How to Draw (and Other Life Lessons)

“I can’t draw, I’m not an artist.”

I’ve heard this many times. Some people must think that being able to draw faces or pictures is something you’re born with. It’s not. It’s just a skill, like any other, that people have worked to become good at.

I just spent an afternoon doing illustrations for my upcoming guide, Think Outside the Cubicle. I’m definitely not the world’s best artist. But, I do think drawing (like many skills) is something anyone can learn and become good at.

Learn the Rules, But Don’t Obsess Over Them

I radically improved my ability to draw faces by learning one simple rule: place the eyes halfway between the top and bottom of the head.

Most people’s intuition is to place the eyes in the upper 2/3’s of the face. If you look at children’s drawings or even the smiley icon 🙂 , you can see how this is a common error. Spending some time to learn the basic rules can drastically improve your skill level.

But at the same time, don’t obsess over the rules. Only practice and trial and error can give you a worthwhile drawing style. Don’t spend energy worrying whether you’re breaking a rule, because that’s energy that could be devoted to practice.

In learning French, I’ve found it helpful to learn some of the basic grammar rules. However, I don’t worry about these when I’m trying to speak. I know I’ll break many of the rules anyways, so it’s better to practice and correct myself afterward, than to obsess over grammar.

Great Drawers Enjoy Drawing

If you enjoy something, you’ll spend more time on it. And if you spend more time on it, you’ll get better at it. And, if you’re better at it, you’ll enjoy it more. I think this increasing cycle of ability and enthusiasm is why some people are fantastic artists and other people can barely sketch a stick figure.

Even if someone only had 1% better ability than you, she might receive slightly better feedback. This would encourage her to continue drawing, increasing her skills. This increase in skill would create even greater feedback, encouraging her to continue practicing. In the end, she might have many times your skill level, just because of that cycle.

But you can short-circuit that cycle for yourself. If you push through those initial “I suck” phases of a skill, you can start getting positive feedback. Even if you’re a horrible drawer, once you push through the frustration barrier, drawing becomes more enjoyable and it will be easier to continue.

Find a Style and Master It

Don’t try to do everything. Once you find drawing techniques that look good, incorporate them into your style. A great artist you can recognize, just by the style of their work. I think it’s better to master a style, and experiment a little, than it is to try to do everything.

I learned this lesson when writing for this website. I would see other successful writers use a completely different writing style than my own. I’d try to mimic it, and the result would usually be a disaster. I’d try to write tips lists, stories or encyclopedia entries and they would fail miserably. The problem was that in trying to copy other styles, I was neglecting my own.

Some people see a style as a liability, it means that there will always be some people who don’t like your work. But I see it as a strength. Having a defined style means that it is much harder to substitute your work. If your irreplaceable, that increases the value of your work to the people who truly love it.


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