32 Drawing Mistakes and Bad Habits Artists Must Avoid

Drawing mistakes and bad habits artists must avoid.

Drawing requires patience, skill, and attention to detail. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional artist, it’s easy to fall into bad habits and make silly mistakes. It happens to us all.

In this article, I’ll cover 32 common drawing mistakes and bad habits to avoid, ranging from the most common mistakes to sloppy drawing techniques and mindset problems. Being aware of these mistakes will help you to improve your drawing skills and create more compelling drawings.

Let’s jump right in

(I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

1. Impatience

Drawing requires patience. Don’t rush in with all guns blazing, you should take your time and consider what you are doing, what’s the hurry? Rushing through the drawing process will lead to sloppy work. Drawing is a methodical process and jumping in without building the structure is a big mistake.

Start simply and refine your drawing gradually in measured steps. Hold back in the preliminary stages and resist adding detail. Embrace the process and take your time building the foundations and you’ll achieve results. 

2. Poor Observation

Drawing is all about observation. Train your observation skills by studying your subject carefully. Focus on the form, note the interplay of light and shadows, measure the proportions, cross-reference your line placements, and double-check your perspective.

Do not rely on visual memory, continually observe your subject. Expert artists are looking back and forth continually, novice beginner artists, in contrast, tend to concentrate on the drawing itself at the expense of real observation.

Drawing courses are a great way to learn. This Basics course by Brent Eviston has over 73,000 students!

3. Procrastination

Relying solely on inspiration or waiting for the perfect mood is a recipe for failure. Dedicate time to practice regularly, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s only by forcing yourself to practice that you can overcome the tendency to put things off until later.

Believe me, the perfect moment will never come. Get into the habit of drawing regularly. Practice is the key to improving your artistic skills and developing your own style. 

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4. Fear of Failure

Fear of failure and making drawing mistakes is the major cause of procrastination. No one enjoys failure, it’s a risk we would rather avoid. One avoidance strategy is to do nothing but dream. It’s a short-term gain and a long-term loss.

Without failure, nothing is learned. Being overly cautious and hesitant will limit your potential. Embrace the learning process, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. 

Is this you? How to Overcome Self-Doubt for Artists (Imposter Syndrome)

5. Overuse of Outlines

Line drawings are an art form. In many ways, it’s harder to convey a message with a few expertly placed lines than it is to make a detailed study.

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While being a master of line weight is an admirable skill, outlines can also be used to compensate for a lack of depth or inadequate value changes within a drawing. Over-reliance on rescuing your drawings with linework is lazy. Practice transitions and work on your tonal values to break the habit.

6. Ignoring Composition

Neglecting the arrangement and balance of different elements within your drawing will result in an underperforming and chaotic composition. When in doubt,  follow the simple “rule of thirds” method. A wonderful drawing can be ruined by poor compositional skills.

Read this: How to Plan and Compose Your Art: A Beginners Guide

Take the time to plan and consider the placement of your subjects, and pay attention to the background, the negative spaces, and the overall balance. A well-composed drawing will significantly enhance the impact of your drawing.

7. Poor Posture

This tip might surprise you. I mention poor posture because I have had to remind myself about my own posture all my working life. I hunch over my work without thinking, it’s only when my neck starts to ache and I pull a back muscle by simply turning around, that I come to my senses.

Take regular breaks and stretch your legs to avoid problems and to get your circulation working. Besides it’s good practice to work in short bursts.

8. Finger Smudging

Blend, don’t smudge. There is a difference. Smudging results in dirty and muddy drawings. Blending produces controlled transitions and gradients. Don’t use your fingers to smudge your drawing, not with graphite.

You can use your pinky finger to flick charcoal and pastel but then, only with caution. Use proper blending tools for more control and even blending.

9. Clumsy Pencil Hatching

Poor hatching is one of the most common drawing mistakes. Practice hatching parallel strokes on a scrap of paper. it’s one of the most valuable drawing exercises. I like to doodle parallel lines when I’m thinking. Uneven and poorly executed hatching lines appear amateurish and messy.

