Okay, let me preface this with a warning: I am not a professional artist. I am a high school student who knows very little about the outside world and what it’s like to do art all day, every day, as more than just a hobby. Therefore, take my advice with a grain of salt. However, I am more than familiar with feeling lost and stuck or wishing I were better at something and hating myself for not being good enough. So here’s fifteen things I remind myself on a daily basis when I’m drawing.

  1. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH.ย I cannot stress this enough, kids. If you constantly tell yourself that you aren’t good enough to do something, you’ll never be free to let yourself grow and flourish in that field. You’ll never know all the potential you’ve got stored up inside you to do something great. I will admit, this is one I still struggle with, but it’s very important to remember.
  2. Don’t compare your art to others’. It’s okay to look at other people’s artwork and admire it, or to draw inspiration from things you enjoy about their pieces. What’s not okay is to look at someone’s art and think, Oh my god, they’re so much better than me. I should just give up now. That kind of mentality will lead you into a dark, depressing pit from which it’s difficult to accomplish anything, much less even get started. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that everyone is different and that you’re still learning, and pick up your pencil again.
  3. It’s okay to use references! It’s nothing to be ashamed of! Seriously, especially if you’re just starting out, drawing references can be your best friend. However, I would also recommend you
  4. Draw from real life. Nothing beats the kind of experience you gather from drawing what you see. Even if you’re not a fan of more realistic styles, it’s still incredibly useful for learning how to equate real-life physics and dimensions into your art, which will grant it a much more cohesive and effortless feel.
  5. Draw as much as possible. Someone out there somewhere said that in order to become incredibly good at something, you have to do it for 10,000 hours. Not in a row, though (that would be insane). So in my opinion, every little sketch and stray doodle on the corner of your math homework goes towards those 10,000 hours. Carry a little sketchbook and pencil with you so if you see a particularly adorable dog, or an interestingly-dressed subway goer, or a piece of architecture that particularly strikes your fancy, you can pull out your supplies and scribble away.
  6. Don’t be afraid to mess up. If you spend twenty minutes and you just can’t get that shoe or finger or nostril just right, move on. Don’t linger on it. Your artwork doesn’t have to be perfect, just as the thing you’re drawing probably isn’t perfect. Everything has its imperfections.
  7. Draw fast. Draw slow. Draw small. Draw big. The more experience you have with different ways of drawing, the better. Get out of your comfort zone! You might find that you like one way of drawing more than you ever could have thought.
  8. Stealing is okay, as long as it isn’t direct plagiarism. No, I’m not talking about physically stealing things. That still isn’t okay. But if you see something you like in another person’s artwork, something that inspires you and piques your creativity, then don’t be afraid to incorporate it into your own work. That’s part of how I’ve developed my own unique “style” over the years I’ve been drawing, and it’s still constantly evolving. There’s a great book about this that I highly recommend called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It’s a short, easy read with lots of great advice on how to be an artist — and not just a fine artist, but any kind of creative human.
  9. Everybody has their off days. Some days things just aren’t going to work. You’ll try to put pencil to paper and you’ll come up short, which can be ridiculously frustrating. This happens to pretty much every artist I’ve ever met. And if you’re an artist who never has off days, then holy crap are you lucky. Please email me and tell me your secrets.
  10. Draw for you. I think this generally goes for most things, but if you’re not doing something because you want to be doing it, because you enjoy it, then you’re not doing the right thing and should stop doing that thing immediately. Drawing shouldn’t have to feel like a chore to you. It’s a realm of infinite possibilities that spans the length of your imagination. If you can imagine something, you can draw it. So draw what you want, how you want, when you want. If it makes you happy to draw something, then draw it.
  11. People suck sometimes. Don’t listen to them. Part of doing art is capturing something that you want to share, then sharing it with others in the hopes that they’ll love it as much as you do. Sometimes they don’t love it, and that’s fine, but sometimes they’re rude about it. Some people just like to be rude. They’re not people worth paying attention to. But on the other hand,
  12. Constructive criticism is your friend! Know how to take it graciously. I am not the best at this. Being a naturally anxious person who worries way too much what other people think of me and the things I happen to produce, I tend to get carried away and confuse helpful criticism with a vicious attack on my abilities as an artist. This isn’t the right attitude to have. Constructive criticism and peer evaluation are meant to help you get better as an artist, not break down your self-confidence. That being said, it’s good to know the difference between the two, because like I said earlier, people just suck sometimes and like being rude to be rude.
  13. Don’t be judgemental. It’s easy to look at a piece that you’ve done and see only the negatives, not the things you did well. But instead of seeing them as mistakes and flaws, look at them as chances for improvement. Don’t think Ugh, I really botched those arms. I’m a terrible artist. [Insert name of admirable artist] wouldn’t have done that. Instead, thinkย Hmm, those arms don’t look quite right. What about them is off? What could I have done to draw them differently? How could I change them to make them appear more well-proportioned? Hoo boy do I struggle with this one. It’s hard to do, but trust me, it’s important.
  14. Work in lots of different mediums. Experiment. Explore. Don’t feel like you have to just stick to a pencil and paper. There are so many outlets of creativity that you’re missing out on by staying with what you know.
  15. Talk to other artists. Share work. Exchange advice. Do art trades. Listen to what they have to say. Instead of seeing them as competitors, see them as teachers. Learn from them, befriend them, enjoy them. You don’t have to see the world as a competition and other artists as your enemies. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.
  16. Enjoy what you’re doing. Have fun! Art is amazing, artists are amazing, and you are amazing. Love yourself, and love what you do.

2 thoughts on “16 things to do and keep in mind if you want to draw but don’t know where to start (or, aubren preaches at you about life lessons that also just happen to apply to art)

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