I've looked at drawing books many times over my life. I've never been able to draw worth crap. Even when I try to doodle all I can seem to do is make geometric shapes.

Recently, I acquired some books on figure drawing. Don't ask me what I was thinking. I can't even draw a cardboard box and I'm buying books on how to draw people.

I just can't seem to understand the craft. Everyone seems to view it as intuitive. To me, its not. Things in the real world aren't 2-d, they're 3-d objects. I'm not making a 3-d object when I draw, I'm making a bunch of lines on a 2-d piece of paper that will create the optical illusion of being a 3-d object. And yes, shading has been unfathomable to me. I just can't imagine how anyone could figure out where the shadows fall on something. Funny enough I've found sculpting far easier than drawing. Too bad that isn't cheaper to get into.

Anyway, the way I've been trying to learn is getting drawing books and doing what they say. What I make with those doesn't look that great, but at least its recognizable for what it is. I acquired a book on drawing dragons a few years ago, and I did do better than usual with it. Though I lost interest after making 2 drawings (one of a dragon's head, the next being a full dragon, the book has dozens of pictures it wants me to replicate).

But is this how I should be learning to draw? I rarely draw. Yes, I do art, but I've always favored the written word. Which was mostly because I can't draw worth crap. Written descriptions is the only way I have to give people an idea of what's in my imagination. But back on topic. Is this how you learn to draw? How long does it actually take to get good? I'm old enough now where I don't see the point in trying if its going to take me a decade or two. I'll probably become arthritic before I succeed if that's the case.

Oh, and I've always had crap dexterity. For me even using a ruler is somewhat of a challenge. I'm lucky I can even write. And when I do, I often have to erase and re-write things just to be legible. Which is why I don't like writing in pen. Pens are bad when you can't complete more than 2 sentences without making a mistake.

edit: I guess I need to elaborate on this. I don't like doing this when there's already so many answers, but oh well. I'm not really looking for a hyper realistic style. I bought two books to help me. One teaches anime style, the other something fairly realistic. I was looking for something in between those. I guess the best way to describe it is low in detail, like a cartoon, but without the exaggeration or odd features (such as characters having chins that end in a sharp point, or having eyes that are taller than they are wide).

Another problem is I just don't like the way pencil shading looks. It always ends up too dark and makes the image look...odd. I actually prefer my images without shading. Though that may be because I'm only doing line art so far. The shadows probably wouldn't look so dark if my illustrations weren't all stark white.

And I don't have a collection of sculptures laying around. I just found things like paper mache easier than drawing when I took that art class in high school. I only drew two 'realistic' pictures that I was proud of. One was using the grid method (over someone's drawing though), and the other was my backpack, which my teacher berated for its lack of color, even though my backpack was pitch black). I ended up dropping art 2 due to her not seeing any of us as even remotely decent.

As far as my art style goes, honestly, I'm fairly happy with it. I think it still looks a bit too cartoony in terms of proportions, but I'm aiming to fix that. And of course the lines are really jagged and not very precise (though that did improve slightly when I started drawing sketch rather than copy paper) Oh, and I'm a fan of traditional animation, so I honestly before a cartoony look anyway. I was mostly looking into drawing superheroes in fact. I may even do my own webcomic.

  • 2
    Provoking question: Have you ever tried to use your other hand? This can be so “confusing” that it forces your brain to think outside the box.
    – Stephie
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 7:30
  • Good suggestion @Stephie. Drawing the subject upside down is another trick.
    – Jesse Ivy
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 18:34
  • It takes a long time and lots of practice. Make sure you sign and date all your sketches. Practice every day, and look back at your sketches from 2,3,6 months ago. You'll see progress.
    – user24
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 5:47

5 Answers 5


You say

Things in the real world aren't 2-d, they're 3-d objects. I'm not making a 3-d object when I draw, I'm making a bunch of lines on a 2-d piece of paper that will create the optical illusion of being a 3-d object.

and you are absolutely right. That's what drawing is.

If you want to start thinking of 3D objects as 2D I suggest you use only one eye when you draw or generally examine objects.

