• Kirsty Partridge

5 Big Drawing Mistakes to Avoid

I’m going to run through some common mistakes that artists make with their drawings which results in a less realistic piece. Don’t worry I’ll then tell you some techniques I use to combat them (the mistakes, not the artists). As an example, I’ve chosen a charcoal drawing, but these mistakes should be avoided across all mediums.


Mistake 1

Many beginning artists add outlines in order for their work to stand out and look defined. In my opinion adding outlines results in a lack of realism, almost a cartoonish look, and I would strongly recommend against using them. It can create a flat looking drawing and just think, how many outlines do you see on people or animals etc in everyday life? Ditch the outlines for realism.


Mistake 2

Flat shading is another no-go. What I mean by this is shading in an area of your drawing with just one value (or color). This leaves out shadows and highlights, which is terrible news if you are me as I absolutely adore both of these effects. They’re great for adding depth and a 3-D effect to your drawing.


Mistake 3

When changing values be careful that they are not too harsh – this will result in a very clear line where one value stops, and another starts. Ultimately, it is not a natural looking style. For realism you want every value change to be subtle, a nice transition between them all.


Mistake 4

Don’t rush your art! Sounds simple right, but you’ll be amazed by how many people who do. Realistic drawing takes time and rushing means tiny details will be missed and not enough attention will be paid to different shadows or highlights. Rushing a background as it is ‘not important’ will only result in it distracting focus away from your actual focal point.


Mistake 5

Some aspects of your reference photo will have a lot of texture and detail. For example, my ice cream cone had a lot of texture in the reference, but I neglected that in my drawing. Take care to add all of these little details as together they all add up to realism.


In order to create a more realistic piece, I have some simple suggestions.


Pay attention to every square inch of your drawing, give as much love to your background as you do your focal point. If your background isn’t up to scratch, then it can really detract from the rest of your beautiful work. Build up layers from light to dark on the background for a smooth, realistic finish; I like to spend a lot of time doing this.


Also, I make sure I shade nice and lightly, so I don’t have any harsh edges or harsh changes in value. Ease off the pressure when transitioning away from a value for a soft and subtle value change. Extra tip: you can also use a blending tool (can be anything, a brush or tissue etc) to soften out any harsh edges or harsh value changes that appear accidentally.


Build up little details and textures, like these bumps on the wafer cone. You can even use a stick eraser for some great texture and highlights. Use of shadows and highlights (rather than one value) creates the impression of a 3-D shape with depth, which is brilliant for a realistic drawing. Moreover, shadows and highlights contrast, helping to make your drawing pop.


Learn all of the techniques you need for realistic drawing with my online drawing courses!


To see these mistakes (and how to avoid them) in action then watch the video below.



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