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Have you ever thought “I want to be a better artist?” It’s a common aspiration among creatives, I mean, who doesn’t want to improve at their art? But what does being a better artist mean?


Hi my name is Carrie and I’ve created Artist Strong to help artists like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice. Today let’s talk about 5 drawing mistakes beginner artists make.


So, what does it mean to be better at art? When I ask artists this question, a lot of people admit they haven’t thought about it that much. They don’t have a clear answer. But when I dig deeper, I uncover it has a lot to do with skill. We all wish we were more skillful. And when we talk about skill and drawing, generally that means we are talking about capturing likeness, either drawing from life or from a photo reference.

Thankfully, skill is something anyone can develop. So if this fits your definition of being a better artist, let’s start building your drawing skill.

It might be because of my education background, but I believe strongly in developing foundational drawing skills as the basis for all art.

Think about it: if we know we can draw realistically, then we can be more confident in all the art we make. It means you aren’t choosing abstraction because you can’t draw realistically, you choose abstraction because it’s a means to communicate your unique artist voice.

So let’s go through the 5  drawing mistakes beginner artists make.

Did you add more than one layer of marks to your surface?

Let’s start with a simple question with an easy answer: is it easier to erase light or dark marks? We all know the answer to this: it’s light marks that are easier to erase. But for a lot of artists seeking to draw realistically, it’s like this simple fact slips our minds! We grab our pencils tightly and then apply a LOT of pressure to the paper, sometimes even making a dent in the surface.

Your first marks should rarely be your last marks when it comes to drawing from life or photo reference. If you are aiming to match the image you are looking at, it will take many layers of marks to help you refine and become increasingly accurate in your drawing. Start with super soft, light lines to guide your compositional decisions.

If you start with super soft lines, you barely need to use an eraser, because it’s easy to progressive add darker marks as we grow increasingly confident with the lines we are making.

Where and how did you begin your drawing?

Laying out the entire composition is super important if you want your whole drawing to actually fit on the surface you selected. When I was beginning at drawing, I would jump into the one part I actually wanted to draw: the eyes of a face and then hope that everything else would fit on the surface. A good drawing isn’t only about the accuracy of your drawing, it’s also about your composition.

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Have you used the negative space to help you check for accuracy?

It took a while for me to digest and actively use this strategy, but now I can’t remember how I got by without it. Instead of drawing the positive space, or the object of focus, draw the space around it. This is especially helpful when I’m drawing likeness in a portrait or a landscape I want to be familiar to others.

Artist fight me on this advice, but once they take the time learn this idea and apply it, I have lifelong converts. Trust me: it’s worth the time and practice to get this!

If you don’t know a lot about negative space I have a free mini-lesson on this element of art linked below this video.

Have you made sure there is more color or grey than white space on your surface?

It’s common for people new to drawing, or working on developing their drawing skill to focus solely on the object, say, a face. But an artwork is a composition made of 3 layers: foreground, middleground, and background. It’s important to consider the whole space and that includes your values.

Your background and middleground should be something other than white, unless it’s a conscious artistic choice (rules ARE made to be broken). More often than not, make sure the paper is more grey and black than it is white.

How many gradations of light and dark do you have in your image?

And speaking of value, I encourage you to include as many subtle variations of tone as possible. (Again, unless it’s a conscious artistic choice.) When I see artists looking to work realistically and copy from photo reference or draw from life, sometimes they oversimplify the lights and darks visible in the work.

You can take a photo and make it black and white if you are working in color to see your tones. You can also squint your eyes at whatever you are looking at: squinting helps us to see different steps in value.

If drawing realistically is important to you and a measure of your success as an artist, please join me for my free 7 day challenge called Drawing Drills. In this free activity, I break down the science behind developing expertise and the exact formula you can use to start improving your skill  in as little as 7 days. We begin Feb 15th. And don’t worry, if you catch this video later, you can still participate. Just sign up below this video to get started.

Now it’s time to

Be Creatively Courageous: What is ONE tip you can take from today’s conversation and begin applying to your own art? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time here on Artist Strong.