When to Give up on a Drawing

When to Give up on a Drawing

Today, I’d like to talk about something many of us would rather not talk about. What is it? Knowing when to give up on a drawing.

This is my topic of choice for two reasons.

The first reason is that I currently have two drawings that are not working out. I mentioned both of them in Wednesday’s studio news post, but that was all the more I intended to speak about them until I encountered the second reason Thursday morning.

What is the second reason? A very good video on this subject by an Australian artist with a YouTube channel. Her name is Bec and you can visit her channel here.

One of the first videos I watched was one about giving up on artwork. In it, Bec talks about a large piece she started, but ended up abandoning. She does a great job of explaining the project, as well as the circumstances that caused her to give up on it.

So why am I writing about this when Bec does such a good job in her video? Because I am compelled to share the downs of this art business as well as the ups.

And because I’m certain some of my loyal readers have wrestled with a piece of their own that refuses to cooperate.

When to Give up on a Drawing

I’m going to share two pieces. One of them is an example of when not to give up and the other is an example of when to consider giving up. I’ll share the specifics of each as well as the thinking behind my decision making.

The Two Pieces

House Lion: When Not to Give Up

The first piece is House Lion. This is a portrait of our long-haired cat, Max. It’s patterned after a photo of an African lion I saw some time ago, hence the title. It’s on white Pastelmat, and so far, I’ve used only Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils on it.

This is one of the early steps.

When to Give up on a Drawing

Since this portrait is for myself, it has progressed in fits and starts. I work on it when I have nothing else to work on or after I’ve worked on other projects. Sometimes it gets work two or three times a week. Sometimes, weeks pass between drawing sessions. As I write these words, it’s been about fifteen months since work began.

This is what the portrait looks like now. The base layers are finished and I’ve started on the modeling and detailing layers. The latest work was around the near eye, where you can see hints of warmer grays and light brown colors.

But the drawing is now in my closet because I caught myself thinking about tearing it up. It just seemed safer to have it out of sight, than destroying it in a fit of discouragement. Why am I feeling this way?

I am tired of working on it, yes. I’m also tried of looking at it on the work-in-progress wall. And I confess, there is a clear sense of bewilderment over what to do next. Although the drawing is small (6 inches by 8 inches), it’s so tightly focused that there’s a ton of detail even just on the bridge of the nose. Add in all the longer hair, and I often find myself not knowing what to do next. In short, I feel like I lack the knowledge and skill to go any further on this project.

So it just seemed like a good idea to give the drawing a rest.

Reasons Not to Give up on a Drawing

Getting in over your head isn’t usually a good reason to give up on a drawing. That’s why I don’t view House Lion as an abandoned drawing. I know from having struggled with the portrait of Thomas that sooner or later I’ll gain the skills to finish it. The work done so far is good. I just don’t know how to proceed with all that white hair.

When you find yourself not knowing the next step, don’t give up on the drawing. Setting it aside for a while may be the best thing, but don’t give up on it. Keep it around. Review it now and again.

Keeping drawing. Sooner or later, you’ll make some discovery that shows you exactly what you need to do with the set-aside drawing.

Sometimes, all you really need is a break from more complicated artwork.

Pasture Patriarch: When to Give Up

This is Pasture Patriarch. It, too, is a small drawing, 6 x 8 inches. It’s on Canson Mi-Teintes paper in the Tobacco color, and I started with with Derwent Drawing colored pencils. Like House Lion, my primary goal was testing a new combination of paper and pencils. With House Lion, I was using Pablos on a familiar paper. With this one, I was using Derwent Drawing pencils on a familiar paper.

I’ve been wanting to draw this horse since first taking the photograph years ago. I’ve tried a couple of times prior to this attempt but for some reason, none of those attempts succeeded.

But I also wanted to try drawing a dark horse on dark paper just to see if I could do it. I thought I could. This horse is very dark brown, and the paper color seemed like a perfect match.

This is the drawing at an early phase, with most of the colors already established.

When to Give up on a Drawing

I love the color selection in the Derwent Drawing line. The muted earth tones, blues, and greens are ideal for landscapes and animals, even if there are only 24 colors in the full set.

The pencils are quite soft and the pigment core is thicker than most pencils, so that also seemed like a good match for Canson Mi-Teintes.

As it turned out, I was wrong about that. Drawing was a struggle. Despite the soft leads, the pencils felt scratchy going onto the paper. That wasn’t at all pleasant, but I hoped it would improve as I got more color on the paper. It didn’t seem to. I got a lot done and was almost satisfied with the work, but the working process was not at all enjoyable.

Then came the realization that I couldn’t get the horse to stand out against the background enough without doing something with the background. I did not want to do that, but finally decided to give it a try by adding muted greens and browns to the area around the horse’s face.

That improved the contrast, but it wasn’t great. It was at this point that I began seriously considering giving up on this drawing.

