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5 Things You Need To Know to Be a Better Artist

Updated on April 25, 2015

Basic Concepts of Drawing

Out of the thousands of drawing techniques out there, there are only five art concepts that every artist needs to know. These concepts exist in almost aspect of visual arts (except for abstract art). Once you learn these concepts, you can draw anything you want! All it takes is knowledge, understanding, and practice.

Without further ado, here are the five things you need to know to improve your drawing;



If your drawings feel stiff, then you need to practice gesture. Gesture is the general “flow” of lines on the paper. It captures the general essence of the subject, as in this picture.

The lack of gesture usually comes from two problems:

This problem usually stems from pressing too hard onto the paper. Many artists recommend the opposite—use soft, light strokes when sketching. Another problem is using your wrist to draw, as if you were writing. Instead of using your wrist, use your elbow or even your whole shoulder to draw. This gives you more range of motion and will allow you to draw lines your wrist can’t.

Then, the next problem is focusing too much on the details, and not enough on the forms. Focusing on the details and not how the details connect will cause the picture to look distorted.

The best way to practice gesture is quicksketch. Quicksketch is only drawing a subject for a short period of time. The time can vary, but often lasts between 30 seconds to five minutes.

The short time forces you to focus on the action of the pose. This "action line" gets the most information across, and helps your drawings carry more impact.


Form and Construction

If your drawings look flat, but you want them to jump off the page, then you need help with form and construction.

Form and construction is the drawing of something 3D on a a piece of paper or canvass. To construct something in 3D on a piece of paper, you need to know perspective. Perspective allows you to mimic how our eyes interpret size and distance in relation to us. The general principles of perspective are as follows:

  • Objects that are farther away seem smaller.
  • Object that are closer seem bigger.
  • If one object is in front of another, then the two objects overlap.
  • You can only see some parts of an object at a time. For example, you can't see the back of a bus if you are looking straight at it.

Constructing forms also involves the breaking down of complex objects into simple shapes. Everything can be broken down into four basic shapes:

  • Spheres
  • Cones
  • Cylinders
  • Cubes

With these shapes, you can draw anything you please. People, animals, plants, and buildings can be broken down into the same four shapes.

To be able to see these shapes and draw them with accuracy requires practice. But with practice, you will be able to draw breathtaking scenes that feel like they're real.


Proportions and Placement

If you’ve ever drawn something that looks “off” but can’t place why, more often than not, this has to do with improper proportions and/or placement. Understanding how proportions work, and how to place features onto shapes, is essential to drawing.

Without it, the drawing does not make sense to the viewer.

Anatomy falls under this category. If you drew the nose slightly off-center, or one eye larger than the other, the result looks crooked, wrong, and amateurish.

Have no fear! There is no reason to break out the ruler or protractor. You can approximate your proportions and placement to where it makes sense to the eye using guidelines. For more information, see the video below.



If you think your art is a little boring at times, you need help with composition.

Even if your drawing has nice flow, decent form and construction, and good proportions, the composition can make the drawing boring. Composition is the placement of elements in an image to make it seem interesting, cool, or draw an emotional reaction from the viewer. Though this may seem simple, it is much more complicated than it seems.

Since composition revolves around what the artists wants to invoke in the viewer, you need to keep the “idea” of the piece in your mind at all times. Is your piece:

  • Chaotic?
  • Calm?
  • Tense?

Just by moving around elements inside your scene, you can change the emotion you invoke in the viewer. This is a powerful idea, and can turn an average art piece great.

Values and Color Theory

Values and color theory fall under the realm of painting, but are valuable to understand even if you choose not to color your work. This is because many principles of painting, like shading, can create more depth in your artwork. If you do choose to pursue any sort of coloring, understanding color theory and values is very important.

By understanding colors and value, you will understand:

  • Why certain colors work better together than others
  • How light and shadow indicate shape and form
  • How certain color combinations affect mood.

Painting can highlight your drawing skills and create an atmosphere that sketching can't. So, don't be afraid to introduce color into your work!

How to Learn the Art Basics

We all use these fundamentals with drawing once we get past the beginner stage. If you can draw anything more than stick figures, impossible not to. For example, say you want to draw a person in a park:

  • You can't draw a person without gesture, or else they are stiff and dead.
  • You can't draw a person unless they have form, because they will look flat.
  • You can't draw a person without proportion, because they will look off-balance.
  • You can't a person in a park without composition, or else the whole piece looks boring
  • You can't paint a person without some knowledge of color theory, or else they'd look like they were colored in by children.

So, whether we realize it or not, we try to use all of the fundamentals to make our art seem alive. Now, knowing how, we can improve our artwork by focusing on each concept one-by-one, until you feel as if you've "mastered" it. This takes a lot of work. Don't worry, just keep practicing and practicing, until you become a master artist!

What do you struggle with the most?

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    • Nicole Grizzle profile image

      Nicole Grizzle 3 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the kind words, RTalloni! I tried to compile as much information as I could on each topic, as neatly as possible. I struggle with these things a lot (especially proportions), so I figured someone else might need these resources. I will continue to update this hub when I come across more information!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for sharing these tips along with the links for more study. Not only is this a useful post but I appreciate the layout/design of the hub.


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