All lines must point in the same direction in any given area. Closer hatching lines and cross-hatching will produce darker values. 

10. Ignoring the Light Source

Figure out where the light source is coming from, and be aware that there may be more than one light source. This is particularly important when you mix and match different photo references within one composition. It’s all too easy to confuse the shadows and misplace the highlights.

Don’t ignore the tendency for light to bounce back onto shadow areas. Shadows often look more realistic when they have slightly darker borders with soft edges.

This will help: How to Draw Realistic Shadows in Pencil: Light and Shade

11. Inaccurate Perspective

This is a big drawing mistake. So many beginners get their perspectives all wrong. In general, verticals are parallel and it’s most noticeable in architectural drawings.

The true horizon line is at your eye level and your vanishing point will be somewhere along that line, and it’s not always on the page. There are multiple vanishing points in any given view. One of the biggest mistakes I see is copying a photo slavishly without compensating for lens distortion

If you need more help with drawing, then I urge you to check out
Dorian Iten on Proko. His course is reasonably priced and inspiring

12. Holding Your Pencil Incorrectly

Holding the pencil with an awkward grip will affect your control. Amateurs pinch their pencils too tightly. Professional artists have a lighter touch. They hold the pencil further back along the shaft and often toward the far end.

You will sometimes see an artist using an underhand grip and stroking the surface with the side of the pencil. It’s all very fluid. A tight grip is only required for precision detail. Practice holding the pencil correctly,

13. Using a Pencil That’s Too Short

This is a drawing mistake that relates to the last tip. How can you draw properly with a tiny pencil stump? You can’t. You have two choices. Buy a new pencil or use a cheap pencil extender. I have 3 or 4 extenders in my pencil box. There is no way I’m throwing away perfectly good drawing pencils with life left in them. 

14. Resting Your Hand on The Paper

It’s so natural. You rest your hand on the paper and draw from your wrist. That’s the way we learn when we are kids. That’s the way to ruin your hard work too. A competent artist doesn’t draw on a flat surface, doesn’t draw from the wrist so much, and has a barrier between their hand and the paper.

Use a piece of paper held firmly in place beneath your hand to stop your hand from smudging your work. Rest your hand on a mahl stick (wooden rod) if you are working from an easel.

Better read this: Prevent Your Drawings From Smudging: The Ultimate Guide

15. Drawing at The Wrong Angle 

Drawing from a flat tabletop is a mistake.  You carefully draw your subject and get everything in proportion, only to tilt your board upright and realize your drawing is elongated. What happened? The angle foreshortened your view. If your drawing board was perpendicular to your line of sight, it wouldn’t happen.

The answer is to tilt your drawing board or use an easel.

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16. Using The Wrong Pencils

Another very common mistake is choosing the wrong pencil for a given effect. Each brand has its own grading system, but on the whole, use a middle tone for preliminary outlines, use an HB, but an F or B pencil might be suitable.

Use a B, 2B, or 3B for sketching from life, and harder pencils such as H, 2H, and 4H, for precision work and receding values. The B grades will be darker and grainier, while the H grades will be lighter and smoother.

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17. Using The Wrong Paper

Choosing the right drawing paper is equally important. The texture of your paper will determine the style of your finished drawing. If you used an HB pencil on rough paper texture it will produce grainier and darker lines, while using the same pencil on smooth paper will produce an even, lighter line.

Same pencil, different outcomes. You must determine the most suitable paper for your subject matter. Do not use a cheap brand. Never buy a pad without a stiff backboard

Check this: What is The Best Paper for Graphite Pencil Drawing?

18. Using an Eraser The Wrong Way

Inexperienced artists are too enthusiastic with their erasers. Not only do they erase their sketch lines too early, but they do so with too much pressure. Erasers are destructive. The paper surface is easily damaged and rubbing back and forth over loose paper is courting disaster.

