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So you’re a kid looking down at your anime or comic characters and wondering why after a few years of doodling things aren’t looking like how you imagine them in your head. Or maybe you’re a college student who’s wondering why the colours in your paintings aren’t coming out right. Maybe you’re an older fellow or lady who’s dabbling in art and you’re having trouble with drawing hands. Whoever you are and whatever your problem, you all have something in common;

You want to get better at representational art.

Here on deviantart it’s often the case where a noobie will ask a question and another noobie will answer with the very uninspired answer of "practice practice practice." At its core this advice is sound, but the noobie-teacher has just regurgitated what he or she has heard a thousand times over from other would-be noobie-teachers and has not expressed much else. Diligence is the key, but without a direction or goal this diligence might be wasted furiously doodling things that will neither improve your skills nor expand your creativity. In what will hopefully be a concise guide to getting better at art, I’ll go through WHY you’re having difficulties, how to improve and share the defining ideas and principles that helped me learn. I’m not a pro, and everyone has their own way of learning, so please critically consider what I say.

Identifying the problem:---

Why was Michelangelo able to paint the way he did, why are there professional artists and even enthusiasts that make it seem so easy while you’re struggling to just get a pose right? I’ve been there, I’ve struggled over and over on a single face or pose or scene and wondered why it looked nothing like the wondrous images in my imagination. It’s frustrating. So what’s the problem? The problem is that while we may say that “we’ve been drawing for years” the truth is we’ve never really bothered to LEARN while we drew. We were content with recycling what was already in our head: drawing from imagination the same characters and poses over and over and over. That is NOT how you improve. We never took a large portion of our time to draw what was around us and soak up how the world actually looks. This applies to how an arm looks/what muscles are underneath, how form and lighting really behaves, what colours really look like, anything. How could we expect to progress when we were closing our eyes and our minds to the world? The general rule is that if you never introduce anything new to your mind or your drawing experience, nothing new will come out of it.

From anime to comics to any style of representational art under the sun, they all come from the same source: real life. The reason we recognize an anime face is because it’s based off a real face. The reason we see a fantasy sunset as such is because it’s based off a real sunset. No matter how exaggerated the features or dynamic the light, all of it has a basis in real life.

How to go about improving:---

So we’ve figured out the fact that we can’t draw well is because we’ve been neglecting to study real life. Now comes time for the actual action. But simply ‘looking’ at life and trying to remember the features of say, a nude body will not do. We humans learn from repetition and everyone who draws a good face has drawn many from life. That’s the root of it all:

Draw from life.

If you want to get better at drawing poses, draw people posing. NOT from imagination, remember that’s just a rehashing of your old ideas. Learn from drawing a friend sitting down, a picture you see on the internet, anything. There is more to it than that though. If you mindlessly doodle away you’re not learning much. You have to focus your efforts in accurately observing your subject. Don’t inject anime into it (at first at least) and refrain from taking liberties when you’re just staring out. Your job is to draw and soak up how the thing REALLY looks. Drawing accurately is tough though, we weren’t meant to be organic cameras. This is a problem since when I was first starting out I noticed very little improvement until I learned how to draw from life accurately. So to progress, we need to accurately observe, so how to we accurately observe?

The key is to measure with your eyes.

This can mean using your pencil to measure your subject. This way I personally feel too mechanical and takes away from the spirit of observation. I measure with my eyes. How to do it is to try to compare the sizes and shapes of some objects or features in your subject to other features. An example would be looking at the width of a person’s eye and comparing it to the width or length of their nose. By referring these shapes and distances to each other, it’s much easier to come about an accurate drawing. As a general rule, work from large shapes to small, don’t render out an eye then move onto the nose. Start with the general shape and size of the head compared to the neck and shoulders, then work inward, making sure to check and double check that features line up.

After proceeding like this for a while, I noticed an improvement in my overall drawing ability. I was soaking up this new information and applying it in my other drawings. There was another problem though: Things looked flat, and I couldn’t create things in perspective. This is where another key idea comes into play:


Planes are the flat geometric shapes that make up a 3d form. A side of a square is a plane. If you shine a light on that cube, you would see that depending on how much a certain plane is facing towards the light, it will appear lighter or darker. A plane on the side of the light source will be lighter than one facing away. There are subtle variations on the light and dark as well, as maybe the top of the cube could be lighter or darker than the side facing the light. This use of planes to trace over a 3d form helps in ALL areas of art. Everything that is 3d can be turned into planes. The key is to think in 3 dimensions within your drawing. Think about how a nose pushes OUT into 3d space while the cheeks slide away and recede. It takes practice, but this is the most important thing in creating depth.

