Learning to draw can feel like a long and slow process. But, it doesn’t have to be. With concentration and effort, there are ways to improve your drawing skills, fast. A lot of times, it’s just about practicing your drawing skills in the right way instead of the wrong way.
- Pick One Thing to Learn
- Learn the Right Techniques
- Take a Class
- Get Better at Something You Already Know How to Do
- Study It
- Draw Every Day
To be clear, there isn’t a surefire shortcut that’s going to make you a professional artist in an hour. All of these strategies will take a little bit of time. But, if you do them correctly, they are some of the fastest ways to improve your drawing skills in a way that will last you the long-term and actually make you a better artist. Let’s dig in.
1. Pick One Thing to Learn
When we decide that we want to get better at drawing, we don’t get very specific. “I want to get better at drawing!” Hooray! But, what does that actually mean?
Drawing is a HUGE topic.
Do you want to get better at cartooning? Still lifes? Portraits? Comics? Manga? I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
When we’re trying to improve our drawing skills, a lot of us get really tripped up because we’re chasing every shiny object that comes our way. That tutorial looks fun! That landscape would be neat to paint! Maybe I want to illustrate a kid’s book.
We can get REALLY scattered. We draw a cartoon one day and a portrait the next. We try a new style every day and wonder why we aren’t getting any better.
If you take a look at your favorite artists, you’ll notice that they have particular styles that they work within. A cartoonist might also draw portraits, but their bread and butter is cartoons. It’s rare to see an artist that is equally good in all types of drawing and includes all of them in their portfolios.
When you’re first starting out, it’s ok to dabble. You may not know if you want to focus on cartoons or portraits, so you try a bit of both. But, you need to go about it the right way.
Every style of drawing requires different skills and techniques.
If you draw cartoons one day and portraits the next, you’re spreading yourself thin. Your progress towards mastering either of them is going to be a lot slower than if you focused on one at a time.
Think about drawing like you would think about science. You wouldn’t expect to be great at Biology just because you already took Physics. Sure, there are some commonalities between the two of them, but you would need to take a specific Physics class in order to master Physics.
The same is true for drawing.
If you took a cartooning class, it would be very different from portrait class. Even though they would both focus on similar topics like face shape and figure drawing, they would approach them in very different ways. Shading, colors, realism, and overall techniques would be night and day between the two classes.
So, pick one thing that you want to learn to draw. You’ll improve your skills A LOT faster if you niche down to one topic and focus.
If you really want to see fast improvement with your drawing skills, I would niche down to a specific object that you want to learn how to draw. So, pick a niche, and then pick an object that you’ll be tackling within that niche. For example, I might choose a cartoon elephant.
Once you master that cartoon elephant, you can move on to a new cartoon character.
2. Learn the Right Techniques
If you learn the wrong techniques, you’ll spend a lot of time running around in your eraser shavings wondering what went wrong. Understanding the right techniques is a HUGE key to improving your drawing skills for the long-term.
Take extra time to learn drawing techniques the right way.
It might seem counterintuitive, but you’ll save time in the long run if you learn the proper drawing techniques from the get go. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of shortcuts in the drawing world. Some people would like you to think so, but it’s not true. In every niche of drawing, there are fundamental skills you NEED to learn and know.
If you decide to take shortcuts, you could end up with some bad habits. Habits are REALLY hard to change once they’re established. If you learn the wrong way to tackle your drawing projects, it will be harder for you to learn the correct way down the line (you’ll eventually need to learn the correct way). Don’t sacrifice your long term growth as an artist just to have a quick win right now. Take the time to learn proper techniques.
Aside from avoiding bad habits, learning the proper drawing techniques from the get go will help you learn faster in the long run. For example, if I take the time to actually learn elephant anatomy, it might be easier for me to learn how to draw a giraffe later. I’ll already understand the basic anatomy.
If I had taken a shortcut and tried to learn how to draw an elephant as quickly as possible, I might not have taken away those key anatomy principles I needed to know to draw animals in general.
Learn the right drawing techniques. It might take you a few extra hours in the beginning, but it will really speed up your drawing progress in the long run.
So, how do you learn the right drawing techniques? I’m glad you asked!
3. Take a Class
Hands down, the fastest way to get better at drawing is to take a class about the skills you want to learn. Take a cartooning class, a figure drawing class, a comics class. Whatever floats your boat, go take a class about it.
Now, we’re not talking about 3 month college classes. Sure, those are fantastic if you’re up for the time commitment. But, if we’re talking about the fastest way to get better at drawing, I’m encouraging you to take a drawing class that is only a few hours at most.
Of course, a few hours won’t give you every single piece of knowledge you need to become the best artist in the world. What it WILL give you is a strong foundation in one very specific skill set.
This is why I love Skillshare. When you sign up for Skillshare, you get instant access to TONS of classes about topics big and small. You can take a long class that covers a wider swath of the cartooning space, or you can take a specific class about how to draw a cartoon of your pet, for example. Take a look at this sample class. Fun, right?
I’m a huge fan of Skillshare given how skilled the teachers are, both at art and at teaching. Every class is broken down into bite sized pieces that show exactly what to do and where to go next. Skillshare classes are also really visually appealing. I don’t know how they do it, but their videos are beautiful.
When you sign up for a class, you will be led step-by-step through the artist’s process for mastering that skill. That’s insanely valuable. It takes all of the thinking out of the process. No more tossing and turning about the right way to do something. You are handed the correct techniques on a silver platter.
4. Get Better at Something You Already Know How to Do
It’s easier to refine the skills you already know than to start from zero and learn brand new skills in an area you aren’t familiar with.
If you’re looking for a quick win and a fast way to improve your drawing skills, focus on getting better at the skills you already have. Draw a portrait, but really hone in on making the hair look realistic. Draw that cartoon elephant, but focus on nailing its whimsical expression.
Remember how we talked about spreading yourself too thinly? Well, a lot of us do that by accident. We draw something, get an itch to move on to something else, and never get around to refining that original drawing. This can leave us with a lot of half baked drawing skills that we never really fleshed out.
Something that’s really fun and helpful to do is to pull out your portfolio and redo a piece of art from a number of years ago. Analyze it and consider what you could have done better. As you redo the piece of art, focus on those skills you were lacking on the first go around. What can you learn to make it better?
It’s actually turning into a neat trend where artists showcase their art from 10 years ago in comparison to now. Even if you don’t consciously redo the same piece of art in an effort to improve your drawing skills, pull out a piece of art from 10 years ago and compare it to now. You might be surprised to see how much you’ve improved. It can be easy to get tunnel vision and think we aren’t getting anywhere until we have proof of where we started.
5. Study It
If you’re like me, you’ve marveled over people who can sit down with a piece of paper and pencil and draw a beautiful picture in no time at all. They don’t even have a reference photo!
Being able to draw quickly from imagination is something that a lot of us aspire to. The problem is that we often don’t take the time to actually engrain our drawing skills into our memories. We take classes or we draw from reference photos and we mindlessly go through the motions. Sure, we end up with an awesome drawing, but we don’t know how to recreate it again without the guidance of that same class or reference photo.
We didn’t take the time to actually learn and remember what we did.
If you want to get better at drawing, don’t be mindless about it. As you draw, think about what you’re doing and make a point of securing those concepts in your memory. This doesn’t actually take any more time. It’s just a mindset shift.
If you can focus on remembering the drawing skills that you learn, you won’t have to relearn them in the future. You’ll also have an easier time drawing from memory and building a mental repository of drawing skills.
6. Draw Every Day
Practice makes perfect is a cliche we all roll our eyes at, but there’s a good reason why it has become so well known. It actually works. Consistent practice is a HUGE part of skill mastery. I mean, look at the bios of some of the artists you love. A lot of them have been practicing for decades. And, even if they’re considered experts, they STILL practice on a daily basis.
Drawing is a motor skill that your hands need to get used to. Remember the first time you learned to type? It probably was a little clunky. Overtime, you gained muscle memory and your fingers instinctively knew what to do. The same applies to drawing. Even when you learn new styles and tackle new subjects, there’s a fluency that comes with using your pencil every day.
The more you draw, the better you’ll get at it.
In his book Work Energy, Jim Harmer talks about creating a groundhog’s day for yourself. Think about something you want to achieve, whether it’s mastering a drawing skill or completing a project, and do it every single day. Make it groundhog’s day.
What I love about this groundhog’s day idea is that it doesn’t give you enough time to overthink things and let your brain make excuses. If you commit to working on something every single day, no exceptions, you naturally end up making progress.
I would use the groundhog’s day idea within the context of a 30 day challenge. Pick a skill and groundhog’s day it every single day for 30 days. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes a day. There’s no doubt you’ll get better after 30 days of consistent practice. When we’re talking about art skills, 30 days is not a very long time.
That said, you can’t just phone it in for 10 minutes a day and expect to get better. As we’ll talk about next, you still need to work for it.
What You Need to Know About the 10,000 Hour Rule
Malcolm Gladwell became famous for his 10,000 hour rule, which stated that someone needed to work for 10,000 hours on a skill in order to master it. This rule took the world by storm and became a really popular way to describe the time commitment that people needed to adopt in order to become proficient in something.
There was a problem though.
Overtime, researchers started to realize that it was simplistic to say that 10,000 hours led to mastery. The TYPE of practice mattered A LOT. In fact, 10,000 hours of the WRONG type of practice could lead you nowhere.
For anyone looking to get better at a skill, DELIBERATE PRACTICE was really important.
Here’s the difference:
Mindless practice: tracing a picture of an elephant while watching the latest episode of your favorite TV show.
Deliberate practice: studying a reference photo to understand every line, shadow, and texture. As you draw the elephant, you make sure that you can draw every element on your own and, if you get stuck, you practice it until you master it.
Basically, deliberate practice is about doing the hard work to actually learn the skills you want to master. Simply drawing every day won’t get you very far if you don’t concentrate on really mastering the underlying skills.
If you really focus on practicing deliberately, 10,000 hours might be overkill. In a study of chess players, researchers found that they reached an expert level after 3,000 hours of deliberate practice (source).
At the end of the day, the more you can focus on high quality deliberate practice, the quicker you’ll see your skills improve.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to learning how to draw. But, if you learn the right skills in the right way, you won’t have to keep starting over and relearning skills that you hadn’t taken the time to learn properly. Following these steps, you’ll have the foundational skills you need to continue growing your drawing skills at a faster pace.
Diana has been an artist for over 26 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.