The #1 Drawing Mistake Plus 7 More

green and white leafed plantsNever in the history of mankind has a perfect work of art been created. “Mistakes” or better yet – “imperfections” are part of the creation process. Every drawing that we create will have its “fair share” of them. Ironically, it’s often these imperfections that attract us to drawings in the first place. There’s something special about seeing “the hand of the artist”, knowing that the mark is not quite right, yet it still communicates the subject gracefully.

I start this post discussing imperfections because we are as imperfect as artists just as we are as human beings. All of us are – no matter our skill level. We will never be perfect, no matter how “advanced” we become as artists.

We do improve over time and our mistakes become less pronounced, less evident – to the masses anyway.

Beginners make lots of mistakes. This is true in any field, with any skill. It’s part of it. And often as beginners, we aren’t even aware that we are making mistakes.

Looking back, I never really had anyone point out the mistakes that I was making. I had to discover them on my own, even though I had a fleet of teachers that had their chances to help. If only someone would have just pointed them out to me, I could have accelerated my learning.

So let’s take a look at the most common drawing mistakes made by beginners. I’ve noticed these common mistakes with my drawing students and I have committed them all myself as well. Hopefully, after reading this list, you’ll avoid making these mistakes. They are all avoidable after all, and not based on skill. Most are simply decisions that we can make.

1 – Choosing the Wrong Paper or Surface

It’s easy to get excited about the drawing process. Sometimes we can’t wait to start making marks and we completely forget about the surface. The surface of the paper is crucially important to the success of the work. Much like the foundation of a building, the surface is what supports the material. Choosing the wrong paper for the medium, or the effect that you want to achieve, dooms your chances of success right from the start, even before any marks are made.

Educate yourself about different types of papers. Experiment with different surfaces, textures, and colors until you find what works best for the medium that you suits you. Don’t assume that the paper doesn’t matter. It does.

Additional resource for choosing the right paper All About Drawing Papers

2 – Setting Unrealistic Expectations

Far too many drawing students become frustrated too easily and often quit. I’ve seen it many, many times. After just a few minutes of drawing, the student balls up the paper and tosses it. A comment usually follows that has the words “I can’t”.

Why is it that we don’t see this as often with artists with more experience? Experienced artists also become frustrated, but often they work through it.

Frustration is often the result of not meeting our expectations. Beginners have this nasty habit of setting unrealistic expectations for themselves and as a result, frustration isn’t far behind. Frustration is crippling and should be avoided at all costs.

And how do you avoid frustration as a beginner? The answer is to realize that you are a beginner and drawing is a complex skill that cannot be mastered “overnight”. We all have to start somewhere and our personal expectations should be in alignment with our current skill level. We should expect to consistently improve, not become experts after just a few drawings or lessons.

3 – Failing to Develop a Full Range of Value

Value, in terms of art, is the darkness or lightness of a color. It is one of the seven elements of art and in my opinion, the most important. It is value that informs the the viewer about the light within the scene, the volume of the subject, and the textures in the image.

If our goal is to communicate the subject representationally, then we simply cannot do it without properly using value in the drawing.

Value is measured using a value scale which positions darker values opposite from lighter values. A value scale features a gradation of tones from dark to light, with black on one end and white on the other. Darker tones are referred to as “shades”, while lighter values are called “tints”.

We understand the world around us through value relationships and most of the time, what we see has a full range of value. In other words, our eyes see a full spectrum of darks and lights no matter what we are looking at. It therefore makes logical sense that what we draw should also feature a full range of value. Our drawing should incorporate the darkest darks, the middle grays, and the lightest values as well.

For many beginners this concept is difficult to incorporate. They may understand the concept, but may be too timid to apply it to their drawings. This mistake is often amplified because we typically work on white paper with a dark medium, forcing us to start from one end of the value scale to create a full range in the drawing.

One way to overcome this error is to practice drawing on a neutral toned surface, like gray drawing paper. Use both light and dark mediums to draw. Since you are essentially starting from the center of the value scale, it’s much easier to create a full range of value in the drawing.

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