Stay away from tutorials:---

“What?!” You say, “but tutorials are there to help us learn!” Yes they are, and certain tutorials for things like how to use a program, how to create a webpage and any other clear-cut step-by-step activity are generally helpful. Art tutorials are often harmful. But why? Because not only are the people creating the tutorials (at least on deviant art) not qualified enough to create them, but they restrict your learning. They make you think in terms of ‘formulas’ as if ‘this is the only way to shade hair’ or ‘eyes always look like this.’ if you start using tutorials for your learning you run the risk of copying the tutorial’s creator’s way of making art. Life is the best tutorial.

There are of course exceptions to this; many tutorials are more guides than anything and discuss general principles such as light, motion etc. Here's an example of a very good general art tutorial:… These are helpful in making you understand certain aspects of art. Keep an eye out for tutorials that get too specific; these are to be avoided.


Simple enough isn’t it? The more you know about the world, about art that has come before, about history, science, anything, the more you will be able to draw upon. Creativity draws from your well of knowledge, and so the more you know, the more your creativity can grow. Learning about the tribal practices of an ancient tribe or about how a certain aspect of biology works can influence and inspire you in unexpected ways. Subjects and shapes you see from old machinery or weaponry can help you imagine other novel shapes. Art from the past can teach you more about dramatic lighting and direction than anything else.

Be open to critique:---

Part of the reality of being an artist is knowing that there will always be someone (and most often, a large group of people) who is better than you. Knowing this is inspiring though, since anyone who knows or has experienced more than you can become a potential temporary teacher. Ask someone you admire or someone who’s artwork you like to critique a particular piece of yours. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes will detect things in 2 minutes that you’ve failed to see with your hours of work. Don’t feel like it’s a personal attack, be happy that this person pointed out something that would have remained hidden to you forever; your knowledge has increased because this person has helped you.

That’s about it. This guide has kept away from many of the basic principles of art and specific techniques mainly because it's only a directional aid: you now know that you must practice filling your visual library through studies, measure accurately to ensure that information is being absorbed, and learn planes as it's one of the most important principles in art bar none. From here, you can choose to study what you wish.

There are of course certain unchanging principles in art, but for the most part the best way to learn is on your own. No matter if you are in an art program or going it alone, your art education is in your hands. The harder you work the better you’ll be, so best get started :)
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WaniLeviathan Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I kind of understand what your saying but mostly don't. I would like a little help for something if that's okay.

  I tried drawing from life a little and I didn't really learn much. I've been trying different practice methods and haven't gotten any results. I know I'm doing something wrong,so I wanted to know how exactly do I practice?

  How can I learn information from drawing, you said measuring with your eyes is one way but I still don't understand how to do that really.

   I just want to know how to actually learn from drawing practice instead of mindlessly using different practice methods.  
  I would appreciate some help in understanding all of this.
XHayJ Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Thank you. I really needed to hear this advice. :D
foureyedbabe Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2014
This really helped. Thank you so much. wide smile msn emoticon 
ChildrenofOsirisArt Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I really appreciate this great advice. Thank you.
CapnNOMN Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013
This was extremely helpful, thank you!!!!
Fortunato-Sors Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Sage advice
DarkWolf619 Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Ah, know I know my problem. I draw from my mind, of which I am able to forget the next day, so I don't have that "Picture" anymore. You tought me that drawing from life, and larning from it will do more help than that "Practice makes perfect" or my drawing on imagination or impulse. I must thank you for that. You have no idea about how much this helped. Thank you very much! Even though I am just a student going into High School next year, maybe now I can make some real art. Ger to know my skills even more. After all, I do plan on making a career out of art.
Photoshopper-slayer Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
I've been drawing since 4th grade and now i'm doing my degree. I still face hard time when it comes to drawing pose/body and nose..sometimes mouth too :C Maybe my problem is like you said throwing away what i drew without checking if it's accurate or not. Also i find myself drawing the same face most of the time :C :C I'm gonna try to see if your guidelines work for me
TheCollaredCrow Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you for this. Really. The past few years I've seen little improvement to my art. There has been some, but overall I've been in some kind of art rut, and it's only gotten deeper. However, this advice was very much helpful. I've never really drawn from real life, it's always been from my head. Now I see that that was my problem.

I'll now be more observant and draw regularly from life, rather than relying on shapes and guidelines.

AnoNeko Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This was not onlyeducation, but inspirational and enjoyable as way. Thank you so much for posting this. It seems to answer ALL of the questions I've constantly been asking, where as the ONLY answer I'd get was "practice".

In this I found what I was looking for; How exactly should I practice?

Thank you so much!!
Vitaessesum Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
You know, what you said in the critique section is absolutely true.

When someone does point something out you can't see, you WILL then see it.

I recently drew one of my girls and submitted it to a group which it got declined. I asked why and maybe some critique as to why and they said that the hips could be larger. One they said that, I saw it immediately and the proportions looked way off to me than they would if I were not to receive the critique.

