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8 Tips for Better Drawing Every Art Student Should Know

Drawing is hard. I feel like every art student has said that at least once in their lifetime. Sometimes, we look at our work and see something that seems a little off, but we’re not sure what. Here at Winged Canvas, we’ve compiled a worksheet for teachers that summarize our 8 Tips to Better Drawing. As an art teacher, I’m here to give my own takes on all these tips and how useful they really are!

Jump ahead:

1. Practice Good Posture

Instructor Rachael Ng illustrating a face on a piece of newsprint.

Let me tell you a little story. For the majority of my life, I’ve never worked at a desk. What I would do is I would work on my bed, balancing my laptop on my bedsheets and my art tablet in my lap. I would constantly be in awful positions for my posture -- constantly leaning on my left side, slouching, lying down in awkward positions -- you name it! All I got out of it was back problems at 16 years old. However, getting a good desk and office chair has greatly improved both my posture and my back health since I’m sitting in a more ergonomic position. Somehow, it’s also improved my focus! Probably because my workspace doesn’t double as where I sleep anymore.

This tip can also improve the way you look at your pieces while you work on them! We’ll often see students who have their faces WAY too close to their page or tablet so they don’t see the full picture (and I can’t say that I’m not guilty of this either). This is why experts tell us that we have to “step back” to see the whole picture every once in a while. Not only can this ruin your eyes, but it can also mess up your piece! It’s better to keep your back straight and stay zoomed out than sacrifice your posture for a minuscule detail that most likely isn’t extremely important.

2. Stage Your Subject Well

A still life painting next to some chalk thumbnails.

Composition, composition, composition. You hear about it everywhere. Or at least I’ve heard it everywhere. Your composition is how your objects are laid out in a scene -- what should go where to make sure that everything is as flattering as possible? I tend to draw a lot more character art compared to anything else. But if I find that a piece of mine feels a little boring, I can rely on some weird angle, dramatic lighting, dynamic poses or an interesting background to make it feel more eye-catching. If it’s not a character sheet, a character standing stalk still tends to be pretty boring. Adding that extra bit of drama to your art can really turn it up a notch!

3. Practice Confident lines

An illustration of two characters, one appearing more confident while the other appears more goth and reserved.

I’ve been told by countless students and peers alike that I’m the weird one for loving line art. It can be tedious, but there’s something extremely satisfying about getting some extremely crisp lines or getting that line weight just right. Confident lines are definitely the way to go when illustrating -- but that’s something you hear all the time too. Confident lines just mean that they feel more sure of themselves, whether they’re done in one surefire stroke, they’re extremely crisp, or they have a lot of fluidity.

Two illustrations, one with feathered lines and the other with confident lines.

Shaky lines or feathered lines (sketchy linework that’s done with a lot of little broken lines) tend to look unprofessional or messy. The reason why some sketches don’t look messy is because their lines are confident! But don’t worry -- feathered and shaky lines tend to be very common for beginners who are still unsure. Confident lines take time and skill to grow into! Practice often, and confident lines will feel like a piece of cake!

4. Start With Guidelines

Illustrations of boxes and a pyramid in two point perspective. Guidelines are left on the sketch.

Using guidelines could be blocking in shapes with a sketch, drawing perspective lines to a vanishing point, etc. Guidelines and sketches give you a "second chance" at your drawing, which helps with the refining process.

I’m going to tell you another story. I refused to use guidelines for the longest time because I never felt that I needed them. When I hit around 12 years old, I finally started to use them, and saw an instant improvement in how I drew. Working without guidelines versus working with them is like measuring with your fingers and then switching to using a ruler. Now it’s like you have set shapes and measurements that you can use to guide the rest of your illustration. Using guidelines doesn’t make you a lesser artist either -- practice with them first, and maybe you’ll be able to draw without them. But designers and industry professionals use them regularly, so there’s nothing wrong with using them often!

5. Look For Shapes Everywhere

A written explanation of shape language, with a few shapes drawn as examples.

Shapes are the easiest way to simplify things that are super complex. Not only is shape an element of art, but it’s also a great way to draw things accurately! For instance, motorcycles seem pretty tough to draw. But if you break one down into its base shapes of rectangles and circles first, it gets easier! This tip can go hand in hand with the previous one, same story, same deal. The difference is that while guidelines are only lines, shapes can be used as full guides for construction. Shape is a pretty simple element of art, but I’d argue that it’s probably the most important one!

6. Work Big To Small

A silhouette of a creature with shapes drawn within it.

I’m the type who likes to focus in on details and not really let them go. You know, start with the face, then go into the features, then focus on the lashes and why the irises don’t look right, and suddenly half an hour has passed and I haven’t started the body. However, it tends to be better to start with a big general sketch with no details first, and then work on refining as you keep working on it. Especially if you stay zoomed in constantly, you may lose yourself in your work. Then you zoom out, and it doesn’t fit anymore. The same goes for traditional work -- if you keep working at a single spot and try to make it perfect, you’re just wasting time because it could be in the wrong place, and then you’d have to erase the whole thing. It really narrows down the time it takes in your workflow if you work from big to small.

7. When Shading, Find Your Lightest And Darkest Points Early

A crosshatched black and white portrait of a character.

This tip comes directly from our creative director, Fei Lu, she says this stems from how often she sees kids shade things super lightly and then go a little darker, but never quite reach a full range of values. If they shade the darkest points first, then the rest of the values are easy to place! Identifying those values early on can also help determine the mood of a piece pretty quickly. This somewhat goes hand in hand with the previous point too -- don’t focus on rendering these values first, you can do that later. Shade your darkest darks first, and focus on 3 - 5 values to start, which is a simpler, more strategic approach.

8. Use A Variety Of Lines

Line art of a character with wildly varying line weights.

Ah, line weighting, my old friend. Line is also one of the elements of art, and it’s an important one at that. Adding in different line thicknesses and a variety of lines can really turn your piece up to an eleven. My dad has an old friend who works as a professional illustrator and comic artist. Back in 6th or 7th grade, we went to visit him while he was signing artwork at a comic shop in Toronto. He took a look at my sketchbook and told me that your thickest lines should generally be the ones that define the subject matter’s silhouette. Your thinner lines should be for smaller details, and everything else should be a mix of the two. I still use that advice to this day!

And there you have it! There are tons of little steps you can take to drastically improve your work, but don’t forget to keep practicing. It’s one thing to read how to get better, and another to put in the time to work on it!

Teacher Resources:

If you’re a teacher that’s looking for classroom content centred around the more tips for drawing, visit these quick and easy resources!

If you’d like more worksheets related to art, check out our teachers pay teachers page where you can get worksheets and lesson plans for your classroom! More classroom resources like this can be found on our art resources for teachers page, where we break down the elements of art and more!

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