18 Ways To Get Better At Drawing Without Drawing
Ever wish that there was a way to get better at drawing without drawing? You’re in luck, because we’ve got 18 ways to improve your drawing skills without touching pencil to paper.
Before we dive into these non-drawing techniques for getting better at drawing, we should start with a disclaimer:
The best way to get better at drawing is to draw. You’ve got to find the time in your day to pick up your pen or pencil of choice and doodle, draw, or design.
That said, there are plenty of circumstances that don’t allow us to hit our daily draw streaks. From ill-timed work trips to nagging wrist pains, from late nights to general laziness, you’ve got a lot on your plate.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered 18 ideas to help you draw that don’t directly involve drawing. They do still take action, though, which is why we’ve labeled each of the techniques as verbs.
Visualization is one of the best ways to improve a skill set without actual practice.
As shown in a study conducted at the University of Chicago, visualization had a dramatic effect on free throw shooting success. Among groups told to practice free throws, think about successfully making free throws, and a group doing nothing, the first two groups improved nearly the same amount (24% to 23%).
This is directly applicable to drawing. Think about the shapes, lines, and techniques you could apply to the page. Visualize the successful strokes, blends, and marks you would use to create.
More often known nowadays as a vision board, a collage is a visual representation of a theme or an idea.
For a collage, we tear or cut pieces of paper from other sources and arrange them to make something new. We make decisions about the size and shape, the colors to incorporate, and how to pull them all together into a satisfying end result.
Drawing requires similar decision-making skills. From the tools to use, the perspective of the objects, the colors, and the techniques, a drawing is a collage of our own skills.
By making a collage, you get to exercise a similar set of abilities that help you to visualize the end product - and use visuals to create it.
The practice of drawing can be a lonely process. When you show up to your space everyday to draw, you’re showing up with yourself, your process, and your critiques.
If you are looking for a break from drawing, but still want to improve, it’s time to ask others for their feedback on what you’ve been working on.
While this step is especially important if you hope to share your drawings with the world later on, it can be valuable even if drawing is just a personal hobby.
Asking for feedback from friends and family can be scary. Try not to pay too much attention to notes that are overly harsh or overly flowery. What you’re looking for are ideas that help you see something you hadn’t yet noticed that can give you a direction to move in.
No matter how they respond, accept the notes with grace and remember you aren’t your drawings. Any criticisms or praise you receive is just about the work itself.
Drawing is an inherently creative process. Yet it can also be one that forces us to be a bit removed. Drawing puts up a barrier between you and what you’re drawing - a landscape, a model, a bowl of fruit.
So for this exercise, it’s time to interact with the subject. Go beyond touching it (if it’s inanimate!), play with it. Lift it up. Move it around. Really feel where the weight is. What is the texture like? How does light reflect off it when you turn it? How does it look in another setting? In another room? Beside another object?
If it’s a grander space or landscape, play in those spaces. Change your angle. Get up close. Zoom back out. And as you play, think about how you might start to capture this new side when you start to draw again.
There are some days where showing up to draw feels like its own reward. You see your improvements. You get into the zone faster. And you come out refreshed.
Still, there might be some days you can’t draw so it’s beneficial to have another reward system in place. With this pack of achievements, you can work toward both drawing and non-drawing goals, like choosing your tools, going to an art museum, and sharing your work online.
For many artists, having a set location to show up and create in is an important part of their creative process.
Still, you don’t have to commit to something that’s not working for you. So if you’re finding yourself in a rut with your drawing practice, now could be a good time to move to someplace else.
From inside your home to a nearby cafe, from your garage to the garden, or from lightbulbs to natural lights, how you define your new setting is up to you. Even changing where you sit at your table can give you a new perspective, new shadows, and new ideas.
In the early days of drawing, our masterpieces tended to be very two-dimensional. It’s only after practicing that we learn about depth, proportion, and perspective.
If you’re taking a break from drawing, you can still strengthen your understanding of these more advanced concepts. Grab a ruler or measuring tape and size up the world around you. How does the coffee cup in front of you compare to the book behind it? How far apart do they need to be before they look the same size?
Grounding your drawing with some real-world measurements can help you improve the realism of your works when you return to it.
As much as we move around, the law of gravity has a pesky way of limiting how we look at the world.
Because we spend the vast majority of our time seeing the world the same way, we naturally recognize certain symbols, shapes, and setups.
For this exercise, take a picture of the object in front of you or the landscape you’d like to draw, then turn that picture upside down.
Go from what you recognize - skyscrapers, hills, bridges - to the unfamiliar and the abstract. Returning to the first idea in this list, visualize how you might represent them on the page. This practice will help you better understand the underlying shapes of an image to more accurately represent it.
Getting better at drawing - however you define better - isn’t always about looking forward. After all, if you’re improving, you’re thinking about how you used to be in the past.
