When you have an idea for a drawing, it takes a form of a fleeting vision in your mind. In your imagination it has all the details and looks absolutely fabulous. You just have to draw it to see it clearer! So you go and draw it, before you lose it forever.
But it’s not easy to draw something you don’t really see. Actually, you don’t know if you’re drawing it right before it’s finished. Only then you can compare the results to your vision, and then it’s too late to fix anything. You can try again, from scratch, spend another few hours on it, but without any guarantee you’ll do it justice this time. And it’s so frustrating putting so much effort into something only to fail!
But there’s a way to make your next try more productive. Moreover, it will make you better prepared for future drawings. If you want to learn how to turn a failed drawing into a successful drawing in matter of hours, keep reading.
How to Start
Just do what you intended to do anyway—draw your idea! You don’t need to make it 100% finished, if it takes too long. You can also use some older drawing with a cool idea and poor rendering that you’d like to give another chance to.
This is an old drawing of mine. Let’s pretend I’ve just drawn it. I wanted to draw a half-wolf, half-horse—a werehorse of a sort. I was really curious what it would look like, and it gave me the inspiration to draw.
It’s not a bad drawing, not entirely. It shows the idea, it has roughly correct anatomy. But it doesn’t matter what it looks like—what matters is what it was supposed to look like in my mind.
Look at your drawing. Do you like it? Could it be better? Let’s find out. Make a list of what you like and you don’t about yor drawing. Be very thorough and even harsh, if need be. Don’t pretend to not see the mistakes you’re ashamed of—that won’t do you any good.
What I like:
It looks like a wolf-horse, there’s no doubt about it:
- It looks very fluffy.
- The ears have a nice shape.
- The mouth looks scary!
What I don’t like:
- The pose looks so forced, so unnatural.
- The picture is flat, even with all this shading.
- The mouth has visibly wrong anatomy.
- The fur around the legs covers my problem with drawing hooves.
- The expression is unrealistic, very random.
- It’s mostly a furry horse, there’s little wolf in it.
- It doesn’t look very powerful.
- It doesn’t look like a real animal.
Ok, so now we know what we did right in our drawing, and what should be fixed. So, put your shoulder to the wheel—we’re going to make it perfect soon!
Solve the Problems One by One
So what elements exactly failed in your drawing? Name them:
- Dynamic horse pose
- Dynamic wolf pose
- Horse anatomy/3D form
- Wolf anatomy/3D form
- Horse head details and expressions
- Wolf head details and expressions
Well, in my case it seems like a lot! Small wonder the picture doesn’t look very good. But it also means there’s room for improvement, so let’s work on these issues.
We all can recognize a natural pose, but it’s harder to create it from imagination. The only way to imagine a natural pose for our character is to practice drawing natural poses from a reference first.
References are really helpful in drawing, but they’re also limiting—you need to find exactly the pose you were imagining, and there’s a risk that nobody has took a photo of it yet. So for creative drawing it’s better to use references before getting to the actual work. You learn what natural means, and then you apply this to your creative drawing.
Find photos of your subject in natural, dynamic poses. You can use Google Images, Deviant Art, Pinterest—it’s your choice. Sketch the poses, analyzing them actively in the process. Don’t just copy what you see. You don’t want to create a nice drawing yet—you want to learn what makes a good drawing.
Reduce the poses to simple shapes and proportions. You don’t need anything else to recognize a pose. Try to find some relation between the position of the individual parts of the body. Can you guess a position of one limb when looking at the other? Can you guess the curve of the back from the position of the legs? Ask such questions and answer them while sketching.
When you guess a shape of a body of something you’ve never paid attention to, there’s small chance you’ll get it right. There are so many details you simply have never noticed! That’s why you need to learn more about your subject before you draw it.
Again, find some references. Use various views to see the 3D form better. Then sketch them, again drawing the result of a careful analysis and not just the lines you see. Convert the subject into simple forms you can memorize and rotate in your mind. Try to use the same set of lines for every sketch. Use as many photos as necessary to fully understand what you’re supposed to draw.
Finally, there are certain elements of the drawings that capture our attention. The face or hands can be such elements—no matter how good the rest of the drawing, if you draw the face wrong, the whole drawing will look wrong. There may be also other details important for the theme of your drawing—a necklace, a sword, a piece of clothing—that will draw attention to themselves and thus must be drawn skillfully.
Whatever it is, find references for it as well. Even a magic sword must be similar to a real sword, so there’s always some photo you can use. Analyze and sketch, try to find the rules you can memorize.
There’s one more problem with drawing your vision—you only get one try. You can’t experiment, because there’s a risk you do something wrong and waste the time. You need to draw it from start to finish, and only then you can see what you could do differently.
This is a great advantage of preparation sketches. You can test your ideas quickly without the pressure to make each of them perfect. So go and sketch—what actually is your idea about?
Try to foresee the problems, or remember the problems you’ve had the last time. In my case, I had to think of a way to combine small mouth of a grazing animal (wide cheeks proper for chewing masses of food) with a wide mouth of a carnivore (big bite). There are many ways to do it—some better, some worse. And by sketching them here I don’t need to guess perfectly the first time!
Now, what pose would be the best for your idea? There may be more than one, and you can’t tell before you try. So… try! Sketch all the poses you can think of. Even when you find one that looks perfect, keep drawing—you never know what else you are capable of!
Pick the pose that you like the most and work some more on it. Maybe you like a part of it, but not all? Maybe it can be modified, improved?
Finish the design now. Add 3D form to the pose, sketch the details. If you’re drawing traditionally, you can copy the sketch of the pose and print it with lower opacity to sketch as many times as you like (that’s not cheating!). In digital drawing you only need to copy the layer.
Ready for the final part? If you’re drawing digitally, enlarge your sketch and lower its opacity. Draw on a separate layer. If you’re drawing digitally, scan it again, enlarge it in a software, and print it lightly.
Sketch the details now over the sketch. Feel free to use a reference every time you feel the need to guess something. There’s no shame in it!
This is the final sketch. Time for the last “light copy” you can draw over. If you want to make it completely traditional, you can put the sketch under a new sheet of paper (or simply use this sketch as a reference for your final drawing). Draw the final, clean lines.
And we’re done! Isn’t the difference striking? You may like the first result better, you may think the other one could be improved in some other direction, but remember—this is always about your personal goal. You, as the artist, define what “better” means in your case. You can even go from unintentionally imperfect realism to intentionally imperfect cartoon, and if you’re more satisfied with it, then it is improvement—no matter what they say!
If this tutorial didn’t help you, and you feel even more frustrated, because what I call a “simple sketch” is too advanced for you, don’t worry—there’s nothing wrong with you, you just may need to come back to basics. My series How to Draw From Imagination will help you get better in a long term:
- How to Draw from Imagination Part 1: Why Is It So Hard?
- How to Draw from Imagination Exercises: Precision
- How to Draw from Imagination Part 2: Freehand Perspective and Drawing in 3D
- How to Draw from Imagination Part 3: Beyond References
Monika Zagrobelna is a Polish artist with a specialty in drawing animals and conceiving of animals that haven’t yet been invented. You can check out more of her work and follow along with her latest tutorials on her Facebook Page and HERE on the blog.