It’s so easy to buckle the paper accidentally. Another rooky mistake is using the wrong eraser entirely. I use 3 types of erasers, a kneadable eraser, a Tombo eraser pen, and a battery eraser. All 3 are gentle on the paper.

Check this out: Best Erasers for Drawing: The 9 Eraser Types for Artists

19. Overuse of Fixative

Use fixative sparingly and only when necessary. I never use fixative over graphite, what for? Graphite will never fade and it needs to be framed behind glass whether you spray it or not. Store your loose drawings in cellophane sleeves to protect the surface.

Advice: How to Store Drawings Safely: The Ultimate Guide

Pastels sometimes need a light fixative spray to fix a layer prior to adding more color, even then I never spray the final picture. Fixative spray tends to darken the tonal values.

This post goes into more detail: How to Protect and Preserve Your Pencil Drawings Properly

20. Getting the Scale Between Objects Wrong

Getting the scale wrong between objects is a common drawing mistake. It often happens when you make a montage of items from different sources. In my case, I like to place animals and birds in new settings.

For example, if I place a songbird on a more attractive branch, I must ensure that the leaves and flowers are to scale. I take measurements and/or refer to images online to gauge the correct proportions. This attention to small details will enhance the realism of your drawings.

This will help: How to Scale Up a Drawing in 4 Easy Ways and Save Time

21. Perfectionism

Allowing perfection to be the enemy of the good is a mistake. A mistake I have been making all my life. It’s easy to point out but hard to conquer. It’s a personality thing. I know that striving for perfection and being overly self-critical hinders my creativity and enjoyment but it’s a burden I bare.

Try to embrace imperfections as part of the creative journey and try not to fuss, if you can. Your art will benefit. 

This post is related: Is Hyperrealism Art or a Skill? What’s the Point?

For more advanced tuition consider Stephen Bauman. He is classically trained and has a very academic approach to his art. This guy knows his stuff and is a very good tutor

22. Choosing the Wrong Subject

Are you trying to run before you can walk? Many new artists have unrealistic expectations and want to make art so much that they dive straight in. They try to tackle the most advanced subjects before they have learned the basics. It’s a good idea to choose a subject that interests you but not at the expense of failure.

Portraiture, figure drawing, and life drawing are the most difficult subjects to master and involve a steep learning curve. Take things slowly and go one step at a time. It’s the best way.

Get to grips with the basics:

23. Neglecting Negative Space

Professional artists observe the negative spaces surrounding and between objects. These are equally as important as recognizing the positive spaces you set out to draw,

An important part of drawing is being able to see simple shapes while at the same time being able to separate them from the knowledge of what they represent. In effect, you are only drawing the constituent parts and your drawing emerges as they form.

24. Adding Detail Too Early

One of the biggest mistakes art students make is to start adding detail far too soon. The most important element of a drawing is getting the correct proportions. right. Everything must align perfectly before time and effort is put into refining the detail.

A good example involves drawing facial features. Beginners often start drawing the eyes before they are properly aligned or of equal size. Both eyes may be accurate but appear wonky. It’s almost impossible to match the eyes as an afterthought. 

This post talks about detail: How to Draw Realistically: 11 Realistic Drawing Tips

25. Inconsistent Tonal Values

A good artist will step back from their drawing regularly and inspect it as a whole. Professional artists will readjust their tonal values as they progress and try to maintain a cohesive value range throughout the drawing.

Concentrating on one area at a time at the expense of another can lead to an uncoordinated patchwork of inconsistent values. 

26. Lack of Contrast

Closely related to the previous tip, many artists are timid when it comes to adding contrast. It doesn’t matter how good the drawing is if it’s insipid. There is nothing to be lost in making the dark areas, darker.

The best artists use dynamic contrast to give their drawings some strength and you should strive to do the same. Strong contrast adds drama and atmosphere to a scene.

