How to Make Your Drawings Interesting: 14 Hacks to Add More OOMPH

Make your drawings  interesting with 14 hacks header image. 3 drawings and reference photos

We’ve all been there. You get stuck and your drawing is dull, but all is not lost. You can make your drawings interesting with some simple hacks.

In this post, you will learn 14 easy ways to add more OOMPH to your drawings, plus a few compositional tips to liven up your drawings right from the start.

Let’s not hang about.

Make Your Drawings Interesting With the Lost and Found Technique

Imperfection is infinitely more interesting on the eye than perfection. And I say this as a perfectionist. I have to battle with my own personality to get this one right.

Let’s imagine you re drawing a house. If you draw each line with a ruler, it will be accurate but boring as hell. If, on the other hand, you draw a line freehand and break it up slightly, suddenly the picture comes to life.

This hack can be applied to any hard edge.

Baby elephant drawn using the lost and found technique to add interest to your drawing
Baby elephant drawn using the ‘lost and found’ technique

When I painted in pastels I would be inclined to draw everything far too neatly. I learned to contrive some spontaneity by losing selected edges with a few careful flicks of my finger.

I do the same thing with some of my drawings by losing the edges with an eraser or a paper blending stump.

Open the Eyes and Add a Sparkle to Make Your Drawings Interesting

Dull eyes can ‘POP’ into life just by adding a highlight. So many artists miss the sparkle in the eyes or make them too dull. It doesn’t matter that in real life the shine was never there, who cares? they should’ve been.

Another very common mistake I see is the half-closed eyelids. Sometimes you have to open them up for full effect. If you are working from a photo, raise the top lids. We respond to wide-eyed alert poses.

Further Reading: Is Drawing From Photos Bad? Are You Cheating?

Big moist eyes, say good health, warmth, and intelligence.

Many years ago, I was taught that the easiest way to flatter your sitter is to make their eyes bigger than they are in real life. It works! These subtle nuances separate success and failure. They really are that important.

Add Interest to Your Drawings by Turning the Eyes Towards the Viewer

Direct eye contact resonates more emotionally than anything else, it’s an instinctive visceral reaction. It’s how we connect. Little wonder that pictures with powerful eyes draw you in.

I draw mostly animals and the same rules apply. We anthropomorphize animals, we can’t help ourselves, and I tend to draw most of my subjects face-on.

Orangutan sketch with the eyes turned towards the viewer. Example of making a drawing more interesting
Mother and baby orangutan with their eyes looking towards the viewer

I change the gaze and expressions of my subjects all the time. If I take a photo of an animal looking wistfully into the far distance, I will draw the eyes looking at me. Why not? I’m not going to be bound by the truth. Let’s call it artistic license.

As long as I have enough information I can improvise a new expression. If not, I will use online references to research the missing details.

Re-Crop Your Drawings to Make Them More Interesting

Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with an image, it’s the cropping that lets you down.

Try zooming in to the part of the picture that interests you the most. A close-up is often more powerful than the image as a whole.

How to draw a crocodile from photographs another example image for making a bad photo into a an interesting drawing
Step 1 – find a crocodile, 2 – take a crap photo, 3 – crop the head, 4 – make a B/W copy, 5 – draw it

If you’ve already drawn the image and something still nags, try re-frame the drawing. Cut a couple of pieces of card at right angles and experiment with the sizes and shapes. Does it look better as a square or rectangle? Should it be vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape)? You may well decide that a smaller and tighter cropped image is best.

example of re-composing a drawing using two pieces of card.
Re-composing a drawing using two pieces of card

Further Reading: How to Plan and Compose your Art (A Guide For Beginners With Examples)

It Can Be More Interesting to Leave Your Drawings Unfinished

One of the best ways to keep your drawings interesting is to draw just the small area that appeals to you most and roughly sketch out the rest.

Our eyes are drawn to the focal point. That alone must be well drawn. All the rest can be padding. You can get away with almost anything at the borders.

In an ideal world, your whole drawing should start as a sketch and be slowly refined as you go. Well, I’m not ideal. I’m too precise to let loose easily and I tend to get lost in detail far too soon. That makes me pensive and tight and I get anxious about freeing up my style and ruining what I’ve achieved.

Further Reading: How to Find Your Own Art Style. It’s Easier Than You Think

When that happens I sometimes put the drawing away for a few days, even weeks, and come back to it with fresh eyes. The time investment doesn’t weigh so heavily and the fear dissipates.

It’s usually far easier to add the finishing touches in a looser and sketchier style when you are emotionally detached.

Blur the Background For a More Interesting Effect

Borrowing directly from the photographic use of depth of field, we can use the same device to blur the background and make our subject stand out.

A tiger poking his head out of the grass. A pencil drawing using depth of field effects to add drama
An out-of-focus experiment that seems to work

An otherwise uninspiring image can be transformed just by giving it an implied context within a landscape setting. A blurred landscape doesn’t have to be real or even authentic. All you need is a good impression.

Further Reading: How to Create Depth in Your Drawing and See it Improve

Ideally, you’d want to place a zoo animal within a genuine landscape and to scale but sometimes it makes more sense to blur all the surroundings and that eliminates the problem.

Fade the Background to Create Some Interesting Depth

You may have a perfectly acceptable image but hardly award-winning. It might be improved by gradually fading the background as it recedes into the distance.

Likewise, a herd of animals might look fine as they are, all grouped together. The same composition with one prominent figure in the foreground, amidst the same herd of animals fading into silhouettes, could look stunning.

