Can anyone learn to draw? What makes a good artist? Can drawing be taught or is it a talent you’re born with? Is practice enough? Plus, how long does it take to become good at drawing? So many questions and this post tries to answer them honestly.
Anyone can learn to draw at any age. The principles are easily understood but the skill takes time to master. With practice and patience, anyone can draw well. Inevitably, and as with all things in life, some people will be more gifted than others.
Does that mean you shouldn’t bother? Not at all. Let’s answer the questions one-by-one.
Is It True That Anyone Can Draw?
Yes, anyone can draw at a basic level. Children begin by drawing shapes and symbols and as their brains develop they refine their drawings. At first, they add their knowledge to their pictures and ignore what they see. Only later do they attempt to represent reality.
For example, I remember moving school when I was 7 years old and the class gathering around to watch me draw an airplane. Everyone else drew a plane in profile with one attached vertically to the top and the other to the bottom. They drew what they knew to be there.
I, on the other hand, drew just one wing as a parabola on the body of the airplane. In other words, I’d started to move away from what I knew to be present to what I could actually see.
We develop at different speeds but as the brain changes, so does our drawing. Children imitate adults as they learn but draw with little understanding of how it works. Inevitably, most kids give up as they fall behind the children who have figured things out for themselves.
Think back to school. There was always a kid or two that could draw far better than everyone else wasn’t there? I was one of those kids. I could draw but I couldn’t explain how I did it. Indeed had no idea that it could be explained at all. I didn’t know why I was better than most kids.
It’s only by looking back can I appreciate what was happening. I had figured out how to cross-measure proportions to get a more accurate drawing. It’s a simple methodical approach that all draftsmen use.
This can be taught, it’s a skill.
Unless you have a teacher who knows how to draw themselves and can pass that knowledge on, most kids convince themselves that drawing is a mysterious talent given only to a few.
It’s already too late to inspire kids when they equate drawing as a sign of their own failure. It becomes a mental block and self-defeating.
Drawing can be taught and the rules are there to follow. There is no mystery. Anyone can improve their skills, just as anyone can learn to play a musical instrument.
Can I Learn to Draw if I Have No Talent?
First, you must define what you mean by talent. If you regard talent as the ability to draw then you can certainly learn to draw. Drawing is a technical skill and practice will improve it.
If, on the other hand, you accept that talent is the creativity needed to turn your learned skills into something more extraordinary, that’s harder to teach.
Further Reading: How Do You Learn To draw?
You can learn to draw, and in this day and age, there are shortcuts to help you achieve a result that looks “good enough”. Most of the time, it’s not about being able to draw well from a technical point of view. It’s more about what you want your drawing to represent and how you feel when looking at it.
For example, if I was asked to illustrate an apple in eight steps or less for someone who had never drawn before, I could teach someone how to do it. What I would find difficult, is to teach someone how to represent the apple in an interesting way.
Can You Learn to Draw at Any Age?
It’s easier to learn when you are younger and your brain is still growing. If all the neural pathways are established in a young brain, they are likely to remain and become instinctive as an adult.
That said, in theory, there should be no reason why you can’t learn to draw in adulthood. It will require a level of commitment and focus that might not come easily in a world full of pressures, distractions, and time restraints.
Drawing has one big advantage over painting in that you can pick it up and put it down at will. There is no drying time and color mixes you need to save. You can sit at a table with the TV on, draw for an hour or two, and pack it all away in seconds.
Drawing is the perfect medium to zone out from everyday life.
Taking up drawing is, however, more often associated with retirement when all the stresses of working life are over.
It’s not too late to learn drawing and with the right practice, you can do it! The only question is how much time you are willing to commit, your expectations, and let’s face it, your physical limitations.
As a man reaching his 60th year, I’m only too aware of my failing eyes and the problems that affect my drawing abilities. Thankfully I still have a steady hand but I’m well aware that I can’t take anything for granted. These things aren’t forever.
If you can accept that some things might not be possible at every stage in life and lower your expectations you will find that drawing is still a practical pursuit.
To use my own abilities as an example. I can draw hyper-realistically. It’s taken me 40 years of drawing to reach this level of detail, but I started when my eyes could see everything clearly.
Then in middle age, the onset of eye-floaters destroyed the look of white paper and that was insanely frustrating for me. Then subsequently, I needed reading glasses and as my eyes got worse they became stronger. It was like looking through two bottle-ends.
When you need magnifying glasses to see the detail you know life has changed.
I can still draw as well as ever, touch wood, but now I am transitioning away from obsessive detail, towards a more arty feel. I don’t want to strain to see the minutiae anymore. My style is changing with age.
How Long Does it Take to Be Good at Drawing?
I remember reading somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. I looked it up for this post and discovered that it came from a paper written by K Anders Ericsson in 1993 with the snappy title of ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.’
Thankfully it was made popular in a book called ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell.
It’s easy to take that at face value but if you challenge it, it doesn’t add up, not for artists anyway.
Looking back, I would say I was good at drawing by the time I was 10-11 years of age and well above average by the time I was 15-16. That means from the start of school to 15 years of age I would’ve spent 20 hours a week drawing. I know that’s not true.
It’s clear that if you start young your brain is like a learning sponge and the process is accelerated.
Even as an adult I question the number. We all have different aptitudes and speeds of learning. I’m a fast learner in some respects and a dunderhead in others.
I think with modern aids and the ability to follow tutorials the learning curve has reduced dramatically. There was a time when you had to learn the trade as an apprenticeship under a master. Then you had to attend an art school for formal teaching. Today you can watch youtube, follow someone on Patreon, or buy an online drawing course.
All those tips and tricks of the trade you had to spend years acquiring are out there on the web for everyone to share. It’s never been easier.
And now you are not confined to life drawing. Photography has helped artists for years but the ubiquity of smartphones with brilliant cameras, means imagery is everywhere.
An artist doesn’t have to scratch their heads for subject matter anymore, there is no need for a sketchbook of scribbled notes, everything is on a device. Ideas are captured in an instant. It’s the ultimate resource for artists.
Using Photos to Teach Yourself To Draw
Yes, it’s true that you lose something by drawing just from photos, it’s better to combine real-life observations with photos as a digital drawing aid. We are so lucky now that we can work from life and digital images at one and the same time. It’s amazing.
But not everyone has the confidence to learn from life or can physically get out and about like they once did.
Further Reading: Is Drawing From Photos Bad?
It’s perfectly normal to lack confidence when you start drawing and the fear of going wrong can stop you from trying anything, especially if you’re worried about making a fool of yourself.
But drawing isn’t about being able to draw brilliantly; it’s about understanding how things work, recognizing different shapes and proportions so that everything clicks into place. At that point, you can let your mind zone out and treat drawing as a pleasure.
I argue, and it’s only a personal opinion, that it’s easier to learn how to draw from a photograph. A beginner can progress at pace and build on small wins. There are numerous ways to ensure good results that push you forward.
Using a grid will help you enormously when you are learning to draw. Take a photograph of your subject, overlay a grid, and then work out where each line intersects on the paper and what shape you are left with.
Draw the outline first and then each box. The picture will emerge as the shapes join up. Your brain will start to look for shapes. As you become more proficient you can make the boxes bigger and your drawing will be more natural.
Eventually, you can try working from life. It might take longer for your brain to learn the shapes but at least your brain is looking the right way.
Do Professional Artists Need to Practice?
Speaking as a professional artist myself, I find that drawing for a living is pretty good practice in one way but it does have its drawbacks. I no longer sketch the way I used to when I was learning.
Experimentation is a rare thing these days, I tend to draw the same way over and over again. Money pressures kill creativity and so does trying to please the public.
Sadly commercial art has its limitations and the money mindset gets in the way of trying out good ideas. It’s a matter of time and risk. How much time am I prepared to commit to an idea that may well fall flat on its face?
I’m more risk-averse when I need the money and need to make sales.
The practice of drawing takes a back seat and sadly the fun disappears too. Drawing becomes work rather than being an enjoyable experience like it was when I was young or learning something new now at art school where there is no pressure.
At the outset of my ‘career’, I always imagined that I’d do my commercial work and in my free time I would do the work that I enjoyed. Over time that faded. I like to use gardening as an analogy. Does a professional gardener go home of an evening and tend his own garden? Not many.
That’s the unforeseen consequence of turning your hobby into your job.
Everyone can learn to draw and get better at it. The key is to start with a simple drawing of something you like. Progress is made in small steps.
Each success is a win and motivates you to keep trying.
If you have the time, it can be worth practicing drawing for an hour every day. Once you have mastered drawing the basic shapes and forms of your subject matter, then move on to more difficult subjects like human figures or animals.
Don’t run before you can walk. Look to other artists for inspiration but don’t compare yourself to professionals that have decades of experience behind them.
Be realistic, keep your expectations in check, and enjoy the learning process.
There are plenty more posts like this, have a look at these:
- How Do Artists Get Their Ideas? (It Might Surprise You)
- How to Find Your Own Art Style. It’s Easier Than You Think
- Is it Cheating to Trace your Art? Is it Really OK?
- How to Create Depth in Your Drawing and See it Improve
- How to Plan and Compose Your Art (A Guide for Beginners With Examples)
- How to Draw a Giraffe Realistically: An Easy Guide
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