This article is a compilation of beginner artist fails that I have seen many times from individuals who are just getting started as new young artists.
The purpose of doing a critique of anyone’s work is always self-improvement, and we all have fallen for these common mistakes at one point or another. Don’t sweat it.
This article is not to make you question if you are good enough to be an artist. It’s not here to make you cry or to want to stop drawing. This list is just a way that you can check yourself, realize what you are doing wrong, and work toward fixing it.
The first step in escaping these art fails and changing, is always realizing what you are doing wrong.
Some people might disagree with my list, and that’s just fine. Let me know in the comments if you disagree or if you think there are things that I should have mentioned but didn’t!
#1 Drawing “Sketchy” “Scratchy” Lines Instead of Long Graceful Lines
This is when the inexperienced beginner artist uses multiple sketchy lines that look hairy. Or they try to find the line they are looking for because they seem uncertain about how the line should look on paper.
I should point out that this is the case for all drawings at the beginning. All drawing is a result of comparison of lines, objects, and distances between them. When you first start a drawing you don’t have a clear point of reference yet. As the drawing progresses you notice that you are able to more easily compare. As a result you should get more confident.
What I’m talking about for the purpose of this article are the beginning artists who never commit their lines to long continuous smooth and graceful lines. They are like the eternal boyfriend who just won’t commit.
Sometimes this lack of artistic commitment is caused by improper technique. Drawing from the wrist or fingers, especially on larger drawings makes it very difficult to draw continuous smooth lines.
Try drawing with good posture and from the shoulder instead. It helps if you have an easel and can stand when you are drawing thus holding the pencil and paper away from your body so that you can utilize your whole arm when drawing.
Sometimes however the inability to commit, is just a that, a lack of commitment. This is a confidence issue. In order to solve it I want you to take your sketchbook and burn it! Just kidding.
But seriously, you have to realize that at this point your drawings are not precious. That making a mistake isn’t going to hurt you. If this is your problem try drawing with something dark and irreversible like ink or charcoal. Focus on creating smooth perfect lines from the first moment your pen touches the paper. This will force you to commit already.
If your hand is shaky remember that drawing with your shoulder certainly helps but also try not focusing on the end of your pen. Instead lightly mark a dot marking the beginning and a dot that marks the end. Focus your eyes on the dot that marks the end point and draw a line to that point. Do you see the difference?
#2 Misuse of Blurring or Scumbling Techniques
Many beginning artists, when they first discover the blending stump, also discover that it can cover a multitude of sins. What usually happens is they will draw something with a lot of detail, and realize that they don’t like the way it looks. So they will take their blurring stump and use it to blur everything, thus leaving an impression of the detail, but also getting rid of most of what they didn’t like about the drawing. The resulting image is a blurry indecisive looking mess.
This is true in any medium whether it be drawing, painting, or even digital.
This is very much like the inability to commit that I mentioned above. It’s almost like having a hard definite line scares them.
Your drawings should consist of both hard edges and soft edges. But only when those edges are hard and soft in reality.
Use the blending stub only for objects that should look nice and soft like the surface of a marshmallow or soft skin on the cheeks. Use hard edges where things are definite like rough stone, or around the eyes where lines are clearly visible and definite.
While the surface of a marshmallow is soft, its edges should be clearly defined, if the light source is strong and from one direction.
You should keep the use of a blending stump to a minimum. If you want nice smooth gradients practice drawing them with only your pencil. Focusing on gradually changing the pressure you apply to the paper to get darker and lighter values.
Expert artists only use the blending stub to achieve those smooth textures that are impossible to achieve with paper and pencil alone.
#3 Not Using Reference!
By far one of biggest art mistakes out there made by young artists is not using reference. I can not emphasize this enough, always, always, always use reference. I use reference, and every professional artist I know uses reference. Before the days of the internet, artists would collect newspaper, and magazine clippings that they would keep in a filing cabinet. They called it their “scrap” collection.
