Some questions for people who are skilled visual artists


Apr 19, 2021
Were you always good at drawing? I know everything takes practice but I have literally no natural talent for art and would like to learn. Any tips you can share?
How did you develop to where you are now? Is is even possible to become good starting at a skill level of literally 0? As a kid I was always appalled by how other kids could draw stuff with such realism compared to my stick figures. They seemed to have some intuitive knowledge I lacked, which makes me wonder if it can be learned. Maybe there are resources/books you'd recommend?
I'm reasonable at drawing from life, and I think yours is an interesting question.

If you're aiming to make drawings that look like the real thing, then I guess you have to be able to accurately tell when your version is not right, and where it's wrong. If you can do that, then maybe it's just a case of practising until it does look right.

If you can end up, after much practice, making a decent copy of another picture or photograph, then I don't see why you can't go on to draw from life or even from memory.

My best tip for drawing is to focus as much on "negative space" (the shape of the space around the object) as much as the object itself.
Are you able to clearly picture images in your mind? I can't do that and while I can draw ...okay... from life, I really struggle to do anything from my mind.

Either way, practice is probably the only way to improve. Grab a book on the fundamentals and just follow it along.
I couldn't draw to save my life until I had a fantastic art professor in college.

Start with drawing from reference and direct observation (especially direct observation as it will be a more accurate reference). Learn about proportion (especially for anatomy if it's people you want to be able to draw) and about perspective. There are loads of books or online resources out there, so many that it can actually be overwhelming to know where to start.

Don't worry about drawing directly from imagination right now. There are actually very few artists that can do this without references and, for those that can, it's almost always because they have drawn those things so many times that it has simply become a matter of muscle memory. This is why practice is so important. Learn the basic fundamentals of art first (perspective, light, anatomy, and composition), and don't worry if it isn't 'perfect' the first or even fiftieth time. It takes a lot of time and a lot of practice to learn anything well.

And, really, just draw, draw, draw. Draw as much as you can and draw the same things over and over until, eventually, the accuracy improves and it becomes second nature for you.
I decided to take up drawing a few months ago, and I too felt I was completely incapable at the start. Art zero as you say! ;)

But I thought, get some good pencils/pens, some reasonable quality paper, a few books to tell me what to do, then something might happen...

(I also asked around with my Aunt who is into painting, and she gave me a few books to get started.)

So I have been following one book lately, namely How to Draw Anything by Mark Linley, just to get me started. Basically it's not technical at all (I have other books on light and perspective which are a bit more academic); he's a bit 'chatty' and he breaks down things into manageable chunks. He starts with landscapes, before going on to animals, then humans. (Okay that's not 'everything', still enough to get going!) but it's gradual and he introduces better and better ways to draw stuff - for example a whole chapter on stone bridges.

Treat everything as an experiment. I started thinking I would stick with pencil to 'learn drawing', but I've since discovered 0.1 mm fine ink pens and they are fantastic for detail, so they are now my main weapon of choice. However, I think eventually I'd like to draw directly on some sort of pad and onto a drawing app on the PC. At some point I'd like to make everything colourful, but one step at a time.

Now I wouldn't say I've produded any spectacular (drawing like writing is, I feel, a function of how much time you put into its practice) but I did these trees a week or so back, and from a standing start a few months back, they are not perfect...but not too shabby either. Better than the clouds on sticks in my first landscape picture :).

I always wanted to be able to draw but thought I sucked at it. Did a few pics here and there and they were sort of ok. Then in 2016 I decided I wanted to have a go at painting. Turns out, I'm actually ok at it. Entirely 'self-taught' but like with anything*, the more times you do something the better you get. Just keep doing it. I have to use something visual as inspiration, I don't think I could do something from my head. But yeah, just keep at it.

So... here's one of my early ones in 2016. Not great, right? But practise.

And here's a recent one from 2019:

*maybe that should be 'most things' as I suck at singing and no matter how much I sing, I still suck.
Years ago I decided I wanted to do a lot more creative stuff -- at school I was envious of the ease with which a friend of mine could draw -- and a book I found which helped me was Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. As the title suggests, it heavily subscribes to the left side brain = logical, right side brain = artistic idea, which I think has been since debunked, but I found it very helpful, not least as the book is full of what might be termed before and after sketches by her (?mostly adult?) students showing incredible improvements in technique in only a matter of months.

