Two Counterintuitive Drawing Tips Guaranteed to Help you Draw Better

By Dan in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

I remember when I first started trying to learn how to draw. . . it was actually incredibly frustrating. :)

As much as I tried to get the shapes I was seeing down on paper correctly, every drawing still looked off. Until I finally had a breakthrough.

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Drawing Tip #1 – Draw the negative shapes

My drawings only started to look more realistic when I began drawing the negative shapes around objects.  It’s a fairly simple concept—instead of trying to draw the object in front of you, you focus on drawing the empty space around it.

You’re still drawing the same outlines, but you’re tricking your brain into doing it a much easier way! Here are a few examples of negative shapes from my drawing guide, How to Draw EXACTLY What You See.

Two examples of negative shapes in a drawing.

TIP: It also helps to use a viewfinder to “frame” your scene. That way your negative shapes are simple and contained.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re drawing a beautiful glass chandelier with a thousand refracting crystals, or a simple still life scene like the one above. Drawing negative shapes helps you “switch off” the logical side of your brain that says, “Hey, this is an onion! Onions are tricky!” and turns on the other, more artistic side of your brain that can actually draw shapes pretty well.

If you’re looking for a quick, simple way to improve your drawing ability, this is it. It worked for me, and it will absolutely work for you too.

Drawing Tip #2 – Learn to lie

All the best drawings in the world are lies.

Don’t believe me? :) Here’s what I mean. . . good artists always CHOOSE exactly what to draw. What we see in their final work of art is not the whole truth!

For example, they might choose to emphasize certain shadows in a person’s face to give their subject more character. Or maybe they AVOID drawing every hair on a person’s head, and just draw some shadows and highlights with a few wisps to make it seem like hair.

Good artists know that to create a truly beautiful drawing, you must emphasize certain things so that your viewer “gets” it at a deeper, more powerful level.

I learned that truth in college, when I was taking a still life painting course, and it influenced every piece of art I’ve made since. It’s OK to lie about what you see. . . it’s OK to emphasize. It’s even OK to remove something completely.

Once I learned this, my drawings and paintings “popped!” much more consistently. I almost always emphasize contrast, for example. Check your lightest lights and darkest darks in your own drawings—if there’s not enough contrast between them, add it in! You’ll be amazed how how much better your art can be.

Good luck, and happy drawing!

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