Why Your Drawings look Childish
When we are children, we grow-up learning the basics of drawing that are only taken to a certain level. I know this because teachers will only take the skill of teaching art as far as they can. You learn at first how to color within the lines, or finger paint, or perhaps cut-out paper patterns. But there is so much more that you finally learn by the end. So by the time you reach a High School graduation, you’ve reached the end, right? Not really.
How much have you corrected your drawing skills, and why do your drawings look childish?
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Check Which Side of Your Brain You are Using?
Indeed, many teachers these days will not help a young mind learn what skills can help their students. Sometimes it comes down to the kind of school you went to. Other times it can be naturally gifted skills. I do think it comes down to what side of your brain you happen to think with. I’ve always been teased for being a ‘South Paw’ and was usually the pain of most teachers. It wasn’t my fault since my mother was left-handed too.
But most people are taught as right-handed students, as you’ll find out is a ‘key’ to unlocking your artistic power. You see that most everyone is right-handed down to the pen or pencil they use. Desks are set-up intended for right-handed people with more writing room on the right side. Even scissors are formed into a shape that makes cutting for right-handed people much more manageable. So obviously the world conforms many to think from a left-sided brain only.
But not everyone is born like this, and some people like me who spent years learning the right-handed method of art. It wasn’t until I had taken a ‘Career Aptitude’ test that steered me in the right direction. I showed skills that could see complex shapes in reverse and a strong appreciation for manual dexterity. My art teacher urged me to take-up mechanical drawing and AutoCAD, telling me that’s where the money was…
Though my brain was telling me something different, and that’s what I want to share with you. As I’ve had students before who weren’t the slightest bit artistic, I could help them to open up their thinking. Here’s how I did it!
Turn Your Drawing Upside Down
The first step is looking at your drawing with a fresh perspective. Simply turn any of your pictures upside down to how you usually look at it. If you think it looks pretty awkward, then you’re already noticing something else?
But look closer and relax your eyes a bit and make the image slightly fuzzy. Shapes begin to form, and another image starts to emerge. This is your mind correcting the image for you, making you see something else. Now quickly sketch the image that you see in under a couple of minutes. Broad lines with no fine detail and only the basic shapes involved. Now, turn it around upside down once again and see what your brain has figured out. It might be a total shock to see that your drawing looks better than what you drew before. This is all due to how that image is processed in your mind. Since naturally, we see things upside down in our eyes already.
Everything reflected in the back of your eye is typically flipped, but the brain will correct it for you. This is merely one step to tricking the brain into opening channels to the right portion that allows artistic interpretation. The next step is to complete your drawing with shading and adding highlight and shadow. Wait, what? How do these work, and how can they make a simple line drawing look professional.
Highlight and Shadow
These aren’t just fancy words since they add incredible value to any drawing. It makes a drawing look lively and have dimension. It can also carry weight to a subject or even age. It takes practice but not more than you think. It’s all about a light touch with smooth movements from your hand. To do this, you only need to look at something similar in shape with one eye open. Pay close attention to where the light is coming from also.
Start with the easier part and gently use light shadow on darker edges. Use a finger or, better yet, a twisted piece of paper towel to rub your pencil. If you have a blending pencil (they are pricy little paper sticks) that let you smooth-out shadows. Start-out lightly and get darker towards the edges of the outside line. Think of where your shadow line starts and let it give the illusion of curving around a surface. A round ball will be the easiest to copy.
Then using a highlighting pencil, which is always a proper white, you can repeat the same as the shadow side in reverse. It will be lighter in the outer edge and fading lighter toward the inside edges. Once again, use a blender tool to smooth-out these lines, so they match the shadow side. When you are done, you can then see how a simple exercise using two colors takes a drawing to a whole new level.
You can now add minor details to finish your drawing and make it look professional and clean. This is considered freehand drawing and doesn’t take much skill to master. Using one eye to see where shadows fall will always tell you where to put highlights into their place. It’s another reason why your drawings look childish since it misses this kind of shading. However, some shapes can be more involved, and the next section explains more.
Simplify Complex Subjects by Drawing Basic Shapes
Everything starts with a circle, and that’s about as basic as it gets. Famous director Tim Burton never got his circles round-enough as you might already know. His circles always looked lop-sided or lightly oval-shaped. But how often do you practice drawing a perfect circle? It’s an exercise that drives most right-handed people nuts, especially if it’s drawn freehand. One great activity is using the rule of basic shapes to define a large object.
Pablo Picasso was either a madman or a genius depending on how you look at his work. He gets my respect for his older work, where he dove into a simplified way of drawing. His still added light touches to give them dimension and passion. But he used basic shapes all through his work that included circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. These are the fundamental building blocks that babies first learn about, and you should too.
Draw a standing figure in a pose, use a magazine or still image on a PC screen. Draw it using any of these 4 basic shapes only and combine them as simple as possible. What Picasso did was to use his shadow line as a basic shape. It shows in every picture he ever did. The most disturbing thing about Darth Vader’s mask is that it’s made up of simple shapes. You might be surprised to know that each form is painted a different shade of grey.
Develop your Understanding of Proportion
Even Mickey Mouse is indeed a series of circles connected by straight lines. Some of these circles are oval since Walt Disney believed in cartoon reality. A jelly-like stretching that occurs to simulate life. All animated characters stretch to varying degrees, but to fool the eye in one dimension, it takes proportion. What part of your drawing is supposed to leap off the paper? What part is shoved even further into the background?
Once again, you need to keep it simple with a circle since this is the hardest to draw. What will it look like if it’s flying at you at high speed? How about racing down a tall hill? Some objects need to appear more prominent in the front and smaller in the back to trick the eye. It’s an optical trick that we cannot visually see, but need to see in drawings. Show the mass of your object and how heavy it must weigh. In the end, it’s often out of proportion for a reason.
Stan Lee of Marvel Comics had superheroes drawn like this. To show power and movement, and nothing looked like it matched in size to the picture. But it works since ‘Rubber Reality’ in the cartoon world is the golden rule. Try pushing your drawing into the foreground while the rest of the object reduced into the background. You might find it all depends on the power of the movement that a viewer is being forced to accept.
Vary the Strength and the Quality of Line you Draw With
A good drawing starts with light lines and develops when the basics lines are finished. After that, the connecting lines are built-up to match the image you want to present. A good test to see how lightly you draw with is the feather test. Take an ordinary bird feather from the wing. It has to have a nice blade edge that comes to a rounded point. Then take some charcoal pencils rubbed heavily onto a piece of paper, so it’s easy to rub-off your finger.
Then take the blade edge and run it over the charcoal, using it to draw a straight line. This will be the most frustrating task since the feather will want to bend left or right. When you master using it like a knife to draw a nice straight line, you’re ready to use a pencil. Drawing with a pencil is easy, but until you know how to make your line defined, you need this practice. It matters how a line is curved or rounded. Slow and steady as if the wind is blowing the thickness of the line itself around curves. Give your lines their living quality.
A feather will want to flip over and ruin a nice sliced line, so master that feather at all times. It’s no accident that Japanese painters use a paintbrush that’s like a horse tail! They can paint using the skill of a Sushi chef without spilling a drop. So it’s up to you to control your line quality with any drawing pen or pencil. It will take practice, and this is why I highly recommend you practice feather training.
Learn to Appreciate Modern Art
I would be guilty if I didn’t say I hated modern art, but I’ve come to appreciate it more. We are living in a contemporary world, and often modern art gets trashed. Sure there may be trash modern art. Just look at street artist Banksy, and see how his art sells for! It’s simple and carries a message that everyone is talking about. Modern art is an emotion for the shock value generation. I can see that kind of rational, and so can you.
Just like looking at your first exercise on drawing a picture upside down will give you a fresh perspective. It’s different and remains very modern at the same time. As a kid, I hated Picasso paintings but, over the years, found the art very emotional. Putting yourself into the drawings is a perfect start too, so practice in front of a mirror. You might even see an emerging talent that will allow you to appreciate what modern art is all about. Simplicity!
Appreciate the simple things without overcrowding a drawing, and it will grow into discovery. It can then further make you question why your drawings look childish. Adding polishing touches along the way will challenge the drawing itself. It will help turn a simple figure into pure thoughts on paper. And this is what real art is all about, which is why modern art is more than shapes and lines. That raw emotion will be drawn out by your thoughts.
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