While looking backward may not always be pleasant, it helps you to see what you’ve been improving on - and what you’ve been avoiding working on. For that reason, this step is about interrogating yourself.
Take a critical eye and look over some past pieces. Where do you see improvement? Where do you see stagnation? If you’ve been avoiding drawing profiles, the skill to draw profiles won’t just happen - so make a note of it and by the time you do this process again in the future, you’ll have made some progress.
The important part of this step is to be honest with yourself. There’s no need to be overly harsh about where you used to be, just realistic.
How can cleaning make you a better artist?
When you have a well-maintained work space, you’re more likely to use it.
When your equipment is well-stocked and ready to use, less gets in the way of your creative process.
And when there are fewer impediments, you can focus on what matters. So today, take stock and get to cleaning. Clear up your table, clean your tools, remove any dead or dying pens and pencils.
When you are ready to return to drawing, you will enter with a newfound clarity and energy that’ll surely help you to improve.
When we spend a lot of time drawing on our own, we can get into a bit of a creative vacuum.
Whether we’re creating from memory or using a source image, it’s easy to get focused on one image or idea. So for this step, we’re taking two images (or more!) and comparing them.
Instead of drawing, just place them next to each other and see what stands out about each of them. How does one use space compared to the other? How about perspective? And color? If you are using this simply to hone your own observational skills, that’s one thing. To improve your drawing, it can help to pick reference pictures that are similar in theme or style to what you create.
This can help pull out different angles, different techniques, and different perspectives for when you return to the drawing board. As you continue this practice, hold on to the images you responded well to. Once you notice you have achieved a certain style or look, or that your own work is getting a little too similar to the inspiration pieces, you’ll know to look for more inputs.
We have five senses, yet we often think of drawing as being just about sight. By being more proactive with touch, we can improve on how our drawing represents the world.
Like a sommelier needs to taste and smell to expand their palate, an artist should get different tactile sensations to expand their understanding of the physical world.
By physically handling things, you’ll have a stronger sense of how they fit in the world, making it easier for you to draw them when the time comes. So touch soft and sharp things, wooden and metal things, plastic and natural things - and (almost) everything in between.
Just because you need a break from drawing doesn’t mean you have to take a break from seeing the world.
Though better with a camera instead of a camera phone, this is your way of remembering to look at the world through a frame. Do you see a building you love? An expression you can’t wait to capture? Particularly sparkly sunshine? Photos are a great way to capture the details your stuffed mind may not hold onto. Plus, as you spend more time looking for material to study, you’ll only be increasing the amount of inspirational material you have to draw.
Gold-medal winning marathon runners don’t run every single day. The best basketball players incorporate rest into their routines.
So it’s okay if you just need to take a day off from drawing. Often the body needs to rest to process and to incorporate new skills, so why beat yourself up about it?
Do something besides drawing and thinking about drawing. Know that with all of the work you have put in thus far, you’re not going to lose out on your base. When you come back refreshed and enthusiastic, you’re sure to get better at drawing.
If you’ve spent a lot of time on the same drawing, you can begin to experience tunnel vision. You only see what you’ve been seeing and thinking of a new perspective becomes challenging.
So instead of drawing today, recreate the photo crop in real life. Take one of your current projects along with a few pieces of solid-colored paper. Start by pushing in a piece over one side, and then over the other.
What does that help you see? How necessary is what you covered up to the whole sense of the drawing? Does that change in focus help you understand the piece better? Where could you stand to add in more detail or texture?
By removing some of the clutter and by limiting what we can look at, we can focus on the piece in front of us and make decisions that will improve the piece - and our drawing.
Drawing may be about the physical act of putting pen and pencil to paper (or to tablet), but the artistic process can be a much larger one.
To improve your drawing, it could be worthwhile to start writing. Think about the obstacles you’re facing, what you’re trying, what tips have worked, what you’re hoping to improve on in the future. This doesn’t have to be anything public-facing like a blog, it just needs to be for you.
Just like going back and analyzing some of your past works can help you embrace your improvements (and confront your bad habits), this act of documenting what you’re working on will keep you present on the path to improvement.
Now it’s time to transform touch to art. While drawing is incredible for its ability to make two dimensions feel like three, there’s something satisfying and creatively stimulating about actually working in that third dimension.
To get your hands sculpting, start with some basic material - be it clay, LEGO bricks, spare clothes - and start molding and shaping.
When you sculpt, you create a form with a raw material. This leads you through the same process that you do with drawing, which will ultimately lead to an improved process overall.
Drawing is our way of interpreting the world around us. One of the best ways to improve our drawing, then, is to improve how we observe that world.
Observing is more than just seeing. In the context of drawing, it is about the creative and technical interpretation of what you see. Is there something noteworthy about the perspective lines of this cityscape? How do the shadows change when the sunlight goes through a window first?
By seeking to observe the world, instead of just seeing it, we give ourselves more material with which to draw.