15 Tips to Improve Your Drawing Skills

People are born with innate drawing talent or they are not.
{Fact? Fiction? Urban Legend? Fairy Tale?}

Drawing is making marks on paper. To draw well, you've got to practice.
That's the secret. The only secret.

When I started drawing 8 years ago, it didn't occur to me that I would or could get better. I didn't view learning-to-draw in terms of a learning curve {no pun intended}. I didn't start with the intention of building my skills - I started drawing to pass the time when my kids were at swimming lessons and gymnastics classes. My background is not in art but in quantitative & financial analysis. And what I have learned is that if you draw a lot, you get better. And the more variety in your practice, the more you'll build your fine motor skills and the more confident you'll be with a pen in hand.

Progress is gradual. If you compare your work today with your work from a month ago, you probably won't see the subtle differences. But if you look at your work a year ago vs. now, you'll see that you have more control over your lines. Progress is measured not in hours, but in months and years. The more you draw, the better you will get. As I look back through my journals, I see that every time I challenged myself to try a new idea {a zillion times}, I made a leap forward. 

The magic formula is simply a dose of curiosity, perseverance, focus and a lot of time at the page.

When I started drawing, my focus was to invent patterns. So my first tip is to simply draw what you find intriguing or amusing. You might get into drawing fairies or clocks or sail boats. You can start with any subject. After drawing mostly abstract stuff for years & years, I've gradually started drawing real things. 

Stay with it. Draw every chance you get. You don't need an Eclectic Mark-Defining Experience in Venice or the Mystical Drawing Secrets Revealed e-book. 

After drawing consistently, almost every day, for a period of years, I have more control over the pen and feel more comfortable drawing what I see around me. I love exploring papers and pens and inks and nibs. Draw every day. It will absolutely make a difference.

 

Fifteen (15) things to draw to improve your line work.

1. Draw repeating patterns. 

Look around the room for patterns and collections of like objects, then add spice and detail to those repeating things. 

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2. Draw ordinary things. 

Look around your room and focus on one ordinary everyday item. Sketch it!

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3. Doodle without a ruler, free-hand.

You can work on a page over the course of a week, just keep adding details and experimenting with lines and patterns. Your pages do not have to make any sense whatsoever! 

 

4. Draw one shape, over and over again. 

What's the most challenging shape for you to draw? I find vehicles difficult, so as I waited for my brother to arrive at the airport, I drew the taxis as they swooshed into the taxi stand.

 

5. Draw circles.

They will look wonky at first. Just keep drawing them, even on top of each other.  Draw circles on an index card. Put circles inside the circles. Now put circles around the circles. 

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6. Draw letters.

Invent fonts and write letters in the invented fonts. Heres' a tutorial for these groovy doodle letters.

 

7a. Test pens. 
7b. Draw on different surfaces. 

I've drawn mandalas with a Uniball UM-153, a Sakura Gellyroll, and a Sharpie poster paint pen . On paint chips. The Uniball has a slightly wider nib than the Gelly Roll.

To see the Uniball and the Gelly Roll in action, I do hand-lettering on a mixed media journal page in the video Beauty: The Blue Page

 

8. Draw knots. 

Knots are a great mental and creative challenge to draw. Invent a knot, or tie a rope in a knot and draw it. 

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9. Take your journal with you and draw everyday life.

 

10. Draw mandalas.

Start in the middle with a circle or star and build outward. They do not need to be absolutely symmetrical, go for sort-of-symmetrical. These mandalas are drawn with a dip pen and J. Herbin ink on a background of gouache paint. 

 

11. Draw with charcoal, pastels & Neocolors. 

Why limit your drawing escapades to pens & pencils? Drawing with different tools changes the experience and allows you to adjust, fine-tune & otherwise refine your approach. When you go back to a black pen you'll have new ideas and perspectives. These are Caran D'Ache Neocolor Wax Crayons on a background of black gesso. 

 

12. Draw with all  sorts of brushes.

You might think that painting does not impact your drawing skills - but it absolutely does! I went through a period of a few months where I painted more than I drew, and when I went back to my Moleskine my lines were better. This is a Japanese brush and ink, very soft and flowy on bristol paper.

 

15. Go to a botanical garden and fill a page or two with organic shapes.

Go to a garden, or sit on your back porch and sketch your container garden. Relax your shoulders. Clear your mind. Try to capture the essence of each shape rather than the exact shape. You do not have to KNOW how to draw in order to draw. Just keep trying until something looks sort of something like what you want to draw.

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16. Draw faces.

Draw a grid of small to medium sized faces. Experiment with different hair styles and expressions. How many little faces can you fit on a page in your journal?

 

17. Draw from magazines and photographs.

I drew the grid first, then filled it with little images, patterns & snapshots that I found in a stack of magazines. This is in ink with a watercolor wash.

A few of my favorite pens?

I keep several different pens in my pen case. My go-to pen is the PITT artist pen, extra superfine nib. Another great drawing pen is the Sakura Micron. Many artists use Micron in an 01 nib, this is the second smallest nib they offer; I also like the 005 for detail work. The PITT pens and the Microns have fiber nibs and india ink. For a super sturdy drawing pen, try the Sakura Gelly Roll in black. This is a gel-ink pen with a metallic nib.

 

18. Draw the alphabet with a dip pen & india ink. 

Hand-lettering with a dip pen and a flex-nib is all about pressure and fine motor skills. When you apply downward pressure, your lines are wider. When you apply less pressure, your lines are thinner. Try writing the alphabet as many ways as you can! You can watch the video here.

 

Now go fill your journals!