One of her exercises is to copy a line drawing, Portrait of Igor Stravinsky by Pablo Picasso but have the image upside-down -- your brain then has to look at the lines and copy them as they actually are not as you think you see them, if that makes sense. I tried and was surprised at how much better my effort was when done that way, and after some further exercises I ended up doing a line drawing of my husband's profile, which I was really quite proud of. She also talks of drawing the negative space and perspective and the like, but she's also good at building up one's confidence and explaining how to "see" -- I think the thing that sets many artists apart is that they really look.

I didn't progress very far, largely because I didn't put in the work needed by way of continual practice -- I don't have the temperament to do exercises for the sake of doing exercises, and I want to be doing, not trying to do -- and also because I knew I wouldn't be good enough, not in my own eyes. I firmly believe that just as with writing anyone can be taught to a certain standard, but beyond that it's necessary to have some innate talent, or at least the fixed determination to put in real hard work. However, in my case I found an artistic medium where my lack of drawing skill didn't prevent me creating work that gave pleasure -- so even if you don't think you can draw, don't give up the idea of making art in other forms.

Speaking of drawing skill...


Not the greatest of drawings, is it? It's Carpenter by Vincent van Gogh. He got better. ;)
My advice will seem to run contrary to intuition but here it is.
Start with oil painting, it is the most forgiving medium
Graduate through watercolour to finally attempting pencil drawing.
Convincing pencil drawing is the hardest won skill, it takes years.
If you go straight into pencil you run a risk of becoming demoralised
Now sketch with pencil straight away learn proportion perspective and such with it as a tool, but not as a final medium.

Paint what you actually see, not what you think should be there.
Copying a photo of a chromium object is a good exercise for that. I say photo because it has already been rendered 2 dimensionally for you.

Say this image, just paint/draw what you see, the black white and grey shapes. You just can't produce those reflections from imagination

image credit retrocycle parts
Play with as many different techniques and materials as you can. Preferably unwatched. Don't be afraid to experiment. Some you will take to like a duck to water. Others you will hate. (I can't work with pastels, my mother loved them).

Have a waste bin handy. You won't use it as much as you expect but for those time when things go irredeemably wrong no one need ever know :cool:
I heartily recommend Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered by Quentin Blake and John Cassidy. A delightful series of exercises to get you over your basic artistic stage-fright and demonstrate that you can express yourself with a pen and pencil.

Re: previous advice about starting with oils. The trouble is that the basic kit and process is involved and not inexpensive.

Easier to start with a pencil/ball point/sharpie etc, and a pad of paper, and just start sketching and doodling. Small investment, instant set-up.
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I improved at photography and digital art from zero I think. I only started taking photography seriously in my mid-late 20s, and as I got better, won local and national competitions and placed in international competitions. Improving at photography helped my composition in digital art.

I think the rules of composition are important in all visual mediums. You could start with 1 or 2 that stick out to you most: A Comprehensive Guide To Composition For Artists (and remember, all rules can be broken). I think "simplification" is a good rule to start with.
My best tip for drawing is to focus as much on "negative space" (the shape of the space around the object) as much as the object itself.
We were told this at school. Unfortunately, the first object we were given to draw was an old motorcycle with wire-spoke wheels: a nightmare that completely knocked me sideways as I began to doubt that I could draw even a simple shape at the same time as trying to make it fit with all the others (of which there were far too many), and all the while thinking, "I can draw the spokes, however many there are!"

He was much better at teaching about perspective and vanishing points. (Luckily, probably, we didn't get into the more complex aspects so, unlike the "drawing shapes", I was frightened off.

Just keep doing it.
I like that "2019" painting, Mouse. You can almost see the cogs turning in its head, so it isn't just your technique that has improved with practice; it's your "eye".
I suck at singing and no matter how much I sing, I still suck.
I see the problem you have: for singing to work, it's better to "blow" rather than suck.... :rolleyes: :)
How great that you're so keen on art!I have always drawn and painted and taught art for a good while to kids and adults. I suggest the best thing to do is to begin by copying or drawing from life, and draw what you actually see - not what you think may be there. Try a simple subject to begin with and practice with slightly harder things gradually. This may take a while but that doesn't matter. And remember that all artists, everybody, however fab thery are, all make a ton of mistakes!

This is one of mine - Goldberry from LOTR.


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All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil, some time, and the patience to make mistakes. Just have a go :giggle: (y).

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