You can tell when beginners don’t use reference. You can tell when people who aren’t even artists don’t use reference because their drawings lack realistic details from real life. It looks cartoony. This might not be the case if the artist has drawn the same thing over and over for many years, from reference. They can then remember most of the details by experience.
If your drawing includes a bird, get on Pinterest and find some images of the type of bird that you want in your drawing.
The purpose of reference material is not to copy the image, but rather to include realistic details that most artists can’t remember.
You are drawing your own bird, just using the reference to get the details, the colors, and the lighting right. This is not plagiarism because it is your original drawing. You are just looking at the details from the photo.
I have read so many online comments and forums, where people agonize about using photos for reference material. It’s as if they don’t feel like real artists if they cheat by using a photograph. Well it isn’t cheating.
If you include human figures in your drawing, this is a good time to take your own photos. Show your model your thumbnail sketches. Instruct them on what pose they should take. Get the lighting and their costumes just right and snap some photos.
The most important thing to take away from this section, is to always use reference material. Whether you take photos yourself, build a 3D model, or by finding images online, in magazines, or newspapers.
Trying to draw everything from your head doesn’t work.
#4 Using a Rubber Eraser
You can oftentimes tell if a piece of artwork was done by a beginner if you can see blurry smudge marks from the use of a rubber eraser. Ideally you should never have to use an eraser on your finished drawings, because you have taken the time to plan your drawing in a series of sketches.
Every once in a while when you begin your final drawing you’ll need to correct a straying line here or there. For this purpose, the kneaded eraser was created.
Kneaded erasers gently lift out graphite on their sticky polymer surfaces rather than using damaging friction to remove marks.
Using friction will damage your paper and create problems for you later. Dirty smudges, inconsistent gradients, patchiness and lines that were not completely erased. Just don’t use rubber erasers, and try not to erase at all.
The one exception would be using thin sharp erasers to add detail such as fine white hairs.
#5 Not Using The Right Paper
New artists will often not use professional grade materials. I’ve seen artists, who are just learning to draw, use lined paper, printer paper, or even sticky note paper for their drawings. While these can be used to quickly sketch ideas, they should never ever be used for your finished drawing or more serious sketches and studies. Please don’t post them to Instagram.
The reason why you should not use these papers even for serious studies is because the paper, if it lacks sufficient tooth, will not allow for a wide range of values. Tooth refers to the texture of the drawing paper. It is the bumps that jut out from the surface of all paper.
When you draw on the tooth of the paper the friction rubs off the graphite and it sticks into the grooves of the tooth. If you use printer paper that has very little tooth the paper easily becomes saturated with graphite. The result is that you can’t get sufficiently dark values, and the graphite easily lifts off and smears everywhere.
I recommend using a professional drawing paper with good tooth and a poundage of at least 80. For finished drawings I recommend Bristol Board vellum surface with a poundage of at least 100.
#6 Not Accepting Critiques
Beginning artists can sometimes have a hard time accepting criticism. You’ll often hear them say things like “it’s supposed to look that way”, or “that’s intentional”. They can also make preemptive excuses for their work such as they didn’t have a lot of time.
Our culture in general has a hard time with criticism, because it usually has a negative connotation associated with it. And possibly because criticism is not delivered well at times.
It is important to realize that no one is perfect, and that there is always room for improvement.
If you are critiquing someone’s work try using the complement sandwich method. This is where you sandwich the criticism between two complements, at the beginning and the end.
Use concise clear language giving specific examples of both the compliments and the critique. Don’t use negative triggering words such as BUT, or HOWEVER.
For example imagine your friend Becky has just shown you her portrait drawing and you notice that the eye is not only crooked but smaller than the other eye:
COMPLIMENT: Oh Becky this looks fantastic. I love how the hair looks so realistic, and you got the highlight in just the right place.
CRITIQUE: The right eye looks a little different from the other. You may need to make it a bit larger like the other eye and move this line just a bit.