Another Excellent Drawing Course by Brent Eviston

27. Pressing Too Hard

I’ve already explained how to hold a pencil with a light touch, but what if you want to shade a dark area, you press a bit harder, right? Wrong! It’s one of the most common shading mistakes. You rarely press harder.

Begin by hatching one way over the whole area, then hatch in the opposite direction. Go back and forth in layers. If that is not enough, repeat the process with a softer pencil. You will shade without too much pencil shine or damaging the paper surface. Highlights will also erase more easily.

It takes longer but the results are far better.

Read this: 9 Ways to Stop Pencil Shine in a Drawing and Save Your Work!

28. Over-Reliance on Photo References

Becoming too dependent on photographic references can result in rigid and unoriginal drawings. Use references as a guide by all means, but also bring your own interpretation and creativity into the artwork. I learned early on how being a slave to the photograph is counter-productive.

A good artist will take the essence of the photo and improve upon it. Otherwise, why bother? In other words, move things around, play with tones, and add subtle changes. Give the drawing personality. 

N.B. Always look out for warped perspectives and compensate for them.

Dig deeper: Is Drawing From Reference Photos Bad? Are You Cheating?

29. Lack of Consistency

This applies more to aspiring artists who wish to progress commercially. Inconsistent quality, style, and subject matter will seriously hinder your career. You will only stand out from the crowd if you have a unique selling point.

You must be known for something that sets you apart from the run-of-the-mill. In short, you must niche down. How would you describe yourself? A landscape artist, a watercolorist? and portrait artist? What are you? If you don’t know the public won’t have a clue.

Don’t be a Jack of all trades and a master of none because it will take you nowhere.

30. Cheap Drawing Supplies

Considering how cheap the best supplies are, it’s beyond me why anyone would buy the cheapest. You must have the right tools for the job, and that means that they have to be good quality tools and reliable.

Branded products will be the same quality every time you buy them. The pencil grades will be consistent, the pencil wood will sharpen in the same way, and the paper will have the same texture, tint, and weight; these things matter. 

My personal kit list: Best Drawing Supplies: Art Materials For Beginners

31. Ego

Who needs a critic right? Well, that’s true to some extent. Criticism is often just a matter of taste, not everyone will like your work. That’s life.

Some criticism, however, is worth hearing. Why? Because if you hear the same things said over and over again, it probably means there is room for improvement. The problem arises when the artist becomes defensive. Art is a personal thing after all, and closely related to identity.

Put your ego to one side and listen to your audience. Do not dismiss your public. 

This might help: How Do Artists Handle Rejection? 6 Ways to Cope With Critics

32. Not Experimenting

Make time to play around with different mediums, subjects, and techniques. It’s very easy to withdraw into your comfort zone when you find something that works. We all want praise and sales, but there is a real danger of becoming stale and jaded if you never try anything new.

Try a new medium: Best Pastel Pencils For Beginners: 7 Top Brands Review (2023)

Don’t rest on your laurels, move forward and just occasionally you’ll make a breakthrough, and the high can last for days.

Drawing Mistakes and Bad Habits: Final Thoughts

Beginners make another mistake, we will call it number 33, and that’s thinking professionals don’t make the same mistakes. as they do. Wrong. it’s an ongoing battle. We all have the same problems.

I’m sure the old masters had to deal with bad habits too. The important thing is to correct the worst of your mistakes and bad habits, and to be conscious of where you’re going wrong in the first place. Being aware is half the battle. 

This post has covered the common mistakes traditional artists make. I’m not really referring to digital artists because digital drawing is infinitely reversible. It’s not the same.

I’m not suggesting that digital art isn’t a skill, but I do suggest that it would be unwise to learn to draw exclusively on a tablet. Maybe that’s mistake number 34!

This is how I made a living for over 20 years. You can too, simply copy what I did – No hidden secrets

If You Want to Sell Your Art

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Get to Grips with drawing practice with Sorie Kim on Domestika

The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, my name’s Kevin and I’m a real person!
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy