Have you ever watched Bob Ross effortlessly paint a beautiful landscape in seemingly just a few strokes? Or perhaps you’ve seen a street artist sketch out amazing human likenesses in almost no time at all? Yet, whenever you try to draw without a reference it looks cartoon-ish. How come some artists are able to conjure up life-like portrayals on the spot?
I found myself in this conundrum recently when I started to branch out from my usual subject of horses to a new subject: cats. While I can usually sketch up a realistic looking horse without much trouble, much trouble, something about my cat sketches just didn’t look right.
I realized that my problem was my lack of familiarity with the subject matter. You see, I’ve been drawing horses for years. Years of sketching. And studying. And revising. And correcting when something just doesn’t look right. As a result, I’ve developed the skill of drawing horses free-form. The reference of how a horse should look, the shapes its body is made up of, is in my head.
Once you have memorized and mastered the basic form of your subject, you can get creative with it, experimenting with poses, positioning, or lighting to create new artwork, and maybe eventually be able to draw those realistic pictures straight from your imagination!
The key is to start practicing. To improve my cat drawing skills, I embarked on a cat sketching boot camp. After taking a ton of pictures, of my own cats and the cats around the barn, I started intensive sketch practice. Not just copying the images, but breaking them down and studying the underlying shapes and angles. And here are the results:
So here are my tips for you to improve your own drawing:
- Study References. A. Lot. If there is a particular subject you want to be able to draw well (people, birds, cars…) find lots of pictures of that subject and practice.
- Learn to find the underlying shapes in your subject. For instance, cats are composed of three roughly equal size circles:
The front of a horse’s body can be broken down into wedges:
- Break the drawing down into smaller stages. This ties in with the previous point. You’ve got your subject broken down into circles and lines, how do you make the transition to fully-shaded final product? The answer is to break the image down again, this time looking for the shapes of the light and dark spots. First shade in the darkest areas:
From here it’s just refining and darkening the darkest spots until you get the results you desire:
Completed Cat Sketch. The detail is achieved by expanding on the loosely shaded areas from the previous stage, darkening the darkest spots, and blending everything together.
I hope anyone who is looking to advance their drawing skills will find this post helpful. Practice, the product of time and effort, along with trial and error (and a lot of erasing!), really is the best way to become good at drawing. If you have any questions or tips for other artists, please feel free to comment, I’d love to hear from you!
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