Many people will see an artist’s drawings and think, “How do you get so good at that?”
Well, we’re here to spill the secrets. But there’s a catch.
To get better at drawing, you need to put the work in—every day if you must. Think of your artist as an athlete. To play and win the game, you need practice, exercise, and a creative regimen.
So if you want to improve your drawing skills, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some secret tricks to creating great drawings every time!
Why is it so hard to get good at drawing?
Ever given up on a work in progress that didn’t meet your expectations? Ever screwed up, thrown in the towel, and just sighed out in defeat, “I can’t draw anymore!”
Look, you’re not alone. Drawing is hard. Rather, it’s hard work.
It’s hard because you need to put in the work and take your time. Drawing is a learning process—and that means learning techniques and learning to be patient with yourself.
Debunked: Is drawing a talent or a skill?
The truth is, drawing and creativity are skills.
Anyone can draw. Anyone can learn how to draw. Some people just pick up the skill faster than others.
Many artists started with no talent but a whole lot of conviction. People like Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Paul Gauguin started painting late and faced much rejection by both peers and critics.
Don’t get stuck relying on natural talent. It can only get you so far. A consistent drawing practice will take you from novice to maestro.
Give yourself permission to suck
Another roadblock every artist must blast through is the fear of failure.
There’ll be lots of it. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
It’s tempting to give up early. But being bad at something is the best—if not only—way to get better at it. It doesn’t matter if your first drawing turns out bad or good. It matters more that you come out on the other side, closer to your creative goals.
You can always do better in other drawings. Always speak kind words to your budding artist.
How can I improve my art fast?
To get better at drawing, you need to practice drawing. The fastest way to improve is to keep at it every day.
Put in the work. Unlearn perfectionism. Establish a drawing habit. And don’t be afraid to draw things using different techniques.
Learn the rules before you break them
Even avant-garde artists learned the classic style of drawing before developing their unique style.
They learned from the greats before developing their own techniques. That’s pure creativity. You can’t free dive if you can’t swim. You can’t break the rules if you don’t know them.
Here are some essential drawing skills you need to know before you draw like a pro.
Lines, shapes, and forms
Art and science aren’t so different. Remember your geometry lessons. We all started with lines and simple shapes before progressing to geometric forms.
These are the basic building blocks of any drawing. Any and every scene or complex subject can be broken down into smaller shapes, a series of lines, and three-dimensional forms.
To get a bit technical, here’s what those terms all mean.
- Line: Every sketch and drawing starts by connecting one point to another. Lines can be straight, curved, solid, dashed or dotted, thick or thin. Lines also create borders between forms.
- Shape: A two-dimensional figure formed by connecting multiple lines. It’s flat, comprised of only height and width. Shapes can be geometric (a circle, triangle, quadrilateral, polygon) or organic (made of different parts of geometric shapes).
- Form: A three-dimensional version of a shape—that means it has height, width, and depth. Some examples are spheres, cones, pyramids, cubes, and cylinders.
Light, shadow, and shading techniques
Understanding tonal values helps you capture light when you draw.
Values show how light or dark an object is. You can measure this on a tonal scale—with white being the highest value and black being the lowest. The difference between light and dark tones is called contrast.
It’s easier to understand this concept when drawing still life. Practice by drawing and shading simple objects or geometric forms with a light source.
Perspective and composition
To make a cohesive and masterful drawing, you should know how to compose one. A good composition understands space and dimensions.
Perspective is how you present your point of view on the page. There are a few ways to do this.
- Linear Perspective: Using horizon lines and vanishing points creates an illusion of depth. The farther into the distance an object is, the smaller it should appear.
- Aerial or Atmospheric Perspective: This kind of mimics how our environment obscures things that are further from our point of view. Distant objects appear fainter, lighter in the background.
Proportion is how you shape your understanding of dimension and size. You need to know this to start accurately drawing people. Proportion also refers to how one element’s size relates to another.
Understanding the proportion of the human body is essential to the study of basic anatomy—and vice versa. Of course, if you’d rather draw anime-style, you can always exaggerate body proportions.
Start with this simple drawing exercise
Pablo Picasso's famous line drawing of his muse, Françoise Gilot
Like an athlete, an artist must train every day. With that logic, you need to warm up first.
Start with simple line drawings before starting on a more complex drawing.
Try out continuous line drawing or contour drawing. Pick a subject within your current line of sight. Now start drawing. Try not to lift your pen or pencil off the paper. This isn’t meant to be perfect.
This exercise helps you to better observe, understand, and finally interpret your subject on paper. The result: a perfectly imperfect, modern-looking illustration.
Reminiscent of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso’s work, don’t you think?
Draw what your eyes see, not what your mind thinks it sees
I drew a mug in my B6 Artist's Sketchbook two ways: (Left) using one continuous line, and (Right) with more attention to detail and the subject.
Here’s the most important drawing skill you need to make the most realistic drawings.
To master drawing, you must master observing. Drawing requires hand-eye coordination. Truly look at your subject. Trace it with your eyes.
This trick separates a beginner from a pro. Your eyes will show you the nuances, kinks, and details that your mind hides from you. An object isn’t always that simple. But it can be broken down into simpler shapes and lines and forms.
Use stick figures to draw people better
Drawing people is hard, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. You just have to build up the body in layers.
Start with a skeletal stick figure based on the pose you want to draw. Then flesh it out with geometric shapes and forms—cylinders for limbs, rectangles for the torso, a combined circle and cone for the head. Finally, outline and draw in the details.
This trick comes in handy when you’re figure drawing—that is, the art of drawing a person in various poses. Often, artists get stuck trying to draw as close to human anatomy as possible.
One approach is to sketch different parts of the body alongside your figure. Draw them separately and repetitively. Draw hands in different poses. Draw faces in varying expressions and angles. Just keep an eye out for proportion when you bring the whole body together.
Keep your drawing time sacred
It’s much easier to enjoy drawing if you’re not taking yourself too seriously. Approach drawing as if it were a playdate with yourself.
Set your studio up for success. Bring out your fave coffee cup and mix a nice drink to keep you energized while you draw. Light up a scented candle to get you in the zone. Put on some music and dance on the page.
Don’t be afraid to draw outside the box. Experiment with different drawing tools. Make a mess if you must.
Creativity is an artist at play.
Keep a daily art journal or sketch book
The fastest way to get better at drawing is to maintain a drawing routine. Entice yourself to draw daily by carrying a sketchbook with you everywhere you go. Draw just a few lines or shapes a day.
We suggest getting a smaller sketchbook for on-the-go drawing. Here’s a guide to finding the best sketchbooks for artists.
Search for inspiration outdoors
Draw from real life by immersing yourself in it.
Take your drawing pad or sketchbook out on a date. Try out travel sketching. Bring your camera with you so you can take reference photos to draw when you get home.
Practice on a park bench and sketch out the landscape before you. If you work in a high-rise office, that’s a fantastic vantage point to draw city scenes from—during one of your lunch or coffee breaks of course.
Watch (but don't copy or compare) what other artists have done
It’s okay to look at other people’s drawings for inspiration.
A good artist copies; a great artist steals.
That doesn’t mean you can plagiarize a work. You can’t find your own style if you’re totally emulating someone else’s. Collect and select elements from multiple sources of inspiration. Say, a Pinterest board full of reference photos, favorite artworks, and handy tutorials.
Use your creativity and imagination to combine all these influences to draw something unique. Something you can call your own.
Take a drawing class
If you still feel like you need to learn how to draw, then why not be taught how to draw?
Go to some of your local art shops or a nearby community college and see if they’re offering art and drawing lessons. A quick Google search around your area may even reveal some live drawing sessions that’ll help refine your skills.
Check out communities online or on Facebook, too. Many of them offer free art classes that you can attend live or take in your own time. Plus, you get to connect with other like-minded artists and find accountability buddies!
Come draw with us every week in our online artist community. Take part in weekly live drawing classes with our resident art teachers and make a few friends along the way!
Level up your drawing abilities!
The secret trick if you want to become a better artist? Don’t stop drawing. Do it little by little, day by day, line by line.
When it comes to improving your drawing skills—or any creative endeavor—you gotta learn to rest, not quit.
We hope this was a helpful article for you to read! Love drawing but feel like you don’t know how? Just read our Toolkit section on the ZenART blog!
- MEET THE AUTHOR-
Belle O. Mapa is a writer and artist based in Manila, Philippines. She believes that everyone is born with an inner creative spirit—we just need to nurture and discover it on the blank page. Currently, she lives out her passion: writing stories, hosting journaling workshops, and advocating for mental health awareness.