How to study drawing the right way?

How to study drawing the right way?

Question from Maria

Hello, Drawing Academy!

I’ve been a silent fan of yours for a while through some of the free videos you distribute on YouTube. I’ve been drawing for half a decade now and at this point, it feels like every day just gnaws at me. I actively hide my old art in boxes and even rip it up at times because there is no progress. It feels absurd.

I try to draw smarter and learn concepts, but no matter what I do, there seems to be a wall between what is being said and how to process what the instructor is doing. Why? Why can’t I understand how to draw a rotating box? Why can’t I understand how to draw from life? Why can’t I learn how to keep proportions right when drawing a subject from different angles? Why do perspective and anatomy fly out the window of my drawings if I draw a pose that’s not someone standing straight?

I’ve found myself to be a person who prefers studying technical subjects. Though it frustrates me, I often have something I can point to and say, “I don’t get this part. Why do we do this?”

In art, it feels so abstract. How DO I ask questions? What don’t I get? That line? This line? Why can’t I draw this properly? Why did we do that? I never really have anything to point to and say, “Why did we just do that and why can’t I do it?” Often, when I stumble to ask a question, even in a course, I’ll be told to take another course, as it will explain to me how to do this thing that I’m asking about.

If I don’t get something there? “Take THIS course!” I’ve hopped from art book to art book and from course to course, feeling like a failure each time and hearing my wallet screech at me. I just want to know how to approach confusion and questions in a drawing course or drawing in general. How do you learn to learn to draw? How do you think and approach problems in art? I remember reading that drawing is like tightrope walking and that critique plus sheer repetition is the only way to get anywhere. However, I’ve been doing that for half a decade now and I really want to find a way to genuinely think when I draw.

How should one really think about drawing and how do you solve problems when drawing?

I think that’s the course I’ve been needing.

Feedback from Vladimir London, Drawing Academy tutor

Dear Maria,

Many thanks for your story and questions.

Your case is not unique. There are probably millions of self-taught artists and hundreds of thousands of art college and university graduates who are not happy with their drawing skills.

I agree with you that spending five years on self-education and getting nowhere is frustrating. But what chance did you have, studying on your own with no scheduled curriculum of lessons in which every exercise depends on skills gained during the previous exercise?

From your story, I see that you were taking on every task you come across – proportions, perspective, life drawing, anatomy. Yet without professional tutoring and a plan of lessons, your efforts were sporadic and unguided. No one was available to correct your mistakes, give constructive critiques and offer advice on what and how to improve.

You mentioned that you “prefer studying technical subjects,” but “in art, it feels so abstract.”

This is exactly my point; you feel lost in a multitude of drawing concepts because you have not learned the fundamental drawing principles that will become the solid core of your art skills and that will support your creativity so you can proficiently draw whatever you want.

You are asking: “How DO I ask questions? Why can’t I draw this properly? Why did we do that?”

The reason you cannot ask proper questions is that, to ask the right questions, you must have sufficient knowledge of the topic. People don’t see what they don’t know. This is your case.

How to learn drawing

Now, about your main question: “how to approach drawing in general.”

Drawing is a skill. Learning this skill requires two things – theoretical “know-how” and guided practice.

So far, you have been trying to gather the “know-how” from various books and art courses. However, without a structured curriculum, your efforts were more confusing than helpful.

In addition, no one was helping you organize your knowledge and guiding you through practical exercises.

Here’s the harsh truth: If you continue doing what you have been doing and expecting better results, you will end up more frustrated and disillusioned about your art abilities.

You can spend the next five years hopping “from art book to art book and from course to course” and still have the same questions and level of art skills.

If you have doubts about this, ask contemporary art college students who spend four or five years of their lives – and pay up to $100,000 for the privilege of – discussing in groups why what they do is art, though many of them graduate without good drawing skills. This is because contemporary art colleges teach one how to “express oneself”; learning the actual skills of the trade is optional.

To manage your expectations, I have to say a few words about what proper art education is.

Starting from the time of the Old Masters, art education was an intense and fruitful journey of studying under professional masters, gaining needed knowledge, and practicing tasks from simple to advanced.

Today, there are not many places left in the world where art is taught the way it should be taught. One such place is Repin Academy in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Only 27 drawing students are accepted per year, so the competition is great. To have a chance of entering this academy, a student must start art education at the age of nine and complete five years of children’s art school. Then, the student would be a fully qualified artist by the standards of art universities in the West. Nevertheless, this level is not enough; a student must spend another four years in an art college, then take special preparatory art courses for about three more years. Hopefully, by that time he or she will have achieved an adequate level of skills to pass the entry exams for Repin Academy, study for another six years, and finally graduate as a professional artist.

I understand that there is no way you could have taken this path, even if learning Russian was possible.

Studying from books is not enough. I do not know a single fine artist who learned how to draw only by reading books. Your experience just confirms this statement. Books are great learning aids, but they cannot replace proper art education. Also, keep in mind that not every book is good enough to learn from.

Local and online art courses

There are many art courses online and probably some workshops and drop-in classes available locally.

You want to pay attention to what curricula they offer, who the teachers are, what art they do, how well they teach, and how much support you will receive (and for how long).

Many video courses are just “watch me drawing” demonstrations with some explanation of the process. You will not become a skillful artist by watching someone else drawing. If you have any doubts, think of any other skill that is more obvious. For example, you would not become a great ballet dancer simply by watching videos of other performers dancing.

I have seen some courses in which the teachers are self-taught artists with erroneous ideas about drawing. They show how to copy from photos, teach anatomy by tracing muscles on top of images, advise using five grades of pencils for tonal gradations, smudge graphite marks with a stump and so on. Some video lessons feature improperly sharpened pencils held in the wrong way. If you don’t know what is wrong, how can you avoid picking up bad habits from such videos?

When it comes to personal tutoring, you must think about several things. Is your art tutor just a teacher or a practicing professional artist? Today, good drawing skills are not obligatory to achieve an art teacher qualification. I’m saying this because many teachers are enrolled in the Drawing Academy course to fix gaps in their practical education.

Will your teacher actually teach you one on one, provide a full critique of your artwork and planning drawing tasks for you? In many cases, all you can expect is “well done” feedback with occasional “practice more” advice. Many drop-in classes do not offer even that level of tutoring.

If what I’m saying relates to your personal experience, you will understand by now why “there is no progress” in your drawing skills.

It is not about what you have been doing, but about what you have been lacking and not doing.

You did not have access to a structured professional art education and did not go through a range of drawing exercises guided by a professional art tutor and teacher.

Will you find a solution on your own? Probably not; you’ve already spent half a decade doing so, only to hit a brick wall.

I guess you want a proper solution to your problem.

Here’s what we can offer and why what we are offering is different from what anyone else is offering.

If you want to discover your real level of drawing skills, and what you must learn, you can take the following test.

Arrange a simple still life consisting of a vase, a bowl and a box (or a stack of books). Draw it from life in graphite pencil on A2 (or a similar) size of paper.

You must do it from life; do not use any photos. Do not cheat yourself. This is about your real-life drawing skills, not how well you can copy a photo.

Take your time; there is no rush. If you think you can do a better drawing, start over, but make no more than three attempts.

After you finish, take a photo of your drawing at the right angle, without distortion, with all four edges of the paper visible. Also, take a photo of the still life from exactly the same viewpoint.

Send me your pictures and I will give you a full critique free of charge. Also, I will provide advice about what information you are missing in terms of constructive drawing and how to fix it.

You said that the Drawing Academy is “the course I’ve been needing.”

If you want to enroll in this course, here’s the link:

We also have another art course where you can get our personal tutoring.

Life Drawing Academy Correspondence Course

In this course,

  1. You can study at your own pace for a lifetime. There is no deadline.
  2. You will get personal, one-on-one tutoring from professional fine artists and teachers who received a proper art education and who can guide you no mater what your level of art skill is.
  3. You can receive unlimited critiques of your artwork.
  4. You will receive special drawing tasks tailored to your personal level of skills and knowledge.
  5. You will have a structured curriculum established specifically for your level.
  6. All this personal support will come at no extra charge and will be provided for a lifetime even after you graduate.
  7. No art college or other course will offer you the same opportunity to study under the personal guidance of professional artists for a lifetime for just a small one-time entry fee.

Here’s the link to enroll in the Correspondence course:

Please let me know if you have any questions. I will be happy to help.

Kind regards,

Vladimir London
Art tutor

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Magno Massolino says:

    Dear tutor Vladimir

    I loved the article and its explanations. I identified with Maria’s case, as I experience the same drama of self-learning, but now it is being corrected with her feedbacks within the Drawing Academy course and soon I also intend to enroll in the Life Drawing Academy course to have an apprenticeship more advanced and complete.


    Magno Massolino

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