.
  6. Rate the accuracy.

You can also try any of the exercises I've described in my How to Learn to Draw series.

Practice every day in short, 15–30-minute sessions. After you finish, evaluate the level of skill. For example, draw an empty bar next to each skill on the list and fill it according to the actual state. Note and describe each session as well, as if it was a "learning diary". This will remind you about your progress even when you feel you didn't make any.

Work out every skill one by one, starting with the most basic ones (sketching simple figures, planning the lines), and ending with the most complex ones (analyzing cat anatomy to turn it into a set of lines). This may take a lot of time, and there's no way to make it faster—you need breaks between sessions to consolidate the skills!

In the meantime, you may find new skills required to reach that main goal you haven't thought of earlier. Don't ignore them—add them to the list and create exercises for them too.

After you cross out all the skills on the list, it's time to celebrate—you've reached that goal you set for yourself so long ago! Of course, this won't be the end of your adventure. Your expectations will grow with your skills. You'll want to draw that cat in dynamic poses, or draw various breeds, or create another cat-like species, or shade it, or add the colors... But now you know the way!

how to plan learning
An artistic journal like this lets you see your progress day by day, without constantly comparing the last result to the "perfect one". It also makes development of your skills less abstract.

"What If I Don't Progress?"

The fear of never reaching your goal may efficiently kill your spirit. "There's no point, I'll never be as good as them, it's a waste of time"—these thoughts may appear whenever you make a mistake, or see someone making faster progress than you. But the sudden loss of motivation may occur anytime, and it's hard to fight it.

My only advice here is to always remember why you do it. Learning how to draw is not your obligation, nobody forces you to do it, and you're completely free to draw as badly as you wish. It was your decision to try to be better, and if you decide it's not for you, you're free to stop.

It may sound harsh, but nobody is entitled to be good at something. You don't simply "deserve it" just because you want it so much. Even if you had talent, you'd need to face this harsh reality—good art doesn't "turn out" by accident, without any skills.

Whenever you feel like complaining "Why can't I be good at drawing?", replace "drawing" with something else. "Why can't I be good at chess?" or "Why can't I be good at soccer?" It makes it sound as if chess and soccer players have been given something you lack. And that's not true—they worked hard to be good, and so must you!

So, what if you don't progress? Nothing will change. In the worst case, you'll waste some time you would normally have spent on something equally non-productive. You risk nothing, except maybe the hope that "I would be good at drawing if I wanted to". But if you set a specific goal, create a plan, and work hard to stick to it, there's no way you won't progress. Every little step, every simple exercise is one step forward!

There's one more point to it. You are not objective towards your skills. If you set your eyes upon some professional artwork, and you constantly compare your art to it, you'll think you're not moving, no matter how many steps you've taken. Compare only to your own level from a week before, and you'll see the progress. Don't ignore the little steps just because they're not a leap!

why I cant make progress in drawing
Comparing to better is the key to improvement; comparing to worse is the key to happiness

It all seems obvious when you read it, but sometimes you'll lose your spirit anyway. If it happens, try to find some inspiration: look at beautiful art, check the stories of other learning people, or simply read more motivational articles like this:

And if nothing helps, try this: imagine yourself five years later, after spending thousands of hours on drawing, when someone sees your art and says "Wow, you're so talented! I wish I could draw like you!" What you would say to them is the same thing you need to hear in your moments of doubt.

Occupation: Artist

One thing's for sure: money shouldn't be your main motivator for getting into art. Yes, it is possible to make a living as an artist, but it's not easy, and you certainly shouldn't quit your job right after starting learning.

Luckily, we live in the time of the Internet, and freelancing is easier than ever. You can still be an accountant, a teacher, or a car mechanic, and an artist after hours. You don't really need to work for any company—normal people like you and me sometimes need a specific piece of art, and if you're able to create it, they'll pay.