COMPLIMENT: I can see you put a lot of time into this, it looks great. I also love the mouth you put so much attention into the shading.
You should always take into consideration your friend’s temperament, and the context of the situation. A critique most certainly is more welcome if your friend is asking for your opinion and they know that you too are an artist.
Receiving Criticism with Grace
Say thank you. Sometimes you will be receiving criticism, even criticism that is not delivered well. When this happens make sure you tell them that you appreciate their input and that you’ll look into it. Letting people know that you value their opinion is a great way to foster lasting friendships, and even more engagement with your art in the future.
What people say may or may not be true, but you should always listen, never argue with them, and actively think about if what they said has any truth to it.
Also know that some people just might not like you or your work, and that is fine too.
#7 Avoiding your Artistic Weaknesses
Sometimes when people draw they will actively avoid drawing the parts that they can’t or don’t like drawing. I’ve seen this many times when new artists begin drawing the human figure. They will intentionally obscure the feet and hands. Which are notoriously tricky by the way! I understand the sentiment.
But instead of drawing your nude figures with finger obscuring mittens. Consider the reference material that you have first.
Does it sufficiently demonstrate what you are trying to draw?
If the hand is too small, snap a quick photo of your own hand in the same pose and try to get the same lighting. Having a larger photo of whatever you are trying to draw will certainly help.
Do a series of studies before you start. This goes back to planning your drawing before you begin. Make sure that everything is planned out from start to finish and leave no room for guess work. Practice, practice, practice.
Remember that when the time of crisis is at hand, the time for preparation is long past.
#8 Using Bad Reference Materials
That segues nicely into the next big art fail which is using bad reference material. Inexperienced artists will often choose reference material that fails them in three main ways:
#1 Multi Directional Lighting, Or Weak Lighting:
Using a reference photo with more than one source of light is usually not necessary and serves to only confuse the novice artist. Look instead for reference photos that have only one source of light, that is strong and directional. You can tell when this is the case because shadows appear strong and point in only one direction. If an object has two shadows or blurry weak shadows consider a different reference photo.
#2 Insufficient Detail:
This usually happens when the reference material is not sufficiently similar to what you are trying to draw. Or when the picture is too small, or blurry to see important details.
If the photo you are using doesn’t show important details that you need for your drawing, consider using a different reference, or multiple references that include all of the details. Remember that your lighting should be consistent in your drawing. Having multiple references can be tricky if the lighting is different in all of them.
#3 Too much Detail:
Having a photo with too much detail, or overlapping details with no value separation, can confuse the eye, and leave the artist perplexed and uncertain where the objects begin or end. The below photo also demonstrates multiple light sources. The figures have very little shadow which would help separate them from one another.
#9 Poor Head Drawing Skills
If you want to draw the head make sure you study it first. Apart from the hands and feet the head is the next most tricky thing to draw in human anatomy.
You will spend a great deal of time mastering the proportions of the human head, and then perhaps a lifetime perfecting the art of capturing the essence of someone’s face, to make them recognizable.
That is why many new artists will only draw one eye, or a mouth in great detail. Such posts are very popular on Instagram.
Portraits are no easy task. When drawing facial features that rely on symmetry, make sure to draw them at the same time.
Don’t work on the left eye first, and then the right eye. Draw both eyes simultaneously. Tutorials on how to draw a single eye are rather useless without showing how they fit within the whole face.
Practice drawing heads using the Loomis Method.
#10 Not Planning Out Your Composition Before Starting
This one is very important. Many beginners will not plan out their drawings before they start. As a result their composition is not as good as it could be.
This is evident when you see a drawing of something and everything seems squished, as if the artist were running out of space and had to cramp everything in near the edge of the paper.
Take a moment to do thumbnail sketches. Thumbnails are just tiny versions of what you are going to draw. They should be no smaller than the end joint of your thumb. That’s why they’re called thumbnail sketches. You can draw the first few quickly just to get an idea of the layout of the shapes on the entire page.
