Are Your Sketches Messy? Here’s How to be Neater

My Sketches Are Messy
My Sketches Are Messy

Reasons Why Your Drawings May be Messy?

Have you ever wondered why you have the feeling that something isn’t right with your finished drawings? It’s not enough that self-doubt creeps in, and you feel like it just isn’t turning out how you want. I’ve spent years drawing, and I can tell you that feeling is part of being creative. Don’t be ashamed or beat yourself up over a sketch that looks crappy. So are your drawings messy? Here’s how to be neater.

Drawing is all about letting go and putting your feelings on paper. That passion is supposed to be there, but when you only see the frustration, it’s not your fault. I will share some essential tips that I learned long ago and still practice them to this day. These tips are easy to learn and help build up the confidence you need to polish your sketching skills. But the most essential part is still preserving the emotion that comes through your hands.

Once you start with these practice steps, you won’t have that doubt anymore. That fire in your gut is the driving force to begin pushing your sketching limits. The better you get, the more your creativity will shine as a result.

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If you are a Beginner, Focus on Drawing Basic Subjects in Proportion

The first rule you need to learn is the most basic one you already know. You know what a basic shape looks like since you see them every day, all around you! Circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles are all the most common shapes. If you can sketch any of these in a few seconds, you’re already way past the beginner stage. But unlike the basic outline, they will just look flat on paper as a 2D image. Are you ready to make them into 3D images?

First, you’ll need to have some basic shapes that make them easier to work with. Take some cardboard or thick craft paper. I like to use the paper from a shoebox because it’s thick enough to make quick shapes. Trace the four basic outlines I mentioned before: circle, square, triangle, and rectangle. They can be from everyday objects no bigger than your open hand. Just like on Sesame Street, draw a thinner (inner) line, so they have an even ΒΌ inch thickness.

Now cut them out as if they’re block letters and use a glue stick to make them stand-up. Use pieces to glue to the backside of each shape. Just like a board game figure, you can pose them on a table. These are now the proportional shapes you’ll use for reference. As you turn, each shape left or right and looks at each shape with one eye closed. These shapes should be at least 2 feet away from you. Watch the shape change direction as you move it.

It’s easier to see this shape change when they have only an open frame you can see through.

If it’s easier, hang a colored blanket behind the table to see your outline better. Quickly sketch on some paper these shapes as you see them. What direction do they lean towards? They’re no longer perfectly shaped, are they? Only concentrate on turning them left or right for now. When you’ve done a dozen of these quick sketches, you’re ready for the next step.

Use a Drawing Grid

Now comes the fun part. Cut your shapes out as neatly as they are drawn and put them aside. You should have a larger piece of paper or a sketchbook with oversize papers that you can tear-out. Now you can take each shape that’s cut-out and place it on the paper according to the direction it’s turned. It should either be at the farthest side, but in the middle half of your paper. Now you can carefully trace this object outline.

Now you are ready to use a long ruler or any flat tool that draws a straight line. On the edge of the object angle, the ruler to the direction it’s heading. This is called the ‘vanishing point,’ and each shape has the top and bottom line to fill in. Your two lines may or may not touch as they stretch over to the opposite side of the paper. To make them touch only concentrate on the lower line. Now correct the top line, so it touches the bottom line.

Where they touch you now draw a horizon’ line. This line should be as flat as the bottom of your drawing paper. This is now a simple drawing grid that gives you the approximate angle you saw your cut-out basic shape. You can then add other lines from other edges to that connecting line point. Add a thickness as you like by drawing vertical or angled lines where your object gets smaller between those angle lines.

Use a drawing square with 45 degrees to do this. Match angled lines with similar angles as your object has. If the shape was rounded, place your cut-out roughly where the round shape can sit and trace that curve. This is a more natural way to get 3D drawings that you can practice from a grid pattern. Later, when you get better, the top and bottom angles will be a matter of perspective within this grid. You’ve now completed a valuable second step of a grid perspective.

Trace Rudimentary Outlines

What this means is to use the same one eye’ trick that helps you to only see the shape or form of an object. Move onto random shapes such as a banana or a pear, which include curves and rounded edges. Start with the edge of these objects and draw just one side. A pear will be a reverse shape that is flipping the line. The banana is relatively a mirrored line that connects at each starting and ending line.

These kinds of sketches should be drawn lightly so you can erase the mistakes. It’s not until you start to draw them in 3D that the angles will change. One part of that shape will always become slightly smaller as it goes into the horizon line. As you begin further sketches on your large paper, you start with a horizon line to establish your sight angle. After that, it’s only a matter of how far your object is going to sit within the sketch.

Is this object closer to you or further away? Establish the size and then choose where the vanishing point will be. Anywhere along that horizon line will be the spot where all objects are drawn will have their angle lines touch. This is important for shapes that have hard lines, such as squares and rectangles. Rounded objects are a little trickier but follow a smaller curve, so it looks like its shrinking.

Understand the Difference Between Preliminary Sketches and Finished Drawings

Every master makes a rough sketch of what they want to draw. It’s a practice drawing to work out the simple math. Solve your background problems before you jump into a major 3D drawing mistake. It might take a couple of sketches to work out the technical stuff, but it’s not without reason. You can spot the errors before you start the finished version. These previous sketches also work as a blueprint for the final work.

I like to make notes on my drawings and sketches that are a bit like a shopping list. These notes are for angles and shading. Though it helps to plot how many objects are being added into your sketch. Don’t think twice about why are your sketches messy? Here’s how to be neater for the final composition. Move your shapes around and adjust those shapes as you intend. Don’t be shy to change shapes so other objects can be seen in the picture too.

Your sketches are all combined the same way you layer them on the same page. Just like Disney animators use layers of animation cels, characters and shapes are put into the background one by one. You might end up with several sketches that are added slowly, but they all match the horizon line and angles. By the time you finish your drawing, you’ll be blown away at how well it all fits together.

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Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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