To get clients, simply show your art everywhere. Even if you're not sure you're ready, just be honest about it, and people will understand. DeviantArt is a really friendly place for beginner artists, and it's easy to earn your first money there. But if you want to learn more about being a freelancer, check out these great articles:

Of course, building your career around art is still possible, if it's your dream. Just keep in mind it won't be easy, fast, or even profitable for a while. As in every job, you sell your skills to your clients/boss. Before you offer them, make sure they're worth something!

Learn more about artistic jobs from these articles:

How to Find Time for Learning

You're not a child anymore, and you have your responsibilities. Work, commuting, family, and housework can take all your time, and you barely find an hour a day to watch a favorite show or to play a video game. You would gladly add an extra hour to the day, if it was possible, but it's not!

I hear you, but it's not an unsolvable problem. Everyone's day is the same length, and it's our choice what we do with these hours. In theory, it's "8 hours work, 8 hours play, 8 hours sleep", but really it's what we do in-between that matters.

how to find time for drawing

I'll show you three methods to "add more minutes to the day". You can choose one or combine them to achieve the best results.

Rest Smart

You come back home, you are tired, so after eating something you go straight to what you dreamed about the whole day—doing nothing. You turn on TV, or you sit on the couch with your smartphone and scroll endlessly through a site with cat pictures.

It's normal, right? You need to rest after work, because you are mentally exhausted. The problem is this kind of rest is actually unproductive. When you have no more power to do anything requiring effort, and you start doing very pleasant, effortless things, you actually fuel the spiral of unwillingness. You don't charge your battery—you throw it away.

100% effortless rest is like a drug. It gives you the feeling of satisfaction without actually giving you anything. It's free, it's easy, it's pleasant—and it's worthless. Two hours into watching silly videos on YouTube, you have no more energy than right after leaving work; you just feel slightly happier.

The truth is our willpower regenerates quite quickly, if you let it. How quickly? You can find out very easily. After you come back home and finish all the chores, instead of starting "doing nothing", actually do nothing. Sit on the couch, or stand by the window, and simply relax. Stare at the pigeons on the sidewalk, or at the painting on your wall. Or even spend this time drinking tea and talking to your spouse.

Whatever you do, do it consciously—don't let your mind wander too far away. You'll notice that you need no more than 15 minutes to start wanting to do something. Your willpower will restore just because you actually spent this time doing and receiving nothing. The lack of stimulation will wake you up, and you'll be ready to start doing something productive—like sketching those damn pigeons.

how to rest efficiently
If you spend some time consciously doing nothing, your brain will act like: "If we're not sleeping, let's do something already!"

Destroy Time-Eaters

There are a lot of activities in your day, but some of them take more time than necessary. Usually you don't really want to do them, so you do them reluctantly, slowly, without any passion. "It will take me an hour anyway, so why hurry?"

There are two reasons to hurry. One, when doing something forcibly, without any real will to do it, you're making yourself feel tired. It's not the chore that tires you, but your attitude towards it—"I don't want to do it sooo much, let it end already!" Set up a timer and try to finish the task as quickly as possible, and treat it as a challenge. You'll feel much better!

Two, the task takes you longer when you're not focused. Maybe it's not much longer, five minutes at one task, seven minutes at another... but after you sum them up, they may create an hour together—the one you need so much!

Don't Waste Your Time

It sounds like a no-brainer, but I want you to see some other side of it. During your days there are moments when time is taken from you without you doing anything—commuting,  waiting in a queue, etc. Don't waste that time!

Get yourself a small hardcover sketchbook and sketch with a ballpoint pen or a mechanical pencil. Take it out whenever you feel you're wasting time. Do the exercises or sketch what you see, and don't care about the opinions of others—you're already better than them at drawing!

how to draw in a sketchbook
People care less than you think. Do it for yourself, not to impress them.


Drawing isn't for children and talented adults only. It's a skill like everything else, and by disregarding this fact you actually insult good artists and dismiss the years of their hard work. "Talent" isn't equal to "being good at art"—it's only the potential to be good.

Today you're probably good at many things you didn't show any potential for when you were a child. Why would it be different with drawing? In this article I showed you it's all about misconceptions and myths. Don't let them stand between you and your dream—it's never too late to start drawing!

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