Next you can focus on a few of the thumbnails that catch your eye, draw more details. If you think you need to get a clearer picture you can take the sketch even further by drawing a larger frame so you can draw more details. But only do this after you have done a small version first.
#11 Beginning a Painting Without Knowing How to Draw
I recently read an article discussing some myths about painting. And the author was adamant that you don’t need to know how to draw to start painting. I’m going to adamantly claim that this is a myth.
You might be able to paint something like this without knowing how to draw.
But you will never be able to paint something like this without knowing how to draw.
Some beginners want to paint like this before they can draw. And this is akin to running before you are able to walk.
If the drawing skills are not there, and you are wanting to paint realistically your painting will inevitably suffer.
Drawing to me doesn’t necessarily mean with pencil and paper. You can draw, too, using paint. But why would you use expensive paint to draw with, when you can practice with graphite and paper first.
#12 Trying To Draw Against Forms
If you see a drawing of a cylinder, yet the shading of the cylinder travels straight across the form in a straight line instead of curving around the cylinder you can tell that you are dealing with an amateur artist.
When you draw a cylinder or any object with a curve, make sure that when you shade, the pencil strokes you are using follow the curvature of the cylinder. This helps give the illusion of a 3D object rather than a flat surface.
#13 Imperfect Circles and Ellipses
When I see a wobbly circle or a catawampus ellipse, I know that this might be a beginner artist. Circles and ellipses are tricky, I know I used to be the one that struggled with circles and ellipses. I started practicing drawing a sphere every day until I got it perfect.
Here are some tips:
Try rotating your paper as you go. Constantly compare your curvature to other parts of your sphere. Draw with your shoulder not your wrist. Avoid sketchy lines, try to draw long graceful curves. You can make minor adjustments to the curvature of your sphere when shading.
Don’t be afraid of getting a little obsessive. Step back from your drawing to make sure you got it right and look at it from every angle.
#14 Not Having a Clear Concept of Value Separation
Artists who don’t understand the concept of value separation will constantly try to outline everything. You should try to separate your objects by using value and shadows as much as possible.
#15 Weird Light Sources
This one can be kind of tricky to detect. This is when light values are showing up too light in dark sections of the drawing or painting.
If you step back from your painting and you notice that some portions of your drawing seem confusing. Like you can’t tell what you are looking at. Oftentimes this is because you don’t have sufficient value separation.
Usually objects only have two parts when it comes to shading: A dark side and a light side. Nothing in your dark side, should ever be as light as anything in your light side.
This picture of a bad tattoo comes to mind. Apart from being horribly drawn. Can you tell where the light is coming from? Is there a clear dark side and light side in the composition? No. The values are all over the place, because there isn’t a clear light source.
#16 Not Believing in Your Artistic Ability
It is incredibly easy to not believe in yourself if you are just getting started in art. There are times when I’m trying to finish a painting that isn’t cooperating that I feel like a horrible artist.
Whenever this happens I remind myself that there is always a point in the process of every piece of art that you simply hate. Sometimes it can feel like nothing is going right. But then all of a sudden, if you keep working on it, the piece looks good.
As you get better at recognizing the problems in your art, and fixing these problems, you will find that you get to the point of loving your art faster.
Don’t worry everyone feels like they are a bad artist at one point or another.
#17 Not Understanding Perspective
New artists frequently don’t understand perspective. When the draw houses and mechanical objects look flat, and have no illusion of depth.
It is important to understand the following three perspectives and to study them. There are other perspectives; however, these three are the most used and important.
One Point Perspective
The secret to drawing in these perspectives is the setup. In all of them, you start by drawing a horizontal line across the page that represents the horizon, or the level of the viewers’ eyes.
In one point perspective, you pick a single point on that horizon line. Draw a square anywhere in the page then using your ruler connect each corner of your square to the point that you drew on your horizon line. You will see how this creates the appearance of a 3D object.
