practice drawing

How to Practice Drawing to Improve Skills

Sometimes it can feel like drawing skills are plateauing and progressing can feel slow. However, by taking some time to practice drawing regularly, it’s possible to improve quickly. Drawing is a skill that gets better with practice, so the more often you can pick up a pencil and draw, the better your skills will become.

In this guide, we’ll give some tips on how to practice to get better at drawing faster, including how to approach setting up a drawing practice and exercises you can do to give you a fresh perspective to your drawing process.

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Commit to your drawing practice

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The best way to practice drawing is by making it a habit. You don’t need to wait for inspiration to strike when you’re improving your skills! Set aside half an hour a day, every few days, or even once a week depending on what you can fit in your schedule. Make sure to keep your tools close to hand so you can get them out easily. Your new drawing habit could be a few minutes doodling in front of the TV, or a longer session at a desk.

When you make a routine, you will see yourself progressing faster. The most important thing if you’ve set out to improve your skills is to show up. Sometimes the motivation and inspiration comes afterwards, like from trial and error and time spent doing drawing warm ups or other exercises.

Warm up with some quick drawings

One of the best ways to start a practice session is by doing some quick drawings. This helps to get your creative juices flowing and gets you used to working with your chosen medium. Pick an object or scene and give yourself a time limit, like two or three minutes, then see what you can create in that time. Try some easy drawings first, to warm up before drawing something more complex.

You can also try a timed drawing exercise where you draw the same thing multiple times, but each time you try to improve on what you did before. For example, you could draw a portrait of a friend from different angles or do a series of sketches of the same building from different viewpoints.

Plan your composition before you start

thumbnail sketches

One of the keys to success when committing to spending time on a bigger piece, is in the planning. Create several thumbnail sketches before you start on the final piece. Draw a series of small boxes on a page in your sketchbook, roughly with the same proportions as the paper that you plan on making your final piece on. In each sketch, experiment with the placement of the main focal point, try to achieve a sense of balance with how your arrange the elements in your piece.

Get a sketchbook

travel sketchbook

A sketchbook is the best tool an artist can have for improving their drawing skills. In a sketchbook, you can create drawings without fear of making mistakes. It’s a great way to track your progress over time and filling every page in your sketchbook can feel like a great achievement; look back to the first page when you’ve finished your sketchbook, you might be surprised at how your skills have improved.

You don’t need to use a sketchbook to make polished spreads, use it to practice drawing exercises and take it with you when you go on trips, or draw in your sketchbook while travelling.

If you’re looking to stock up on other drawing tools, give our supplies guide a read. It reviews all the best brands of every drawing supply you could need!

Draw a new type of subject

Switch up the types of subjects you draw to keep things interesting. If you often draw portraits, try landscapes. If you’re used to drawing from life, try still lifes. Draw animals, flowers, buildings, cars… anything that catches your eye.

Looking at different types of subject matter will help to improve as different subjects require different skills to draw. For example, portraits require incredible precision and accuracy, as people’s facial recognition abilities are so great, that a feature slightly out of place will just look off. This requires artists to accurately place each feature so that the proportions of the face look right.

cityscape drawing

Another subject that is useful to practice drawing is a cityscape. This is because for artists that are used to drawing single subjects that are near to the viewer, like portraits or still lifes, there are no perspective drawing skills required. Draw a few cityscapes, with one point perspective and two point perspective. This will equip you with the skills to draw a range of scenes in the future. This new skill set will allow you to be more flexible and therefore creative with drawing ideas you come up with for future artworks. For example, if you’re mainly a portrait artist, you would have the flexibility to place your subject in a city scene, to give the artwork further context.

Create a series of quick small sketches

A great way to practice drawing, especially if you’re fairly new to drawing is to complete a series of small sketches. This way, you can get your drawing miles in by covering a larger range of subjects. It’s a great way to see drawing skills progress quickly as completing a range of drawings quickly will force you to focus on some of the most important components of a successful artwork, like the composition, values and balance of light and shadow, rather than agonising over the details of one piece.

To get some ideas for what to draw, you could choose a theme, for example drawing a series of trees. Then collect a series of references; you could go out and take the reference photos yourself, or search on a stock image site for the kinds of references you’re looking for. When you start drawing from lots of different references using similar subjects or themes, you will start to pay attention to the physical properties of the subject and how it’s affected by light and shadow. This will better connect you with your reference and better equip you to paint from imagination, or improvise when you need to. This skill can be very helpful when drawing en plein air, as you may need to fill in the gaps when the light changes.

Try some drawing exercises

There are a number of drawing exercises that can help you to practice drawing. Exercises are great because they help to focus your attention on a particular skill, for example, drawing a series of spheres will help you to understand how light falls on a three-dimensional object and create the illusion of form.

Some other exercises that can be helpful in developing various skills are:

Gesture drawing

Gesture drawing is a great way to loosen up and get in touch with your subject. It’s a way of drawing that focuses on the overall movement or gesture of the subject, rather than the details. This means that you can draw a figure very quickly, which is perfect for when you don’t have a lot of time, or if you want to practice capturing the feeling of your subject.

Smudge drawing

This exercise will allow you to practice drawing edges in an artwork. Edges are an important component of an artwork and when used correctly, it can make a drawing appear more realistic.

Hard edges are where there is a distinct separation between two elements, represented by a sharp transition in values. A good example of this is a hard outline in a drawing. A soft transition is where two elements appear to blur into one another, this is to do with how light is diffused in the particular scene you are drawing. A lost edge is where there is no discernable separation between one element and another, where the values from one element seamlessly blend into the other. A good example of a lost edge could be a drawing of a distant foggy mountain, or the shadows cast by facial features under soft lighting.