You can also take pictures of objects and draw from them (with the help of a grid on top, if needed). Or, better, place a grid frame and draw looking through it (this technique was previously used for acquiring accurate perspective, but I think it will work well to get you to think of 3D objects as flat):

enter image description here *try it for smaller drawings though (A4 or A5) and without grid on the actual paper

Getting familiar with the basics of perspective would also help a lot.

Where shade falls shouldn’t be too confusing to you if you generally think of objects as 3D. If you don’t get too technical about it, light beams travel straight from the source of light and illuminate the surface they fall right on. The rest is in shade.

About sculpture, it is not necessarily an expensive undertaking. You can dig and refine your own clay. Plaster is relatively cheep too.


Just as people have different learning styles, different exercises will be "best" for different artists. There are, however, certain concepts that you can focus on that will help you to improve more rapidly. And, as always, you are going to have to practice. Skill doesn't happen overnight, or after two drawings.

You're right, things in the world are 3D objects. Drawing from books or pictures will only help you learn how to draw 2D images. By drawing from life (even when you think the result is horrible), you are creating a connection between the 3D interpretation of what you see, and the 2D rendering that your hand must make. Eventually these movements feel more natural.

My best recommendation is to take a figure drawing class. (This involves a live model posing, usually nude.) Drawing a living subject immensely improves your ability to render shadow, proportion, perspective, and capture emotion and realism. Plus, it provides a community of artists so you can see what/how other people are drawing and get tips from them.

As user18849 said, perspective is a great way to start. Books can be good for that.

Another drawing technique is to measure. For example, say I'm drawing a flower pot. By holding my pencil out in front of me, I can measure that the flower height equates to Z amount of my pencil, and the pot equates to Z-times-two. This method, or using a "window" or graph as mentioned in the other answer, can help your brain turn real-life dimensionality into 2D, as well as keep proportion correct. Similarly, to help with angles you can "draw" the angle in the air, and then copy that motion onto your paper. Sounds a little silly, but this actually helps your brain convert from 3D to 2D.

Learning to see negative space helped me a lot. For example, draw a still life of a chair by drawing everything BUT the chair. Draw the space between the slats, and the opening between the legs. This helps with learning composition as well as grounding and interaction between objects in your drawing.

If you like drawing from pictures, find some artists you really like and try to copy their work. (Be sure to credit them if you share your work anywhere.)

Also, if you like drawing geometric shapes, do that! But push yourself - what can you add to the hexagon to make it more interesting? Can you draw a convincing dodecahedron? What if you tessalate the geometric shapes, but change their sizes as you go so that all together they suggest something like a face? (This is good practice for shading/value too!)


Learning to draw from books is fine, you just need to find the right books to work from. Figure drawing tends to be highly realistic with heavy emphasis on shading, which doesn't sound like the style you're going for. I think a basic book on proportion would help, and I'd also recommend looking around for an art class you could take. Art classes can help you a lot more than books because you can ask the teacher questions and talk with the other students. Art classes for adults are a lot better than the ones you get in high school, it's like night and day. You'll get a lot more support and encouragement.

I think you'd like gesture drawing. Gesture drawing means basically looking at some pose by a model and quickly trying to capture the essence of it, in one minute or less. You're not trying to make a finished picture, instead it's more of a scribble. By doing it you're training your brain to quickly pick out the essence of a pose and get that on the page along with the basic proportions. It's really more of an exercise for your drawing hand. The advantage is it's quick, so it's no loss if your scribbles don't look good. I used to take a book of poses and spend about 30 seconds on each (with a timer) trying to get a basic gesture of each. After doing that for about 15 minutes I'd draw, and my drawings would turn out a lot better because of the exercising I did beforehand. I'd usually just throw the gesture drawings away - they're just exercises after all.


I believe the saying goes "It takes a thousand hours to learn to " so if you sit down and draw for 2hours every day, in 3ish years you will be an accomplished drawer. If you only do half an hour here or there...

From the sounds of it you are not a natural artist that doesn't mean you can't persue learning to draw. >when I try to doodle all I can seem to do is make geometric shapes. So you naturally draw more like Picasso Picasso's weeping woman http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/pablo-picasso-1767

shading & shadows I found drawing from black and white helped me. The simple answer is the shadows go where something blocks the light. So on humans the eyes will likely be in shade because of the forehead, the nose casts a shadow, under the chin/top of the neck. If you have a bright lamp you could shine it on some of your sculptures and see where the shadows are.

I do suggest you get somewhere to store all your drawings and put the date on them so you can see how far you've come. Embrace that you will have your own style and practice, practice, practice.

  • Picasso sucks. :) While I realize just about any art critic would revile the above statement, the man's art is disgusting in my opinion. His philosophies are much more interesting though. I once saw a decent copy of the above painting. It's some of his better work. I like your advice about light and shadow.
    – Jesse Ivy
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 17:27
  • You not liking one particular segment of Picasso's work (albeit the most famous part) doesn't mean he sucks. His realism is absolutely lovely, and is where he started out.
    – Allison C
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 20:35
  • @JesseIvy - you should look at more of his work. It covers a lot of ground. I too really dislike a few of his works. Senioritas d'Avignon is horrible to my eye despite its historic position and I am not a big fan of his ink work. But, most of his painting is both monumental (not just in scale), sublime, and often astounding.
    – rebusB
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 17:05

Can I suggest you can draw well? I have not seen anything you have drawn, but based on the way you talk about it, you sound passionate about the arts, and as though you have dedicated a pretty serious amount of time to drawing.

And to further bolster your confidence, geometry is an advanced topic. Can I suggest getting some books in that field such as Sacred Geometry by Miranda Lundy, or The Magic Mirror of MC Escher. Tesellations are pretty great and geometry is said to be divine. Though it's true that MC Escher's first works were amazing woodcut prints of landscapes with breathtaking accuracy.

I guess all I'm trying to convey is that I can empathize with your feelings, I've never been talented at drawing elements of mundane reality, and long ago I accepted that, and delved into what I am good at drawing, which is shape, form, and broken substance separate from everyday.

Personally, I avoided art school because I did not think it was appropriate for people to tell me what to do with regards to my art. The more you are able to build your confidence the better, and more personally pleasing your art will become.

My art is awful, and it is within its imperfection that the beauty lies, look how rough & broken.

Imperfect > Perfect In art there are no mistakes. To master anything requires about 10,000 hours, or 5 years full time.

If, on the other hand, you are dead set on learning to render reality a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is said to be a definative reference.

Also recommend this artist's grasp of 3D space. I believe she studied physics.

Katy Ann Gilmore https://instagram.com/p/BeCHgXOBtFx

I call this ink drawing The Hexed Blackheart https://twitter.com/idiotprovider/status/957784227604439040

Professionally the career of this dullard is in the field of applied mathematics. Programming is hard, but drawing a straight line and having it become appealing to others is a much more difficult science.

  • Even though that one's been downvoted: Betty Edwards is an important name to keep in mind. Re-learning to use the right half of your brain for drawing is essential. Another recommendation is Fun with a pencil by Loomis. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 3:11
  • Thanks @Haunt_House, I just tend to rub people the wrong way I guess.
    – Jesse Ivy
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 17:20
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    One can train and improve anything. Betty Edwards says: if you can write your name so others can read it easily, you can learn to draw and I agree with her. It's not even hard. It's just that most arts teachers in school are incompetent. Just like math. And then we internalise the result of this incompetence as negative part of our identity. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:24
  • @Haunt_House Well said. Goes to my theory that many do not even comprehend that art IS math. It is extremely complex math. Or to some, perhaps it's simple. I've always thought of visual art on the 2D plane as being sacred for some reason. I guess mostly just because of the diversity of directions artists take it in. My favorite art teacher told me "In art there are no mistakes", It is a true statement which infuriates me occasionally to this day. :)
    – Jesse Ivy
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:32
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    Well, I don't really want to create art. I want to communicate through pictures and do it well. And if one arm is twice as long as the other because perspective was neglected, then I have a problem with it. And I call it a mistake then. Even in simplified anatomy, there's right and wrong. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:53

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