Two Point Perspective
For two point perspective you do something similar but instead of one point there are two points on the horizon line located far enough apart. Two point perspective allows you to draw things from an angle.
Three Point Perspective.
Three point is adding a third point in the sky above the two points. This simulates a birds eye view or worm’s eye view.
#18 Not Starting Over
This one is a delicate matter. In this article I’ve already talked about how there is always a point that you hate your work. But that if you work long enough it will usually turn out. I’d like to add that occasionally I’ve seen pieces of work that are overworked. And it still doesn’t look good!
This is usually characterized by thick layers of muddy paint, in a painting. In drawings the paper becomes shiny, completely flat, and metallic in places. This is when you know that you’ve worked on it too much.
At this point you should probably just start over. You’ve likely destroyed the painting, and if the paper is shiny and flat it is irreversibly damaged.
So know when to keep working and to stop and start over. This shouldn’t be too difficult if you’ve planned out everything before you started. You still have your preliminary sketches.
#19 Not Understanding Silhouette
Silhouette is the concept that helps the viewer see all of the objects clearly in your composition, and being able to understand what they are.
If you are a beginner and you step back from your artwork and you notice that whatever it is you are drawing is difficult to discern, you may have a silhouette problem.
Silhouette in art refers simply to a clear understandable shape. It does not necessarily refer to the tracings done in Victorian times; however, there is an important lesson to learn from these types of portraits.
Notice that even though there are no details you can instantly tell what the object is, even from a great distance.
Here is the same drawing but from the front view. Or rear view? Can you tell that it’s a person? Maybe you can see the ears and the bun on top of the head? But it could easily be a chess piece or even a faucet seen from above.
The confusion that is caused by this type of composition is what you want to avoid. Compose your objects in such a way that you can tell what they are even from a distance.
As a rule of thumb, this can usually be achieved by viewing things either from the side view or ¾ views.
#20 Not Understanding Anatomy
Beginners often don’t understand anatomy and it can be painfully obvious. However I will say that Anatomy is a lifelong artistic pursuit. The human figure is one of the hardest things you will ever draw or paint, so don’t be hard on yourself if you still need practice. Everyone needs more practice in anatomy.
I would definitely invest in some art books about anatomy.
One thing I would like to add is that you should also spend some time memorizing the names of the major muscles that you can see.
There are a lot of small muscles that you really can’t see so you don’t need to worry about them as an artist.
Memorizing the names of things has been scientifically proven to improve your memory about the details of whatever it is you are trying to remember. In this case how the muscles attach to the frame of your skeleton. It also helps you to be able to communicate with other professionals in order to learn from them.
This is an example from Michael Hampton’s book. He gives you an abstracted version of what the skeleton and muscles look like.
In conjunction with studying the names make sure you attend a figure drawing class, and bring your Hampton reference and ask where each of these muscles are on a real life model. Understanding what the muscles look like under the surface of the skin can be very challenging, but if you have an experienced teacher they will be able to show you how everything fits together.
If you don’t have the resources to attend a class, you can also find these muscles on your own body. Your back muscles can be a little challenging as well as the small muscles that attach to your shoulder and under your arm.
After you memorize the names of the muscles, memorize their insertions and origins, this is where they attach on the bones, and understand how the muscles contract in order to move your body in various poses. A live model is great for this too.
# 21 Not Finishing Your Artwork
This is painfully obvious in new artists who don’t finish their artwork. You might see a piece of art that looks like they started well, but for some reason only added minimal shading, or even some color in a few places.
While some of this might be stylistic choices, make sure you ask yourself. Did you just not finish because you got bored? Or you were frustrated because it didn’t look the way you wanted?
Take the time to finish your artwork. As I stated before there is always a point in time when you hate the painting you are working on. But suddenly, if you work on it, and understand basic principles, the painting will turn out fine. Usually.
Just finish your work. Don’t follow the example of Leonardo da Vinci who had trouble in his later years finishing the works he started.