Reasons to Consider Giving Up

The most obvious reason to consider giving up is when you discover a serious error in your line drawing. Especially if you’re doing a portrait, finding this kind of problem is an automatic “give up and start over” moment.

But that hasn’t happened with Pasture Patriarch. I’ve liked the basic line drawing from the get-go.

Having said that, I can also say I made some decisions early on that put this piece at risk. What were they?

Paper Color: Lighter paper or darker paper would have been better for a vignette style portrait. The horse needs to stand out against the color of the paper. Lovely as it is, this brown paper provides too little contrast.

Paper Type: My second mistake was choosing Canson Mi-Teintes. I have nothing against Canson Mi-Teintes, but it’s been a struggle to get the results I want on this paper after having used Pastelmat so many times.

Pencils: I really like the Derwent Drawing colored pencils, but they are not (or don’t seem to be) a good match for Canson Mi-Teintes. Color saturation looks good digitally, but has been disappointing in real life. Couple that with the struggle to just layer color, and you understand my biggest problem.

Background: I also made a poor decision in trying to add a background to the drawing. That just has not worked.

The bottom line is that when you discover problems that cannot be fixed, it may very well be time to think about giving up and starting over.

Knowing When to Give up on a Drawing

None of us wants to ever give up on a drawing. We just don’t begin drawings with that thought in mind.

But there are times when that’s the only wise decision to make. I’ve outlined a few of those times for you. There are many others.

More than that, I hope I’ve helped you see that there can be times when pushing through a drawing can be counterproductive. Even if you don’t give up on it entirely, as is the case with House Lion, setting a drawing aside and working on something else can be helpful.

And who knows? The time may come when I can finish Pasture Patriarch as it is, or can finish a new version of it. My fingers itch to give it a go on Pastelmat.

Want to read more posts like this? Sign up for Carrie’s free weekly newsletter and be among the first to know when she publishes new articles.


  1. Gail Jones

    This was a very informative article. I also had a picture I had to stop on because it was too complex for my skill level and was coming out too big. I intend to start over at some point using the same photo, going smaller and simplifying. (That was the mansion photo I showed you.)

    1. Gail,

      Thank you for your comment. This apparently isn’t as rare a situation as I initially thought. My mother used to say my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I took more food than I could eat as a child. I think maybe my eyes are bigger than my fingers, too, when I think I can do more with pencils than I really can!

      1. Gail Jones

        I think all your drawings are wonderful! I think your pasture patriarch is a beautiful drawing. I wouldn’t throw it away. And your kitty pic looks good to me. I would just suggest maybe a few darker values in the white fur to contrast with the white a bit and set it off. Not a lot just a few so that it isn’t all the lighter values. I know I am not as advanced as you, but that would be my guess as to what to do to improve it, although it is gorgeous as is.

  2. Francoise

    Hi Carrie,
    Please give the Patriarch a go on Pastelmat.
    I love the horse’s look and expression, it would be a shame for him not to get drawn.
    I know exactly what you mean: I love Mi-Teintes paper, it comes a close second as a favorite of mine after Pastelmat but Pastelmat, when you really dig it, does tend to become a must. Piling on layers and being able to draw light over dark are things I find it really difficult to go without now. I’m afraid I get withdrawal symptoms…

  3. Carla Gray

    Carrie, I think that the Patriarch is one to put up for a few and come back to finish. I am not sure but I think the Derwent pencils you’re using may be part of the problem. They are soft when I have used them therefore after reading some about them I use them on top of others. But they are good color selection for sure and attempting to stick with just them is a good experiment to try. When you added the background color the picture looked better and it was starting to pop. Perhaps try the other paper and then one day come back to this one but don’t tear it up as you will figure out how to finish it I have no doubt. Maybe more highlights on horse with some more background color? I don’t know as you are way better than I at figuring it out. As for the cat maybe it needs different colors than white although you probably have already done that too.
    You are a busy lady so I am sure you get overwhelmed and as a side note, ask the Lord to help you, I have when I remember that He wants to be a part of everything in our life and that includes using the talents He blessed us with.
    Hope you have a wonderful day and thank you for sharing.
    Carla Gray

    1. Thank you for the suggestions, Carla.

      I haven’t torn up Pasture Patriarch. It’s in the closet with House Lion. My real problem with it right now is the background, but I’m already wondering if adding some blues to the green might not help out. Time will tell.

  4. Francoise

    So, Carrie, I’m curious. What is it in Rebecca’s rabbit piece that made you think you might as well give up? I mean, all in all, she’s very positive about the whole thing.

    1. I hadn’t yet watched any of Rebecca’s videos before deciding to give up on Pasture Patriarch. Had I seen her series on Derwent Drawing pencils before doing that piece, I would have done things differently.

      What I got from her video about giving up on the Flamingo pieces was the confirmation that it was all right to give up on something for certain reasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *