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6 Drawing Mistakes -And 6 Regrettable Shading Mistakes- That Make You A Rookie

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Published on: 09 Nov 2022

"Every artist was first an amateur."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson 

So you want to draw. And you have tried. Is it meeting your expectations? We assume not, considering that you are reading this blog about drawing mistakes. No worries, you have made the right decision. This blog will take you through not just drawing mistakes and how to fix them but also other aspects where you may need improvements. 

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Before writing this blog, we did some research within our workspace. By "research", we mean asking a couple of amateur and mid-level artists in the company to try drawing. And, man, oh man, did we encounter many mistakes! What's more amusing is that they weren't the first or last to make these mistakes. Even professional artists have made these mistakes and learned from them. Pretty sure that you, too, are making some or all of these mistakes. 

Curious to know what these mistakes are? Below we have sketched (pun intended!) a list of errors you may be making. Let's confront the blunders of drawing!

6 drawing mistakes you need to stop making now!

"What an idiot!" That's something you may think after reading these mistakes. Try not to! You aim to learn from these mistakes and not spiral into self-deprecation. 
So, read these 6 drawing mistakes and learn how to fix them. Let's go!

1. Non-uniform construction 

See the picture of a flower below? That happens when you draw the entire picture at once without taking time to calculate dimensions. 

bad flower koolstories

To draw anything, you need to begin with a skeleton. The flesh, the organs, and the skin come secondary. First comes the skeletons, over which you can add the aesthetic appeal you visualise. Instead of drawing the whole flower (with the petals, leaves, and stem), begin with a basic shape like a circle. Add reference lines (North, East, West, and South) to this circle. You can add more lines based on the number of petals. This would be a rough skeleton of a flower. 

good flower koolstories

You see, the difference between a professional artist and a rookie is that:

A professional takes the time to calculate and draw uniformly.

2. Drawing reference lines super dark

When we say you need to draw reference lines, you must draw them in 'secret'. Reference lines are basically the skeleton in your art's cupboard. Nobody but the artist should know about this 'secret ingredient'. The viewer shouldn't even know that you used them. It's one of the greatest delights of drawing. Once your image layout is ready, erase these lines. This is also why your (ssshhh….) reference lines should be drawn super light. Darker lines leave marks, like in the picture below. 

eraser marks koolstories

Every professional art you see begins with reference lines. 

Reference lines are the Batman of artistic techniques, and you need to work with them with as much silence as possible. 

3. Lacking continuity

Lack of continuity takes your drawings farther away from realism. And why not? You don't see a sword having inconsistent architecture in real life. A table edge doesn't just stop in the middle, change dimensions abruptly and restart unless it's broken.  

continuity sample koolstories

If you want to make your drawings realistic, understand the concept of continuity. It's one thing to create free-style art pieces and another to just make illogical and juvenile mistakes. Your drawings should follow continuity, and that's fundamental physics. 

4. Baking before the batter

Compare the two images below. Do you see the difference? The first image isn't the worst trial at first glance, but when you compare it to the next picture, you realise how much work the first picture lacks of.

(Picture A)

amateur hand drawing koolstories

(Picture B)

pro hand drawing koolstories

Pretty sure the first reason you thought that made the first picture look bad was because of the realistic shading. But we guarantee you that that's not it. 

Most beginner artists learn the fancy stuff first. It's understandable why. The cool things like anatomy, shading, and creating motion seem way more exciting. At least, it's more exciting than learning how to hold the pencil and which type of pencil and paper one should use. Despite using all the remarkable techniques pro artists use, your image doesn't come out well. The proportions are off, and the gesture is stiff. 

The reason is that you focused on the advanced before learning the core stuff. It's like baking without even preparing the batter. Your flour is as it is. You added sugar, butter, eggs, and flavours without mixing the ingredients. Would you get the cake after baking this mixture? Certainly not. That's what happened in picture A above. 

The mistakes in picture A could have been avoided if the artist had taken some time to focus on the basics. Learning measuring- and pencil-holding techniques can be time-consuming initially. But they can make your drawings look more professional. And, as you practise, we promise you will get better and faster in creating proportionate life-like drawings. 

5. Using symbols

This is a star symbol: ✰

This is a heart symbol with an arrow: 💘

This is a fist symbol: 👊

Symbols imply the simplification of an object. A fist, a heart, and a star look way more complex (and entirely different) than their assigned symbols. 

Hence, using symbols to make a drawing is a HUGE mistake. Take the example of the human eye. Keeping the symbol as a reference, you need to draw an almond-shaped outer part. Draw a darker circle within to signify the pupil. Add some lashes on the outer part to mimic the human eye. How would the result look? Maybe something like this:

amateur eye koolstories

That's because you are only considering what you see in the symbol. The real human eye has more details that you completely missed. It has the upper and lower eyelid, pupil, iris, sclera, Plica semilunaris, Lacrimal caruncle, and Lacrimal papilla. Do you see how many details you missed over a symbol?

A symbol is a complete no-no. If you want to draw better, you need real references, not their symbolic icons. 

6. Overusing outlines

It's always good to draw a line in the sand. But, in drawing, it's a tad too much at times. That's because the real world doesn't have outlines. Most beginners draw thick outlines around everything. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. . . . . if you want to draw cartoons or linear art. 
Realistic drawings require way more outline precision. Where you use it matters. In fact, it's completely okay not to use outlines at all. 

Think of it this way: outlines make the drawings 2-dimensional. Instead of 2-D outlines, focus on 3D planes. For instance, knowing the anatomy of shoulders will help you structure them realistically without using outlines. 

Some expert artists like John Singer Sargent use both strategies. Observe the image below, a drawing by John S. Sargent:

John S. Sargent Koolstories

In the primary features like the nose, lips, ear and eyes, he did not use outlines. Simple shading with tones does the task of forming the contours. Now notice the secondary features like the neck, collar, coat, bow, and the left side of the jaw. The outlines are strikingly placed to deliberately show the contrast between the left and right. And the outlines don't look overwhelming. He used them carefully only where he wanted a "popping" effect. 

So, understand that: it's okay to use outlines, but it's not okay to overuse them.

Now that you understand what drawing mistakes you are making, let's jump into the next section:
What shading mistakes are you making? 

6 Shading mistakes you need to stop now!

Shading is a part of a drawing. A drawing may feel incomplete without shading. But be careful. Wrong shading techniques can destroy a good drawing. Yes, yes. That's how murky the waters can get. But you don't have to worry. These are the 7 most common shading mistakes you are probably making right now. Scratch that! These are the most common mistakes you are DEFINITELY making right now, and here's how to fix them.

1. Avoiding weaknesses

You don't know how to draw hands.

Lazy fix: Create pockets!

Feet too difficult to draw.

Lazy fix: What are shoes for?

To all those artists who have such weak spots with brilliant lazy solutions: WE SEE YOU. 

And what you are trying to pull here is not okay. We assure you that avoiding your weaknesses will never help you improve your drawing or shading techniques. Instead, you are only empowering your fears. 

Not practising your weaknesses may work for a while, but in the long run, you are only stomping down your growth. 

2. Messy lines ≠ art

We know drawing is about freedom. In fact, it's doubtful that there's any other profession that can be as rebellious as creating art. 
But, to break the rules, you need to first know the rules. 

Messiness is a part of art. But there's a difference between messy art and sheer messiness. Is the mess you are creating your "style" or just confusion about dimensions and constructions?

See it this way:

If shading is communication, messy and unclear shading is gibberish muttering. Crude but true. 
The problem is that what many beginners believe to be messy art is, in fact, the lack of finesse in techniques. Artists like Nicolai Fechin and Heinrich Kley have created messy art, but it's not a crappy mess. Just take a look at the artwork done by Nicolai Fechin below:

Nicolai Fechin koolstories

Why does this mess work?

First, their "mess" is a part of the precise shading technique used to create the illusion of motion. It doesn't define the structure, only uplifts it. Second, this messiness is intentional. Is your messiness intentional or a lack of expertise?

If you want to create messy art, you need to understand the basics of shadings. Most beginners draw using their wrists and fingers. Professional artists use elbows. 

Here's a mantra that can help while shading:

Shoulder and elbows for long strokes.

Wrists for short strokes.  

3. Scared of the dark

Most artists are scared of adding dark shadows on fair drawings. 
Because amateurs believe that:

Light skin = light values

Silly, we know. Because shadows are shadows. And, to add realism to a drawing, shadows play a role as important as lights. 

In some cases, artists are scared that dark shadows would take away the structure from their drawings. What they forget is that shadows are what highlight the light. Remove the shadows, remove the mood set by the lighting. 
Moreover, a lack of shadows means losing the 3-dimensional illusion in your drawing.   

The trick to avoiding muddy drawings is to not be scared of dark shading. Placing the values correctly (more on this later) can define your drawing way better than any outline. 

4. Bad photo references

Draw what you see, not what you think you see.

Photography and drawing are vastly different fields. A selfie with filters may look nice even with the wrong highlights, shadows, and contrasts. But drawing requires way more precise shading. The sooner an artist learns this difference, the easier it will be to choose the right photo references.

Are photo references the only valid references you can use?

Using other references like drawings by other artists will never give you the clarity realism needs. A good photograph catches life realistically. The only other reference that can be better than photos is real life itself. So, using real life is equally advisable. However, you may not always find the reference you need in real life. This is where photographs come in handy. 

We have some "wrongs" and "rights" that can help you choose the right photo references.


-Overexposed or underexposed photos. 

-Blurry photos.

-Photos with extreme lens distortion.

-Tiny-sized photos.

-Photoshopped photos from magazines or advertisements. 


-Good lighting and clear shadows.

-Photos that clearly define the structure.

-Minimal touch-ups. 

5. Sloppy values

To understand this point, you need to know what values and halftones mean.

Values: Values define how light or dark the shade of a colour can be. In common language, they are referred to as "gradient" or "colour scale".  

Halftone: It is the value between light and dark. In a 3D plane, it is the middle of where the light and shadow meet.

In drawings, the value of any particular point on a subject is determined by the angle of the surface in relation to the light source. 

The planes get darker progressively as the subject turns away from the light. Basic science, right?

But how do you draw this basic science? Through shading and appropriate value placement.

values and halftones koolstories

Here are two rules for shading that you must remember:

-Shadows are NEVER all black, not unless you are drawing something that's in space. 

-The lightest shadow is darker than the darkest halftone.  

6. Scratchy shading

Remember when you were a kid, you were taught to colour without leaving any holes? That's a tiny lesson but with major importance. 

scratchy shading koolstories

The pictures above would have looked way better if the shading didn't have holes. 

Why is shading with holes a massive issue that needs immediate correction?

For starters, shading with holes neither looks like shadows nor like highlights. Instead, it looks like flawed highlights breaking the shadow. It completely destroys the effect. 


-Shadows don't look dark, they look spotty. 

-Shadows look like halftones, and halftones look like shadows.

-The drawing looks dirty. 

There are 3 ways you can fix this mess:

-Fill the holes manually.

-Blend the shadows.

-Prevent it first-hand by shading in tight lines. 

Drawing the conclusion with an easy scope to learn 

On KoolStories, you get to learn everything about drawing in various styles. Check out our micro courses that bring you the most detailed information in 15-minutes. What's more than these bite-sized courses is the opportunity to meet experts and learn everything first-hand! Download now and upgrade your drawing skills.  

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How can I ensure accuracy in drawing?

You can assure accuracy in drawing through the following methods:

- Use tools to measure the subject. To ensure accuracy, bring your line-of-sight down to your shoulder-level and close one eye to observe measurements. 

- Use the grid technique to simplify the subject size and dimensions before drawing. This technique comes in most handy while drawing portraits.

- Use triangle grid technique to contour lines and create portraits easily. The technique uses precise measurements and dot connectivities. 

- Identify positive and negative spaces. Positive spaces are closed and defined structures. Negative spaces are open areas in between positive spaces.

Why do my hands shake while drawing?

This is how you can avoid shaky hands while drawing:

- Relax your hand and stretch your body. A relaxed mind can help in less shakiness. Sometimes, anxiety and tension can also be the cause of shakiness. Let all your worries and fears of being judged pass.

- Hold your drawing pencil lightly. You don’t want rigidity. You want flow. The tighter you hold your pencil, the more your hand will shake and struggle to draw.

- Be decisive about what you want to draw. A hesitant mind can lead to shaky hands and wobbly drawing. First, fix your mind and then, your pencil.

What secrets of drawing can an artist hold?

Artistic secrets can be in the art itself but not in the technicalities. Nevertheless, here are some secret artist-to-artist tips:

- Studying the bone structure and the anatomy or the zoology thoroughly. An artist may know more about the body than a regular person. If a medico were to ask an artist of the human body, they would be surprised to see how much a drawing artist knows.

- Understanding the geographical creations beyond what one can see. A layman will see only a mountain. An artist will see every big and tiny detail that mountain carries in its chest.

- Observing beyond the ordinary. Most artists are introverts. Most artists are also observants. They notice human emotions and daily details that pass the common sight without any difference. That’s the core secret of any artist.

How can I learn to draw fast every day?

Here’s what you can do to get better at drawing every day:

- Begin by assigning 20 minutes a day to practise your drawing skills. Stick with this time-length no matter what.

- Learn bite-size. Learn only how much you know you can memorise for a long time. If it’s only one minute detail you can learn, so be it. Understand that there’s no competition for who learns fastest. But, there is a market competition for who learned the best.

- Evolve your drawing process by connecting with a guide who can provide you feedback, tutorials, and more. Don’t just rely on learning alone by yourself. Connect with other learners and experts to find inspirations for how to draw well.