Did you know that the Mona Lisa is only an under painting? He never got to finish it because he died before he could finish. Don’t have regrets, finish your art.
#22 Relying too Much on Anime
Many new artists, instead of taking the time to study anatomy, will rely heavily on anime. While there are some very excellent artists out there who draw anime. If you are a beginner make sure you learn anatomy first before you jump into anime. You will thank me later. Your anime will look so much better if you know how to draw the human figure first.
Learning the rules first is how you learn how to break the rules and exaggerate as is the case in anime.
#23 Believing that You’ve Got it Figured Out
If you think you’ve got art figured out, you don’t.
Everyone needs to practice.
And everyone reaches a point in their journey called a plateau.
A plateau is where you stop upward progression and you become overly content with your art, as is.
The best way to overcome a plateau is to always try new things. Challenge yourself constantly or you will have a hard time progressing any further.
#24 Comparing Yourself to Other Artists
This art fail has been used so many times by different writers and artists that it has become somewhat cliche. So what I’d like to do is to point out what I think people often say that is wrong.
The truth is, I believe that you should compare yourself to other artists, and you should especially compare your skills to those of the old masters.
Back in the old days, during the Italian Renaissance, aspiring young artists would apprentice themselves to a master and begin a long and arduous training program. As I mentioned before they would often copy the works of their master, and other great artists of their time. What is this if not comparison?
They would gradually increase in skill, and their final test was often whether or not they could copy a piece so precisely that it was indistinguishable from the original. This was the height of humanist achievement, if you were able to copy the works of the Greek and Roman artists so perfectly that you could not tell the difference.
In fact one of Michelangelo’s first commissions was for a con artist, who wanted to fool Cardinal Riario that he was buying an ancient Roman sculpture. It was eventually discovered that the artwork was a fake, but instead of being outraged, Cardinal Riario was so impressed that he hired Michelangelo to do more jobs.
I think that what many people mean when they say that you should not compare yourself to other artists, is that you shouldn’t obsess over your own imperfections. While you should continually try to improve, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t measure up. No artwork is perfect, not even Michelangelo’s work is perfect. There is no such thing.
#25 Underselling Your Artwork Or Worse Not Charging For Your Art
REASONS BEGINNING ARTISTS SHOULD NEVER DO ARTWORK FOR FREE:
1) By not charging for art, you drive the price of artwork down for all artists. Other artists are trying to compete with artists who do work for free.
2) It sets a poor president for artists, especially artists who are just starting their careers. It makes artists think their art is worth nothing if they are new. And sends a message to buyers that they can take advantage of art students and graduates because they are looking for “exposure”.
3) It teaches the world not to pay for commodities that can greatly increase the quality of life for everyone.
Many art professionals are involved in art because they want to make a difference in the world. That’s why I do art!
My plea to all new artists is to value your artwork enough to charge people for it. If you want to make the world a better place you’ve got to believe that your artwork is valuable. To do that, you start by never, ever, doing artwork for free for anyone, not even your own mother. People who expect you to do artwork for free, or for a laughable sum, are not worth your time. Ignore them and move on, you are worth it, your artwork is worth it, and you don’t need to listen to insulting offers.
No matter your artistic style, if your skills are up to snuff, your artwork has a market, and good people who are willing to pay for it. You just need to find them.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU CHARGE FOR YOUR ARTWORK?
Beginning artists should charge no less than $25 per hour for their work, plus the cost of materials. More experienced artists can get up to $100 per hour.
If you don’t think your skills are up to snuff, find a mentor, and work with them to either improve your skills, or find the validation that your work is good enough to sell!
Beginner Artist Fails Conclusion
That you for reading this lengthy article about beginner artist fails. Congratulations you made it to the end! I hope that you’ve found some interesting tips and tricks, as well as things that you need to improve in your art.
f you enjoyed it please share with your family and friends on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure to subscribe to get updates on new articles and my paintings. Feel free to leave comments below. And check out my portfolio of other works.