A smudge drawing is a drawing where all edges appear soft and blur into one another. Use a tortillion or another type of blending tool to create this soft appearance and make sure there are no hard edges in the drawing. This is a great way to practice drawing blended areas and to improve your ability at analysing your reference. A common beginner’s mistake is to draw with more hard edges than is needed. By drawing with soft edges, you can come back and look at the drawing and see which edges you will make more distinct and optionally go over these, to create a finished piece.

Blind contour drawing

Blind contour drawing is another great exercise for loosening up. In this type of drawing, you keep your eyes focused on the subject and draw the outline, without looking at the paper. It’s a fantastic way to improve your observational skills as it doesn’t allow you to rely on your memory, or previous knowledge of how to draw the subject. It will teach you to really observe your reference.

All of these exercises are great for when you want to improve your skills at drawing from life, as they help you to focus on the subject, rather than getting bogged down in the details. Two other great drawing exercises to try are contour drawing and continuous line drawing, read our guides to find out what it is and how to make one of your own!

Try a new drawing medium

Use different mediums. Experiment with different types of pencils and papers. This will help you to find the medium that you’re most comfortable with and also give you a chance to try new things.

For example, the techniques and approaches of charcoal drawing are quite different from graphite drawing. With charcoal, you can take a subtractive approach to drawing, whereby artists draw starting with mid tones, then erasing sections to reveal highlights. Check out our list of charcoal drawing ideas for some inspiration.

Experiment with new techniques

Learning some new drawing techniques can completely transform the experience. There are a number of ways of shading a drawing. Use shaded areas to add texture, depth and a new dimension to artworks.

For example, instead of using the tonal shading technique, where the artist varies the pressure applied to the pencil to create light and shadow areas in the drawing, you could try cross hatching or stippling. Stippling is a shading technique whereby artists create shadow and highlights with thousands of tiny dots.

Time your drawings

If your main concern is drawing speed, it can help to start a timed drawing session. Pick a reference and time yourself drawing for one minute. Try to capture the essence of the subject, without overthinking it too much. For a speed drawing, you don’t need to worry about drawing details, just focus on the broad outline and capturing the movement of the piece. You might be surprised to find that your drawing looks more accurate than you would expect for a one minute drawing.

After you’ve completed a one minute timed drawing, draw the same reference, but spend ten minutes on it. Now that you’ve done your one minute sketch, you will be primed to create the initial sketch quickly. Then spend time filling in the most important details, to make your piece appear as complete as possible.

Return to your reference again and this time spend one hour on the drawing, create your initial sketch, then take your time with making your drawing as precise and detailed as you can make it. This is excellent training to achieve precise and accurate representation of a subject faster.

Practice drawing one type of subject

Find a subject that you’re comfortable with. It could be anything from a still life to a portrait to a landscape. Once you have your subject, try to draw it from different angles and perspectives. This will help you to see it in new ways and also help to build your skills.

If portrait or figure drawing is your subject of choice, take some time to learn about how to accurately construct the subject on paper. This could mean reading up on anatomy so you can better represent the structure of the pose, or it could meaning learning a new method for accurately drawing the figure. For instance, the Loomis Method is a system for constructing the head accurately, using shapes and lines as measurements and guides.

Try a drawing challenge

There are many online drawing challenges that you can take part in. These often have a prompt or theme to help get your creative juices flowing. By taking on a challenge, you’re pushed to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.

One example of a drawing challenge is the 100 day project. The premise of this challenge is to create one piece of art each day for 100 days. This could be anything from a quick sketch to a more detailed drawing. The important thing is that you’re creating something every day.

This challenge is a great way to improve your skills as it forces you to be creative on a daily basis. It also helps to build your confidence as an artist.

Another example of a drawing challenge is the Inktober challenge. This involves drawing something each day in October, using only black ink. This is a great way to improve your skills at drawing with limited resources.

Take part in a life drawing class

practice to improve art skills

A life drawing class is an excellent way to improve your skills. These classes involve drawing a live model.

Life drawing classes will also help you to improve your figure drawing skills. This is because you will be working with a three-dimensional subject, rather than a two-dimensional photo.

In order to get the most out of a life drawing class, it’s important to practice at home as well. This will help you to build up your skills and confidence.

Practice drawing by taking an online class

There are many online classes available that can help you to practice drawing. These classes often have video lessons that you can watch at your own pace.

Skillshare is an excellent resource for artists and has an abundance of long form videos for complete beginners, intermediate artists and artists looking to learn more specific skills.

Read an art book to practice drawing

There are a number of books available to artists that not only provide theory, but also provide a workbook format so that you can put your new knowledge about drawing to the test.

For example, The Figure Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides is a book that breaks down drawing figures using classical techniques of the old masters into small lessons that increase in difficulty. The pages are thick and perfect for drawing on with any pencil medium you wish! Work through each lesson, drawing on the pages to complete the useful lessons Aristides has set.

We have a free ebook to give to all of our Fine Art Tutorials readers: A Complete Drawing Guide for Beginners. Join our Facebook group to get exclusive access to the ebook and join our community of like-minded arty folk. On the group, we post more exclusive content, drawing challenges and it’s a place for artists to share and get feedback on their artwork.

Final Thoughts

Practising your drawing skills is essential if you want to improve. By using the tips in this article, you will be well on your way to becoming a better artist. Keep at it and don’t give up!

Drawing is a skill that takes time and practice to master. But with the right approach, anyone can improve their abilities.

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