Written by Sycra Yasin and originally published on CG Cookie in 2014.
"If you’re reading this, you draw - or are interested in drawing. There are great reasons to do it; mostly, to build skill and have fun. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to get down to actually doing it. Here are 5 tips that have helped me get more drawing done daily - and become a better artist."
#1. Get Comfortable
One of the easiest but most effective changes I’ve made to my drawing routine is making the drawing experience as comfortable as possible. For me, that means drawing in bed with a hot mug of tea to drink and my headphones on, listening to music. Maybe you have a favourite chair you like to draw in or a pencil that just works for you. Whatever your preference is, I find that it’s much easier to draw when comfortable. In fact, if I am in bed and put on headphones, my fingers tend to get an itching for activity and it’s hard NOT to draw!
#2. Don’t Come With Expectations
One of the biggest issues that stop people from drawing is their expectation to create something ‘good’. What that means is subjective, but the idea of trying to make a good drawing is crippling and unhelpful. Instead, I recommend starting from a state of non-judgment and focusing on making any drawing, or finishing a sketchbook page (or two). Giving yourself goals you can accomplish leads to positive reinforcement and will help you become more motivated to draw again next time. I remember times when I had big ideas and visions of drawings I wanted to create. I approached a blank sheet of paper with a lot of excitement and expectations. I started drawing and before I knew it, what was on the page was nothing like the vision in my head. The more I tried to fix things, the worse the drawing seemed to get. Finally, I would just give up and be so discouraged that I wouldn’t pick up the pencil for days, weeks or even months! Drawing is a skill which you can only improve so long as you are doing it a lot. Anything that takes away from that necessary amount of practice, like expectations for results that you cannot achieve, should be avoided. Throw away your ideas about making a ‘good’ drawing - and just get drawing!
#3. Draw, Rinse and Repeat
I first started drawing with the intention of making studies, like the anatomy of the forearm. I drew an arm in one pose, then another, and so on. This did help me learn, however, what really made me step up my game was making repeated drawings of the same pose.Drawing the same thing over and over again is similar to memorizing something by repeating it over and over again in your mind. The repetition solidifies the knowledge and makes it become a part of your muscle memory.
Draw it 20 times
I’ve found a good number of times to draw the same thing is 20. Creating that many repetitions of the same item may sound boring, but I’ve found that it is the opposite. Why is that? As you find yourself working on something you’ve drawn several times before, you end up finding minute variations you can try out. You can experiment with the same pose, but with lines placed slightly differently, perhaps incorporating line width (where you vary the thickness of a line to make something appear closer or further back in space), or experimenting with altering shapes or even modifying the drawing process. Last but not least, since you are drawing the same thing so many times, your technique becomes faster. In my example of drawing a forearm, the increased speed doesn’t just help for this specific pose but for any other pose that uses similar muscle movements.
Prepare your template
That being said, drawing the same pose 20 times can be daunting at times, but I've found a useful trick to help me. Let’s say I want to draw 20 heads. Instead of drawing one head, then another and another, I start by quickly drawing 20 head shapes on the page. This means the heads have to be small enough to fit on one page. Because they are smaller than if I did one head per page, I ultimately have less work to draw each small head. It also gives me a visual target to hit and I can see my progress as I go. If I was drawing the heads one at a time, quitting after head number fifteen might be very tempting. However, with my approach, I see five blank heads staring at me, just waiting to be drawn! I can’t stress enough how much this approach has helped me. If you aren’t doing this already, I really encourage you to give it a try and see if it helps you, too.
#4. Find a Partner
I’ve found it really motivating to share the drawings I do with a friend. The goal: we both are drawing to improve. There’s no judgement cast and it’s not important that we impress each other with our works. It’s more important that we are both consistent and that we regularly check in with each other. Sometimes we do offer each other critiques but this is secondary to the feeling of not being alone in our endeavor. Having a partner really boosts my desire to work hard, especially when I see them making progress or doing more pages than I did. Constructive competition can be a good thing as long as you both share the same goals. It’s not about knocking the other person down but about both of you building each other up. It’s not about knocking the other person down but about both of you building each other up. It may take a while to find someone you can draw with, but once you do, it can be a great benefit. You may even find a group of people and that might help push you even harder. It’s also nice to be able to share any difficulties you are having with someone who understands what you’re going through. Getting better at drawing is a long journey and it’s a lot more fun when you’re sharing it!
#5. Draw Every Day (No Excuses)
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit (other sources say it actually takes 66 days on average) which means it’s important that you’re not missing days when you could be drawing. I have found that allowing myself a day of not drawing can quickly spiral into 2 days, then 3, then a week, a month...and before you know it, you have fallen off the wagon completely. For this reason, I’ve made it a habit to draw every single day and I’ve been doing this for the past 11 years now. Not one day missed. Not one. How do you ensure that you won’t miss a day either?
Making it Manageable
Well, the easiest way is to make sure the task is as manageable as possible. A single drawing is all it takes to ensure that I don’t miss a day. A single drawing. Not a ‘good’ drawing. Not a page of drawings. Not a successful study. Just a drawing. I’ve kept a sketchbook journal that I’ve used for these daily drawings. My approach is to write the date and then do a drawing. I usually do these before I go to bed and they also help me to visually put down how that day went for me; there have been good ones and bad ones. There have been days when I didn’t have much energy to draw, or the desire. On those days, I’ll draw for a short time. The shortest drawing I have ever done must have only taken a couple of seconds. I had lost someone important to me and just couldn’t draw anything beyond an ‘X’. It took longer to write the date than it did to do the ‘X’ drawing, but it was still a drawing which represented that day in my mind. After doing these daily drawings for so many years, they no longer register to me as ‘time spent drawing’ and I now have an additional sketchbook that I use for daily studies and other drawings. I find that making goals you can easily achieve and then doing them every day really helps you to make drawing something that is natural and becomes an inseparable part of your life.
The Most Important Thing
I want to remind you that drawing is supposed to be fun. All these steps are designed to help you draw more, but try not to forget why you’re drawing in the first place. If it helps give you an incentive to keep drawing I should let you know that for me, the more I’ve drawn over the years and the more I’ve been able to draw, the more I like it. It’s easier to get the ideas in my head onto the page and that makes it a lot of fun to do. Drawing is also incredibly beneficial to any other type of art making, be it painting, sculpture or animation. So to sum it up, drawing is fun, it’s super helpful, and you should be doing it!