How to Get Back into Drawing After a Long Break

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

Getting back into drawing is like riding a bike. You never really lose it.  Your drawing skills might be as rusty as your old bike, but it’s nothing some wire wool won’t fix, right?

Taking a long break from drawing can feel like a setback, but it’s a situation many of us find ourselves in, including me.

In this article, we’ll explore the best ways to get back into drawing, from setting achievable goals to finding your creative community.

So, let’s dive in!

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links, I sometimes earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend trusted sites.

Getting Back into Drawing and Sketching After Taking a Break

You’re not alone. So many adults lose the pleasure of drawing. 

Life happens. Sometimes it’s a career change, sometimes it’s family commitments, and sometimes it’s just a lack of inspiration. I’ve been there.

I painted pastel landscapes for five years and it took a six-year break from art before I found my true calling in wildlife art. So, I get it, things happen and you need a step back. Sometimes it’s voluntary and at other times life just gets in the way.

But things can continue where you left off – when it’s the right time.

I’ve had many breaks. In fact, if I think about it, I spent 20 years drawing for 6 months and taking the rest of the year off to go traveling. In that sense, I’ve had to discipline myself to start again every summer.

This is how I traded for 20 years. If you want to do the same, it’s all here

Selling art made simple banner

That’s a real mindset shift. Looking back, I’m not sure it was even healthy. For half the year I was a workaholic and for the other half, I was a pleasure seeker. Not much in between. Is that work-life balance? I’m not sure.

I’m lucky that I can focus on one thing. I learned to draw before the internet age. I think things are different now. I didn’t have the distractions or anything to live up to.

Understanding Your Own Reasons For Not Drawing

Before you jump back into drawing, it might be wise to take a bit of time for some self-reflection.

Understanding your own reasons for stopping can help you address any emotional or mental barriers that might prevent you from picking up that drawing tool again. 

This is related: Art Block: What is it? Its Causes, and How to Overcome It

It wasn’t a creative art block that stopped me, nor was it a significant life event. No, for me it was isolation. My life is solitary enough and the lack of people around me was and is a real issue.

I procrastinated for a long time before I came back to art because I feared the loneliness.

“Procrastination is not laziness….it is fear. Call it by it’s right name and forgive yourself”

Julia Camaron – The Prosperous Heart

That’s the main reason I gave up, not that I couldn’t make money.

Read this: Is Being an Artist Lonely? Read The Truth

I had to address my dread of being alone all the time and I solved that by drawing while I was at my market stall. I could draw in short bursts and break off to serve customers or chat with colleagues.

It was the perfect way to get my work done while still interacting with people.

The only barrier to success was my self-belief. Could I make art that people would want to buy and hang on the wall? Thankfully, my gamble paid off. 

This will interest you: How to Overcome Self-Doubt for Artists (Imposter Syndrome)

By combining my love of wildlife with drawing and travel, I’d found the perfect answer to my problems. Once I found it, there was no looking back.

 Now why don’t we dive deeper into how to set achievable goals?

The Importance of Setting Achievable Goals

Remember when you were learning? Maybe you were an art student or self-taught like me, and you had that one project that seemed impossible. You know the ones, it’s those where you had to use different mediums, draw something in a different size, or was super complicated.

You probably felt overwhelmed, right? I’ve been there too.  

When I decided to switch from pastel landscapes to wildlife art, the first thing I did was set achievable goals for myself. I didn’t aim to draw hyperrealistically in the first place, I started with basic sketching.

This might interest you: Is Hyperrealism Art or a Skill? What’s the Point?

I concerned myself with mastering proportions and composition and refined my skills one step at a time.

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

Setting achievable goals is the most important thing when you’re getting back into drawing. You don’t have to create your best work right off the bat.

Start small. Maybe your first goal is to draw for 10 minutes a day or complete one sketch a week. Small steps lead to significant improvement in the long run.

I got back into drawing by setting aside time between shifts while I was working in a Youth Hostel.

I’d sit down and draw for a couple of hours in the afternoon before my shift started at 5 p.m. I had no pressure. It gave me time to make mistakes and learn as I went. 

I got into a routine and that helped me towards my eventual aim of building a portfolio of 12 saleable drawings.

Curious cows. An early pencil sketch by Kevin Hayler
This was an early sketch when I was working in the hostel
Family life. A mechanical pencil drawing of a family of elephants by Kevin Hayler
20 years later I was drawing like this

The Importance of Having a Plan

A plan is like a roadmap for your artistic journey. It helps you set goals, allocate time for practice, and it keeps you accountable. I accomplished that by having a grand plan

My idea was to print my drawings and sell them from a street or market stall to tourists.

I got the idea when I saw a guy doing just that in New Zealand. I knew it could work. The gamble was my choice of subject matter. He drew local views and famous landmarks, and I on the other hand, wanted to draw my favorite animals. 

I didn’t know if it would work. I made a calculated guess. This was in the days before the internet existed. There was only so much research it was possible to do. I had a hunch that people like animals enough to want to buy them.

I printed my first batch and It worked, as long as I drew the right charismatic animals.

Read this if you are interested in wildlife: How to Start Drawing Wildlife and Become a Wildlife Artist

I worked all hours during the tourist season because I had a goal. That was to earn enough to get away for the winter.

These will inspire you:

This plan not only kept me focused but also made sure I was continually improving my level of skill. Most importantly of all, it gave me a sense of purpose. I knew WHY I was doing what I was doing. 

  • I drew wildlife to make prints
  • I published prints to sell to tourists in the summer
  • I used the money to travel and photograph wildlife in the winter
  • I used the photos of wildlife as references for my drawings
  • I drew the wildlife to make prints…and so on

It was a virtuous circle, plus my trips were tax-deductible. I put my trips on expenses and hardly paid any tax. At the end of each tax year, I put my profit in the bank.

I did the same thing for just over 20 years. I knew what I was doing and how to do it. That is very motivating. 

Why don’t you do it? How to Sell Art on The Street: By a Street Artist

Here’s how you can create your own plan:

  1. Identify Your Goals: Whether it’s improving your drawing skills, or like me, eventually making a living. Know what you want to achieve.
  2. Allocate Time: Decide how much time you can realistically dedicate to drawing. Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, that’s a good start.
  3. Choose Your Focus: Pick a subject matter that really interests you
  4. Set Deadlines: Having an artificial end date creates a sense of purpose and helps you to stay committed.
  5. Review and Adjust: At the end of each week or month, review your progress. Build on success in tiny steps. 

Shifting Your Mindset for Success

Mindset is everything. If you approach your drawing practice as a chore, you’re setting yourself up for failure. But if you see it as a creative outlet that enhances your mental health and brings joy, you’re more likely to stick with it. 

I always viewed my art as a way to connect with nature and share its beauty with others, and this mindset has been a driving force in my career as an artist. I draw for others, not just myself. I want to please people.

So, shift your mindset. See this as a project that you’re actually excited about. It’s a chance to rediscover an old love and maybe even turn it into a professional endeavor. After all, if I could do it, so can you.

I was an unqualified factory hand before I got started!

Next, we’ll talk about how to overcome that initial resistance that keeps you from making the first mark on the paper. Trust me, once you get past that, you’re already halfway there.

Stop Procrastinating, Start Drawing

This is the hardest barrier to cross. The dream is more fun than the reality. When you dream, the sun is always shining, everyone loves your work, and life is good. You have risked nothing.

It’s only when you make a start that reality kicks in.

This will open your eyes: What is it Like To Be an Artist? The Truth Revealed

The sun doesn’t always shine, plenty of people will never like your art, and life is a roller coaster. You’re not always in the mood and the fear of failing can stop you in your tracks.

What do you do?

Read this post: How to Motivate Yourself to Draw and Make Art: 11 Kickass Ways

Get Into The Habit of Sketching

Things get done when you work to a routine and that includes drawing. The hardest part is just getting started. You might find a million different things to do instead of drawing—tidying up, checking social media, or even doing the dishes. Anything but facing that blank sheet of paper.

We’ve all been there.

In the end, it’s all about practice. Join Sorie on Domestika and join over 100,000 students taking her sketching classes.

When I pick up a pencil after a long break. I stare at the blank paper. It’s almost as if I’ve forgotten what to do. But the moment I make that first mark, everything changes. The resistance melts away, and my old muscle memory kicks in.

You don’t forget the basics. You forget the techniques. 

Tips for Taking the First Step Back into Drawing

Taking the first step back into drawing doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. You don’t need to commit to a complex project right away. Don’t run before you can walk.

It’s fine to have a long-term aim. In the meantime, it’s better to progress towards that goal in increments as you rediscover those finer touches that set your art apart.

This lesson by Stephen Bauman will interest you

Here are some tips to make it easier:

  1. Start Small: Your first drawing after a long time doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Start sketching something that interests you. Nothing complex
  2. Set a Timer: Use the 10-minute rule. Tell yourself you’ll draw for just 10 minutes. More often than not, you’ll find that you want to continue once you start.
  3. Create a Cue: Establish a trigger that signals it’s time to draw. It could be as simple as making a cup of tea, setting up your drawing space, or even a specific playlist that gets your creative juices flowing.
  4. Make a Mark: Get some lines on the paper, even if you erase them later. It’s the blank sheet that will stop you.
  5. Accept Mistakes: We all make mistakes. Take a step back and analyze what went wrong and why. That’s how you learn.
  6. Limit Your Kit: Less is more. Do not buy everything in the art store. Buy the basics. Buy more supplies only when you realize that you need them.

How to Make Drawing Less Daunting

I break everything down into small elements. if I was to think about the enormity of my task I would never make a start. 

I’ve discovered that the way to create a very complex drawing is to draw in small bursts of concentration. I don’t draw for much more than 20 minutes to half an hour before I have to step back and get away from the drawing. 

I draw little and often. My style is photographic so my focus is intense. I develop tunnel vision and it’s easy to get stuck in a hole and forget about the rest of the picture. I pull away to beat that problem.

I must view the picture as a whole and detach myself to know how to develop the drawing cohesively.

You don’t have to capture every single detail in a drawing. Start by sketching the basic forms and shapes, capturing the essence rather than getting bogged down by the complexities.

This approach will make the task at hand much less daunting and allow you to enjoy the drawing process.

When you’re getting back into drawing, especially after a long break, the key is to simplify things.

Break things down. Instead of attempting a complex scene or subject, break it down into smaller parts. Map in the general proportions and placements. Get the foundations right, that’s your scaffold.

Need help? Read these:

When everything is in order, only then attempt to add any refinements.

Focus on drawing one element at a time. I like to start with the focal point, in my case, that is usually with the eyes. I won’t do anything else until the eyes are looking aligned and blocked in. If I fail at this stage, I can abort and start again. 

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

If I leave the hardest bits to last, as I see so many artists doing, I’m in danger of spending untold hours drawing the rest only to screw up at the end. Don’t go there, it’s crushing. 

Tackle the hardest and most important elements first.

The journey of getting back into drawing is often a series of small, consistent steps rather than giant leaps. It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t see immediate results, but remember, every line you draw brings you closer to where you want to be.

The key is to embrace these micro-improvements. They may not seem like much in isolation, but collectively, they make a significant impact on your skill level.

Manage Your Expectations

It’s natural to have high expectations, especially when you’re passionate about drawing. However, setting unrealistic goals can lead to disappointment and may even cause you to give up. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. That’s my battle. 

Manage your expectations by setting achievable milestones. Celebrate the small wins, like finally getting the hang of contour drawing, perspective, or the basics of color theory. These victories, no matter how small, are signs of progress.

Social Media and Comparing Yourself to Others

Ah, social media—a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a great way to share your work and find inspiration. On the other, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your art to others.

Scrolling through Instagram and seeing great artists produce incredible work can either motivate you or make you feel like you’re not good enough. 

It’s hard work to not let these comparisons get to you, in many ways, it’s better not to look. Not easy I know. Just try to remember, that every artist was once a beginner. They all had to practice to get where they are now. 

This will help: Social Media For Artists: The Best 13 Platforms for Creatives

Please don’t fall into the social media black hole of comparing your art with the best of the best online. It’s a false comparison. 

This will also interest you: Is Your Art Good Enough to Sell? You Need to Know This…

Before the internet, I hardly met another artist who could super-realistically. I met good artists but very few great artists. Along comes Instagram and they are everywhere, except they are not. They have all come together in one place.

They are some of the most talented artists in the world, but they are still very rare. 

Social media fools us into judging ourselves by the extraordinary. You never see their failures, do you? You can’t see how long it took. You can’t see if the image file was tweaked to look better online. It’s all a bit misleading. 

Sketching to Reduce Anxiety

Many artists carry a sketchbook. I used to have one in my early days of travel. I always carried a notebook with me and jotted down ideas.

This approach was not only practical but it’s also a good thing to remember that not every drawing has to be finished. Some are just notes and reminders for future reference. 

Many artists do nothing more than sketch and make notes. I admire them immensely. I have a temperament that takes things too far. My drawings are often far better before they are “finished”. I have cursed myself for 20 years for not knowing where to stop. Crazy. 

So, whether you’re in the comfort of your home or out in the wild looking for inspiration, remember to simplify. Make it easy for yourself to start, and the rest will hopefully follow.

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This class on Domestika by Lapin will show you how it’s done.

urban sketching express the world in a new perspective. A course on Domestika

Choose Your Niche and Focus on One Subject

Do one thing well. Unless you are some kind of polymath, it’s far better to concentrate on one subject you enjoy, in a medium that you control. Don’t be a Jack of all trades and master of none. You will never get anywhere.

The Benefits of Focusing on One Subject or Medium

During my time in Kenya, I was completely immersed in drawing/painting wildlife. I’d spend my days painting the incredible animals, and then I’d sit in hotels, putting the finishing touches on my paintings.

Tourists would come over, intrigued by what I was doing, and before I knew it, I had sold enough art to fund my next adventure to Uganda!

This experience taught me the power of specialization. By focusing on wildlife, not only did I improve my skills in that particular area, but I found out that there was potentially a market for my work. 

I didn’t know if tourists in the UK would buy African wildlife but the concept was proven. I took a risk that people would buy black and white drawings and thankfully it worked.

Copy these ideas:

I set up in a tourist area of town and I sat in the same place every summer day for 20 years and locals would know me as the “animal man”. People knew me as the guy who drew incredibly detailed animal drawings, and that made me more memorable and helped me stand out.

When you’re getting back into drawing, one of the best ways to reignite your passion is to focus on a specific subject matter or medium that you really have a passion for. It could be figure drawing, landscapes, or even character design.

The point is to become so good at it that people can’t help but notice.

Importance of Having a Supportive Community

When I was trading in Brighton, selling my wildlife drawings to tourists, I realized the power of community. People would gather around to see what I was working on, share their thoughts, and even recommend places where I could find more inspiration.

Other artists would stop by and regulars would stop and chat.

This sense of community was not just uplifting but also incredibly motivating. It’s one thing to create art in isolation, but it’s a whole different experience when you have people who appreciate and support what you’re doing.

Whether you’re a professional artist or someone looking to get back into drawing, having a supportive community can make all the difference. It can be the extra push you need when you’re facing a creative block or a lack of inspiration.

Where to Find Other People and Inspiration

Finding your crowd doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here are some places where you can start:

  1. Art Classes: Joining art classes is a great way to meet like-minded individuals. Plus, it’s a structured environment where you can improve your skills.
  2. Online Platforms: Websites like Reddit, and Facebook forums, and even specialized art membership platforms are great places to share your work and get feedback.ik
  3. Social Media: Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are not just for browsing; they can be a great source of inspiration. Just remember not to fall into the comparison trap.
  4. Local Art Community: Check out local art shows, galleries, or even co-working spaces that cater to artists.

Utilize Online Courses and Platforms

The art community isn’t just limited to the physical world; the online art community is thriving. You might find that sharing your work on social media and art forums opens doors to opportunities and friendships. It’s also a good way to get constructive feedback, which is invaluable for growth.

Check these out:

Don’t underestimate the power of online courses and tutorials They’re a cost-effective way to learn new techniques and styles, often from established artists who know what they’re talking about. And the best part? You can do it all from the comfort of your home. Most are very affordable.

Many of the best community sites have an engaged community of other art students who are in the same situation as you are. Be active and ask questions. Don’t be passive.

Another angle of approach is to bypass the art community and concentrate on the subject that inspires your art. In my case, it makes sense to join wildlife groups who appreciate the results of my work, not just the process. 

Building a community around your art can provide you with the motivation, inspiration, and resources you need to keep going, especially when you’re just getting back into it. So go ahead, put yourself out there, and build your tribe. You’ll be amazed at how much it enriches your artistic journey.

How to Get Back Into Drawing: Final Thoughts

Getting back into drawing after a long break can be a challenging but rewarding experience. From understanding why you stopped in the first place to setting achievable goals, from overcoming initial resistance to finding your community, each step is a crucial part of reigniting your passion for drawing.

And the good news is how cheap it is to make a start. You can have everything you need for $30. Easy. Drawing is the most accessible art form out there and the foundation of traditional painting skills.

Whether you’re drawing for the sheer joy of it or aiming to become a professional artist, the most important thing is to start. Your artistic journey is a pad waiting to be filled, and only you can draw those pictures.

Be positive and get started.

If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit

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

Selling art made simple digital guide for starting a small art business

If You Want to Sell Your Art

Check this out!

Psst…it’s only $12.99!

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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

How to get back into drawing aftyer a ling break. A pin for Pinterest
The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
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

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