In case you're wondering, it was this: [link] that the person pointed out the hips could be larger; and it's so true.
ToonsGirl Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2012  Student General Artist
You say that taking criticism is part of being an artist and don't take their feedback as personal attacks; they just want to help you.

But what do I do when people say empty sentences like "draw something interesting/funny!" Nothing interests me.
EzekielDanson Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
So this is much more informative than anything I ever got. Ever. Period.

Especially the part where you mentioned the "practice practice practice" thing. I hear that a lot and what people fail to realize in that statement is that practice does not make perfect. Perfect Practice makes perfect. So unless you have that direction, it's useless practice.

A very key point in the post, in my opinion.

Also, I found a book called "masterclass drawing" which takes you step by step the same process here. It first tells you to draw what you see in life, draw still poses, draw people. I found that interesting, and I thought maybe you have read it.
dartiste Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012
I wanted to ask you a question? you see i have this book of Drawing The Head & Figure By Jack Hamm witch is a step by step book. In i wonder if instead of copying the way the head was drawn by the artist. That i should just learn the basic stuff like were you put the eyes, hair, mouth , and ear lines and the figure as well in then apply it to life drawing or to a person. Is that useful? also i have these anatomy books witch teaches you were the muscles are at and etc as well how the move their head,arms, and etc. In another book that doesn't teaches you step by step of how to draw animals but its a pretty good reference martial for drawing animals. also is it helpful to look at picture of people, animals, plants and etc to help you understand and draw better. Am i going in the right direction of learning how to draw and the books i have are they useful too me? Can you please tell me. Thanks too your journal i finally know of kinda of what too do and you open my eyes to the right path of learning. Thank You!
Rhineville Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Hi dartiste,

It'd be easier to see if you're on the right track if you had art uploaded that we could look at. right now I can't really comment on that only by the way you describe your studies. Copying the way the artist drew the head can inform you of where he put the ears, nose etc. Remember that looking at things alone won't help you draw better, you need to DRAW what you're looking at. Just draw draw draw and NOTICE things as you draw. then when you're done try to draw that same type of thing from imagination.
dartiste Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2012
Thank You
qiunzo Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2012
I know you did this tutorial back in 2008, and now me reading it 4 years later, I've gotten alot from it. I myself use a good bit of tutorials, I want break into comic book penciling, and im having minor, but some success. right now Ive been watching David Finch work shop videos on the subject, but im also studying books Like Force!, making comics, perspective, bridgemans anatomy, framed ink and perspective by david chelsea for composition, figure placement, anatomy, and perspective. Im i heading in the right direction?
Rhineville Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Learning from other artists helps, but unless you're also doing a good deal of anatomy studies, nude studies, colour and value studies, basically any sort of observational study from life or reference where you try to replicate something as best you can to learn what it's about.... then I'd say not really, no. Looking at your art you HAVE improved, both in terms of anatomical knowledge and the confidence of your lines. I'd say the biggest problem with your art right now seems to be overall stiffness, which might point to an unfamiliarity with the natural flow and weight of real human bodies. You might do well to try to make your figures a bit more natural, right now they have very generic comics anatomy. If you're familiar with Adam hughes and Alex ross, take notice of how they've differentiated themselves from the rest of the comics crowd. Not every single muscle separation needs to be defined with a harsh, dark line that shows through their costumes.

Anyways I hope that helps, and I'm glad this has helped you before. Try to do more drawings from the source; life, rather than mostly from other artists.
qiunzo Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2012
Thanks Jason! I areally appreciate the advise. I have been doing alot of anatomical studies in the past months. I really just used finch's videos to study his scientific approach to understanding anatomical structure. for natural movement which im currently working on, I've been studying pictures of crowds and also techniques from various animators. The Force!:dynamic life drawing for animators book has been helping me understand more as well. I will keep you posted on the progress i make.

Thanks again!
AWdeV Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2011
Absolutely fantastic guide. It's helped me realise what I've been doing wrong for a while and inspired me to try again, this time from actual real-life. :)
TwilightSentinel Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2011  Student General Artist
This is an excellent guide! Definitely helped me understand how to improve, and sadly, most of the pitfalls you mentioned, I've done them. I've used art tutorials, didn't accurately measure life, etc.

I also really hated using tutorials mainly because, like you said, they restricted my learning. And if anyone sees my art, I'm sure most of you will say "Wow, this is really bad.", which I am completely agreeing with you. I have very few drawings that I'm proud of...

I'm been trying to learn basic human anatomy by reading up on a few books by the legendary artist George Bridgman. I'm also looking at various references such as anatomy articles, medical websites, etc.
Rhineville Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Glad it helped :)

George bridgman is great, just remember his book is all about very basic shapes, rythym etc. He's not the most accurate when it comes to muscles in his teaching diagrams, so augment that with some loomis if you can.
TwilightSentinel Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2011  Student General Artist
I've looked at his books too, especially Figure Drawing for All It's Worth. I've also found a good one for design and invention of figures too by Micheal Hampton.
Vaejoun Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Very nice to read.

To the measuring: I would add that its very helpfull to actually measure things when you start drawing them for the first time. Especially animals. I do this a lot when in the zoo. I use my pen and try to get some proportions, for example: Is the eye of the lion in the middle between nose and ears? This helps a lot when you actually try to draw the same animal later, without the it in front of you. ;)
P-A-U-S-E Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2011
Great realization to my problems. I've always thought drawing from my mind is key. But the way you stated it, I've been wrong for a long time now. I'll try this method as much as possible.
IMOPPI23 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2011
Very interesting article.
iamAsami Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is very helpful! thank you!
KineticElements Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2010
Well said and good points mentioned. My art teachers, every one of them said the same thing over and over again. Draw from real life, the rest is easier. Thanks for taking the time to write this up for us.
deviMuurahainen Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2010
I'm frustrated because I'm been drawing now for a year, but I haven't improved much because I don't focus on one technique. It's stupid to have charcoals, pencils, aquarells and wacom and also trying to improve using all of them at the same time. I wish I'd bought only the pencils...sigh
flowerdeers Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wow...Y'know...This has really helped me...I sure will remember this in my career of being a don't know how much you helped me, This is more of a life lesson to me the "Say no to drugs"
RitzyKat Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2010
Someone linked this to me and now they made me stop drawing forever. I hate everything now....
Rhineville Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Seeing this article made you stop drawing? I don't quite understand...
amiliucoolio Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2010
Thank you! for taking your time in making this this has helped tons, :)
t3haxle Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This helped me sooo much
SharkBoot Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2010  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Im bookmarking this, so i can read it again sometime.
Zwopper Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Great stuff will last - like this article! :D
WavingMonsterStudios Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2010  Professional General Artist
Good advice.
novaheaven Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2010
I love the insight you brought to our attention.
It's not as technical, and sounds more natural and down to earth than most others.

I tend to forget the important aspects when I draw, the thins that matter most to me, this became to help me rekindle those feelings.

Thanks, I'll be sure to keep this in mind. :)
Thevakien Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2010  Student General Artist
Well said! I enjoy it, very good advice indeed! Oh, the part: "This can mean using your pencil to measure your subject. This way I personally feel too mechanical and takes away from the spirit of observation. I measure with my eyes. How to do it is to try to compare the sizes and shapes of some objects or features in your subject to other features." = I'm glad I am not the only one who use this method! At school the teacher told me to measure with outstretch your art with pencil in your and and close one of your eyes and measure it (imagine that when doing life drawing and you've to measure someone's nuts :fear:).

Anyhow, very good advice! Let just hope the young artists who just starting out will look at this and inspired.
Born2Art Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2009
wow exactly what i have been thinking the past few days you just said it thank you so much.
arbrenoir Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2009  Professional Interface Designer
thanks for sharing!! :heart: It's nice to see great artists that want to share their knowledge, great stuff !
Fauxwerks Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2009
A very good article. I also completely agree about the sand trap of frustration.

For me, trying to find the best starting point was the hardest part. I'd look at various techniques, tutorials, and methods of other artists but it all seemed to require an unmentioned body of knowledge. (Throw in constant fretting over wondering if I'm using the right brushes or if there's some infinitely more efficient technique and it's easy to get swallowed by your own over-thinking.)

Starting with life seems so simple it's hard to understand why I overlooked it for so long.

Thanks again for the writeup.
ogiyose Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2009   Digital Artist
maaan, awsome! thanks!
maejonin Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2009  Professional General Artist
I really agree on the staying away from tutorials. They somewhat help me, but then again it make me throw a fit cause its not always the same light source and I feel like I am copying the way the artist draws. It makes me throw a fit, alot. I don't want to become a giant copycat.
Daquan Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2009
A bit late but definitely very good guide on how to improve. My artwork always looked flat, but even I would learn later on that anything you do should revolve around basic, core principles.
AliceSacco Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2009   Digital Artist
I copy a lot, and i can copy decentely.
But when i try to draw something of mine, when i see paper and take pencil, images that i have in mind are replaced with old wrong and ugly images, and i can't draw nothing, even with references.
at least i can copy, and i wonder if i can learn to draw.
metalheadkomik Featured By Owner May 22, 2009   General Artist
love this news :)
not many peolple have this important knowledge
Jessiedryfhout Featured By Owner May 2, 2009
this was amazing, i've been wondering for so long why i have these fantastic images in my head that i can't seem to get on paper! :)
you're awesome.
Semikon Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2009  Student Digital Artist
wonderful guide
doghateburger Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:worship: Well said.
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December 4, 2008


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