Mix and Match Your Images to Make Your Drawings Compelling

It’s often the case that I find an image that has potential but it needs something more. It stays in my mind until eventually I have a lightbulb moment and discover what was lacking.

It could be as simple as merging two similar images together.

Penguin drawing showing the two reference photos used to construct an interesting composition
Mix and match and swap and move

I do this all the time. The penguins above were based on photo references of the same two birds taken in sequence. Both birds were posing well but in separate photos. Only when they were fused together did they work as a drawing.

Flip Your Image and See Your Drawing Improve

I don’t know why, but flipping an image sometimes makes an awkward pose work better. It’s nearly always better if a subject is moving or posing from left to right.

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, we read from left to right so perhaps our minds are pre-conditioned to see it as the correct direction, I don’t know, it sounds plausible. I wonder if it’s the reverse in the Arab world?

It’s straightforward to flip the whole image but what if you intend to merge it with another picture? Make sure that the light source is coming from the same direction in both images. If it’s not, can you easily adjust the shadows?

Add Some Intriguing Features and Objects to Your Drawing

A picture can look static and without any intrigue simply because the drawing, or painting, has no narrative. We are hardwired to look for and respond to stories.

I learned, early on, that a landscape painting without a sign of life is a poorer one. Beauty is all very well but the same painting with a figure, or animal, is more intriguing.

I drew the rhino (below) many years ago but it remained unfinished for a very long time until, one day, I added the birds. I’m not sure if they are to scale but as soon as they were added the picture came to life.

A rhino drawing with oxpeckers added to make it more interesting. A pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
Just adding the birds made this drawing popular

Kids love spotting the birds, especially the one on the horn.

Remove Unwanted Features From Your Drawing

Just as adding some features adds interest to a drawing, removing them works too.

De-cluttering a composition puts the emphasis back on the main subject. It’s not about removing the story, it’s about improving the composition and making it easy on the eye.

It could be as easy as leaving out unwanted foliage or simplifying water. Take this drawing of a white tiger swimming as an example.

white tiger swimming. a pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler. Example of creating interest by omitting features
A white tiger swimming in simplified water

If I had drawn all the ripples and reflections that really existed in the reference photo it would have lost its appeal. The old adage, “Less is More” is usually true.

At other times, it’s wiser to remove an object because it ruins the story. A few years ago I drew an orphaned elephant drinking from a bottle and it was too sad for some people. If I’d drawn her in a similar pose, but without the bottle, sales would have been a lot better.

Change the Pose of Your Drawing to Add Interest

There’s a fine line dividing a good pose from a bad one. Sometimes all you need to do is nudge a subject along and reposition it.

A drawing of a Douc Langur monkey and her baby sitting on her lap. Example image to show how repositioning a feature can add more interest
I sat the baby in Mums lap for artistic effect

These monkeys were sitting separately when I saw them. I kept the baby to scale but sat her on Mum’s lap. A simple and effective way to make two dull photos into one interesting drawing.

Exaggerate the Perspective of Your Drawings to Add Interest

There is something curiously pleasing about distorted perspectives and odd angles. An upright tree may be true to life but it’s more interesting if it’s leaning slightly.

What would you rather draw, a neat and tidy, perfectly aligned, brand new fence, or one that is higgledy-piggledy and falling down?

We have an obsession with making everything look perfect and the result is bland. True character is to be had in the rough edges and wonky angles.

Any subject drawn on a slant, instead of the usual upright position, can take on some character missing in a conventional pose.

This is a rhino drawing demonstrating a number of of hacks to make it more interesting.

A white rhino drawing flipped and manipulated. Before and after image. Example of exaggerating perspective in a drawing
AA successful drawing after some major adjustments. Before and after.

The first improvement was to angle the trees. They were more vertical in real life. I also flipped the image, removed the background, and faded the far tree trunks.

Add Contrast to Make Your Drawings Interesting

You can make a great drawing but what if the light and shadows are a bit insipid. Cranking up the contrast can make a big difference.

Even if the shadows were never strong, making the darks darker can give the drawing some punch.

I’ve found that exaggerating the detail works for me. I use a magnifying glass to see every tiny shape and try to draw them in. By concentrating my eye on the macro level, I inadvertently increase the contrast overall.

A Galapagos giant tortoise drawn in hyper-realistic detail. Used as an example of using detail to enhance contrast in a drawing
A giant tortoise drawn scale by scale

I did this tortoise one scale at a time. Madness really, but the texture is everything. By obsessing over such tiny areas, the contrast in each scale was enhanced. It was only when I stepped back and looked at the picture as a whole, that I could see the benefits.

Conclusion

I take all my own reference photos with a very middle of the range camera. I’ll never be able to sell my photos, they are neither sharp enough nor exposed properly.

Then again, the photos only have to be good enough for me to use. Much as I’d like to have some top of the range gear, there’s no need to have professional gear. I can compensate.

I human-photoshop the images back to life, and in many ways, I can improve them in a way that most photographers would be reluctant to do.

There is nothing preventing a wildlife artist from re-arranging a scene to make their drawings interesting. It’s perfectly acceptable to use ‘artistic license’ to fabricate what should’ve been there. By contrast, the same artifice would open up a wildlife photographer to accusations of fakery.

We definitely have an advantage.


If you want some more drawing tips you should check these out:


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Elephant drawing with pencils