Some people seem to think that the best way to improve your drawing technique is to just keep drawing as much as possible until divine inspiration rains down from heaven.
You couldn’t be more wrong.
To be sure, drawing as much as possible will help you progress as an artist, but it is not sufficient unto itself to learning how to draw well.
During art lessons, drawing instructors will ensure that certain things become second nature to their students to help them develop their hand-eye co-ordination. But drawing lessons cost money, so you can't necessarily take one every day.
So what can you do to improve your craft outside of drawing lessons?
Drawing is above all, a passion. There is no fixed “sketching hour”- you should be free to draw whenever you like.
But how can you improve your technique without a drawing teacher breathing down your neck?
Here are a few to tips to help you become the next Picasso.
Sharpen Your Visual Memory to Improve Your Drawing Technique
Drawing regularly allows you to learn from your mistakes. But before you can draw, you need to be able to visualize.
Before photography first appeared in the 1850s, art was the sole preserver of reality. To capture a moment in time, you needed to take out your canvas and brushes and copy what you saw before you.
Even today, drawings are used to illustrate what cannot be photographed, such as court trials, where court artists make sketches in chalk and water colours to keep a visual record of closed sessions.
To draw well, you need to be a good observer and train your eye to analyze the world around you.
To practice, there aren’t that many solutions.
Copy, copy, copy.
Gather pictures - of paintings, photos or illustrations - and get in the habit of copying them, observing the smallest details. Copying also helps you find inspiration for your own future pieces.
Sketch from life
But also try and practise reproducing a real-life situation on a blank page. Drawing inevitably means passing from three dimensions to two dimensions. This requires some mental acrobatics on the part of your brain so it can understand how to give the impression of three dimensions on a flat surface.
Perspective, light and shadows - those are your tools!
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When sketching from life, the scene you are rendering often lasts no more than a few minutes at most. It’s important to memorise the main details of the scene - at worst, invent or modify it in places.
Work on Your Concentration and Patience
Learning how to draw requires a lot of time and patience.
Even if you have a natural knack for charcoal, watercolour, graphite or oil painting, you will need to work on your technique.
Learning to draw straight lines, using perspective correctly, playing with contrast, knowing how to use your tools… All that requires a lot of time and effort. Don’t think a single one-week intensive drawing course will teach you everything you need to know!
- If you are getting frustrated and find you can’t concentrate on your drawings for very long at a time, try doing them in several smaller sessions. As you progress, try to lengthen your drawing sessions to stay in the flow of things.
- Give yourself an objective for every session. Don’t try and paint an entire canvas in one sitting. You will get better results by doing it in stages, and every objective you achieve will help motivate you further. This exercise is also a good way to improve your concentration - an essential virtue for good artists.
- Try and avoid distractions - turn off your smartphone and computer, unplug your landline, put on earphones…
Draw Whenever You Can
At work, at school, while taking a walk, while listening to music, while watching a movie - draw!
Even though the simple act of drawing will not immediately improve your technique, it will give you the chance to make mistakes - and thus learn from them.
Also, the more you practice the better you learn to understand and trust your drawing materials. This makes it easier to choose just the right pencil for the right situation.
Take a walk in the forest or in a park and have fun filling a sketchbook, as though you were an old-time artist taking the European tour, or visiting an exotic country.
Observe, analyze and copy everything around you.
Drawing is something that takes time and patience to learn. You might even consider copying the same painting dozens of times in every technique you can think of (chalk, gouache, water colour, graphite, sanguine, pastel, pen and ink…)
You don’t need to draw perfectly right away. Draw, critique, start over again - that is what makes a great artist!
Don’t Stagnate in Your Art
All drawing techniques are worth learning.
The artist’s worst enemy is not surpassing himself.
You might be a great fan of watercolour or colour pencils, but consider switching techniques every so often. Little by little, you will learn new ways of using your paper’s grain or blending your materials:
- Delving into painting techniques strengthens your understanding of colour.
- Brushes give a lively feel to a work you might want to imitate in pencil.
- Pen and ink uses cross hatching techniques that might give interesting results in acrylics.
- Monochrome pencils (graphite, charcoal, chalk) are a good way to work on light and shadow.
But getting access to new materials can be difficult.
So why not ask your fellow artists from your drawing lessons? Why not pool your resources together in a materials exchange?
Everyone brings their own material to an exchange session and shares it with the rest of the group. Have lively drawing sessions trying out charcoal, watercolour, pen and ink, chalk, graphite, gouache, tempera, coloured pencils, pastels, Copic markers… Or why not try combining them in mixed media techniques?
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Go to Museums and Art Galleries
The British Museum, the Tate Modern, the National Gallery… even if your drawing lessons are outside of London, there is sure to be some sort of museum near you!
Take advantage and go visit - learn from the masters or from local artists. Your art teacher is certain to approve! It will help you find inspiration and improve your techniques.
Though a lot of wonderful paintings are in private collections, some have escaped this fate and are now housed in the world’s most amazing museums, giving you an incredible window on art.
Many museums in Britain are still free, though government cuts are forcing more and more to introduce entrance fees. They are usually easily accessible by public transportation.
Looking at art helps you develop a critical eye. Whether you choose a guided tour or not, don’t hesitate to stop for a few minutes in front of a piece to look at details - especially since a lot of paintings are very large.
Take advantage of special exhibitions to broaden you artistic horizons.
As you wander through the exhibit halls, you will discover the different artistic periods. Over the course of art history, various styles emerged. Painters took inspiration from their masters, then gave it their own personal twist.
This created artistic currents such as:
- Constable’s Romanticism
- The Dada movement with Duchamp
- Dewhurst’s Impressionism
- the Cubism of William Roberts or
- Matisse and Fauvism.
There are so many radically different styles that one of them is sure to strike a chord.
The techniques they used also vary greatly depending on the pieces. Though oil painting is the technique most often associated with art museums, you will find other techniques as well, such as gouache or acrylic painting, and many have galleries and study groups with dry mediums. Study the strokes, their use of layering and highlights, the play of light and shadow, their composition and use of negative space.
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But what is the point of all these paintings?
Every one of them has a narrative behind the picture’s simple beauty. Love, violence, war, family, solitude… If you are lacking in inspiration, a little stroll through a museum will do you good.
Don’t hesitate to go to special exhibitions and artist’s workshops, watch art films or take art books out of the library. Art is becoming ever more present in our lives - take advantage of it!
Culture is an important part of the creative process. It lets you realize what has already been done and expand your horizons.
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Show People What You Have Drawn and Painted
The best way to make progress is to meet critics head on!
Take your drawings out of their pouches and show them to your friends and family to get their reactions. They will usually be honest with you and won’t hesitate to tell you when something isn’t working.
Critique will improve your drawing fast. But careful: don’t confuse negative critique with constructive critique. Tune out those who wish they could draw like you, telling you everything they would have done differently, and listen to those who actually tell you what parts of your drawing don't work and why. A too-large nose, disproportionate figure, problems of plane or perspective….
That way, you will know what to be careful of in your next drawing!
But positive feedback is important, too. It tells you what you are doing right - and what you should keep doing.
You can also ask other participants in a drawing class to give their advice. Just like your materials exchange sessions, why not organise critique sessions in which everyone presents a work of art for feedback. They will have a more informed eye than someone who doesn’t draw.
If you feel up to it, you can also organise your own little exhibition. And if that isn’t in the stars yet, be sure to keep your ears open for critiques during your end-of-year exhibition.
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