What to Draw Next: How to Decide

What to Draw Next: How to Decide

Today’s post is the third in a three-part question asked by Carolyn, who is new to colored pencils. The topic for today is deciding what to draw next, and how to know it’s worth the time it takes to finish. Here’s her question.

I asked my drawing teacher, an artist herself, how you decide what is worthy to be the subject matter upon which you spend so much time?  I guess I have my greatest indecision in this area.

Wow! What a question! Thank you for aking it!

How to Decide What to Draw Next

My first response is to ask whether you lack decisiveness because you have too many ideas or too few. Both can be a problem when you really want to make art!

So let me answer the question from the point-of-view of having too many ideas and having too few ideas. Then I’ll conclude with a few general thoughts.

(And if I’ve totally missed the point of your question, ask it again in the comments below.)

Deciding What to Draw Next

When You Have Too Many Ideas

Most of us think that having too many ideas is not a problem at all; it’s a blessing. And speaking from personal experience, I can agree with that. Sometimes.

But there are times when so many things look like worthwhile subjects that I cannot decide which one to do first. Most of the time, dozens of ideas look good, but no single idea is clearly the favorite. It’s like a horse race in which all the horses finish at the same time. Which one is best?

If this is the problem making you indecisive in choosing your next subject, then the best thing I can recommend is to write each idea on a slip of paper, put the slips into a jar, and draw one out.

Do that drawing, then choose the next one the same way if necessary.

I’m guessing you won’t have to do this very often, because after one or two, an idea will light a fire inside and you’ll know what to draw next.

Yeah. I know. It sounds pretty corny. It’s like drawing straws to make a decision!

But if your ideas are all equal enough that none really stands out, this is a great way to make a selection.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

When You Have Too Few Ideas

I’ve always had times when nothing looks worth drawing. As much as too many ideas frustrates me, having no good ideas is even worse. Such a total lack of enthusiasm for anything can lead to stagnation and do so quickly.

I have two suggestions for this problem: One I’ve used myself, and one I’ve heard recommended by other artists.

The Recommended Idea

Spend five to ten minutes looking at photographs. They can be your own photos, or from a photo website like Pixabay. The source doesn’t really matter so long as the images are royalty free.

Don’t spend any more than five or ten minutes. Pick a reference and draw it, whatever it is.

Don’t worry about whether or not it’s a favorite subject (or a hated subject.) Just. Draw.

My Favorite Method

What I prefer to do is draw something from life. I’ve drawn pebbles, the mouse of my computer, the door handle on a 1973 Capri, and many other things that are totally out of my usual fare. My favorite things to sketch this way are the oaks across the street.

You see, when you have too few ideas (or no ideas,) what you really need isn’t an idea.

What you really need is something to get you started. Little sketches and life studies are perfect for that. They don’t have to be important. They don’t even have to be finished. All they need to do get you drawing.

But what often happens is that whatever you start drawing leads to the next “serious” subject. Maybe you decide that quick sketch is ideal for a more finished drawing, and you’re off and drawing! What could be better?

What to draw next when you have no ideas. Draw the first thing that catches your eye.
When you have too few ideas what to draw next—or none at all—just look out your window (or in your studio) and draw the first thing you see. It doesn’t have to be great. It just needs to get you started. You might also try a different medium. Colored pencils are my go-to medium, but I did this sketch with watercolor pencils or watercolor (I don’t remember which.)

What’s Worth Drawing


Anything you choose to draw is worth the time. Why? Because drawing anything is better than drawing nothing.

And everything you draw teaches you something about colored pencils and getting them to do what you want to do with them. How can that kind of time be poorly spent?

Whether you have too many or too few ideas about what to do next, keep one thing in mind. Any subject that you are attached to is probably worth taking the time to draw.

Deciding What to Draw Next

Carolyn, when you asked how long it should take to do a colored pencil piece, you said you enjoyed the work and found the results satisfying no matter how long it took.

That tells me that you are able to find subjects to draw that hold your attention long enough to keep you interested until they’re finished.

It also tells me that time really doesn’t matter that much to you. The three months you spent on the dahlia were enjoyable, weren’t they?

I guess what I’m really trying to tell you is to pay attention to yourself and your instincts. Draw the things that attract you and don’t worry about what other artists are drawing. Trying to keep up with others is a sure way to squelch your creativity.

Don’t. Do it!


  1. Penelope Williamson

    I like to draw animals and get my inspiration from the monthly challenges at Wet Canvas. I dont worry about worth but have the need to create, and find enjoyment in doing so.

    I find all your tutorials interesting, Carrie and thank you for them.

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