Welcome to May, and another May Question-and-Answer month! Today’s question is from a reader who wants to know how to draw like an expert.
That’s a good question, and one we all want the answer to, right?
We’re all also looking for an easy way to draw like an expert. Don’t deny it; I know it’s true because I still look for shortcuts!
I have bad news.
Drawing is like running a marathon. You don’t get out of bed on Monday, decide you’re going to run a marathon on Saturday. Even if you do buy the proper equipment, you won’t do very well when Saturday comes and the race begins. It takes training, discipline, and time to prepare. That’s just the way it works.
How to Draw Like an Expert
The same holds true for drawing. It takes time, training, and practice. Lots of practice!
In other words, there are no shortcuts. None.
But there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of finishing the race (or improving your artwork.) Here are a few that helped me.
Training is important in marathon running and colored pencil drawing.
The only way to draw like an expert is to train for it.
That begins with the proper tools (artist-quality pencils, good supports, and a comfortable and functional drawing set up) is only the first step.
No, you don’t have to run out and buy the best of everything. You don’t even need to buy full sets of pencils, or a lot of expensive paper. A handful of good quality colors and a pad of good drawing paper gets you started.
In fact, unless you’re absolutely certain from the start that colored pencil is what you want to do, you can learn quite well with good pencils on newsprint. You probably shouldn’t buy those scholastic pencils because they don’t perform the same as better pencils; but you don’t need to buy top-of-the-line, either.
A regular routine is important in developing drawing skills (and running marathons.)
The next step is a regular drawing routine, and the discipline to maintain that routine.
If all you can do is draw for an hour or two each week, do it. Mark that time in your weekly schedule, then guard it carefully.
Obviously the more you draw, the more quickly you’ll be drawing like an expert, but every drawing gets you closer to your goal.
So find a regular time that works for you, and draw, draw, draw.
Finding a good teacher (or trainer) helps you avoid a lot of pitfalls.
You can learn on your own—I did—but you can learn more quickly by finding a teacher to guide you. Look for a teacher who:
Is creating the kind of artwork you want to create (representational, abstract, etc.)
Works in the medium you want to learn
Knows the subject you want to learn (if you want to learn a specific subject such as flowers or horses)
Teaches in a way that makes sense to you
Is more interested in students becoming well-rounded artists, rather than carbon copies of the teacher.
Beginning artists today have a world of options available online. Tutorial videos offer a variety of instructors unheard of when I was getting started (I didn’t even have the internet!)
Make use of those resources, but don’t try to learn from everyone. At least at the beginning, focus your attention on one or two artists who fit the guidelines above, then learn everything you can from them.
Focus, focus, focus.
You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you’re just getting started, it’s probably best to pick one and focus your attention on that medium. At least until you learn enough to know whether or not it’s for you.
The illustrations in this post document my journey as a colored pencil artist, beginning with the earliest pencil drawing I have in my possession. I was 7-1/2 years-old when I made that drawing in 1968.
This drawing is my most recent horse drawing. I’ve made a lot of progress in 50 years.
I would have made progress a lot faster had I focused on colored pencil from the start. Instead, my primary medium was oil painting until 2014. I began “serious dabbling” with colored pencil in the 1990s, and didn’t switch entirely until 2017.
The lesson for you? You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you really want to learn how to draw like an expert as quickly as possible, focus on one medium.
Have I mentioned practice?
Oh. I did?
Well, it bears repeating here. The more you practice anything, the better you get at it.
The only caveat I’d offer is that you practice the right way. If you practice drawing, but you’re only repeating drawing errors, then you’re cementing those areas into all future drawings.
And that will only hinder your efforts to reach expert status.
So draw often, but also draw smart!
How do you do that?
Work from good reference photos
Draw what you see in those reference photos every time you draw (even if you draw from the same photo over and over again)
Practice drawing from life, even you do quick sketches or 5-minute studies
Master these three things and practice all the rest, and your drawings will improve! You won’t be an overnight expert, but you may very well be surprised how quickly you reach that goal.