14 Ways to Make Your Drawings Interesting and Improve

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

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. It’s easy to improve a drawing.

In this post, you will learn 14 ways to add more interest and improve your drawings, PLUS a few compositional tips to liven up your sketches right from the start.

Let’s not hang about.

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1. Make Your Drawings Interesting With the Lost and Found Technique

Imperfection is infinitely more interesting to 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 the line 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 the drawing. Drawn by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler
A 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. My paintings improved immeasurably.

I add interest and movement to some of my drawings by losing the edges with a putty eraser or a paper blending stump. It’s simple and effective and it will make your drawing look better.

2. Open the Eyes and Add a Sparkle to Make Your Drawings Better

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, so add them. It vastly improves a dull portrait.

Another very common mistake I see is the half-closed eyelids. Sometimes you have to open them wide for full effect. If you are working from a photo, raise the top lids to make the portrait interesting.

We respond to wide-eyed alert poses. Big moist eyes, say good health, warmth, and intelligence.

If you’re concerned about using photos read this: Is Drawing From Photos Bad? Are You Cheating?

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, so don’t ignore them.

3. Improve Your Drawings With Direct Eye Contact: Eyes Are Always Interesting

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, but 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. Drawn by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler

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.

I will use online references to research the missing details if I have to. Anything to enhance, improve, and add interest to a lifeless pose. Why not? When you put so much work into the drawing, why spoil it for the sake of a few minor adjustments?

4. 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 on the part of the picture that interests you the most. A close-up is often more interesting and 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. Drawn by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler
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-framing the drawing. Cut a couple of pieces of card at right angles and experiment with the size 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 looks better and improves the composition.

Example of re-composing a drawing using two pieces of card. Drawing of a lion by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler
Re-composing a drawing using two pieces of card

This post will help you learn How to Plan and Compose Your Art

5. Add Interest and Improve Your Drawings by Leaving Them Unfinished

One of the best ways to make 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 like that, 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.

This article will show you: How to Find Your Drawing Style: 8 Ways to Develop Your Skills

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 after time has passed, and the fear dissipates. I can usually see where I went wrong and improve my drawing immediately.

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

6. 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 and look far more interesting as result.

Tiger in the grass drawing by Kevin Hayler highlight
An out-of-focus experiment that seems to work

An otherwise uninspiring image can be improved 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.

I wrote these posts to help you out:

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 of scale and authenticity entirely.

7. Fade the Background to Create Depth and See Your Drawing Improve

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.

One way to create depth is to draw distant trees like this: How to Draw a Forest Background

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.

8. Mix and Match Your Images to Make Your Drawings Look Better

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.

Improving the composition could be a simple case of merging two similar images together.

Penguin drawing showing the two reference photos used to construct an interesting composition. Drawn by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler
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, and I had to widen their eyes to make them interesting.

9. 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, posing, or looking, from the left to the right. Look how much the rhino drawing has improved.

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?

This is a rhino drawing demonstrating a number 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.  Drawn by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler
A successful drawing after some major adjustments. Before and after.

The first improvement was to flip the image. then I adjusted the angle of the trees, removed the background, and faded the far tree trunks.

It’s straightforward to flip the whole image but if you intend to merge it with another picture, make sure the light source is coming from the same direction in both images. If it’s not, you’ll have to adjust the shadows.

10. Add Some Intriguing Features and Objects to Improve 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 for interest. I’m not sure if they are to scale but as soon as they were added the picture came to life and improved.

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

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

11. Remove Unwanted Features From Your Drawing – and it’ll look better!

Just as adding some features adds interest to a drawing, removing unnecessary features improves a drawing 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.

A white tiger swimming. a pencil drawing by the Wildlife Artist 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 existed in the original 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.

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. Change the Pose of Your Drawing to Improve it

There’s a fine line dividing a good pose from a bad one. Sometimes all you need to do to improve things 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. Drawn by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler
I sat the baby in Mum’s 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 more interesting drawing.

13. Exaggerate the Perspective of Your Drawings to Add More 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. Use this knowledge to improve your drawings.

14. Add Contrast to Improve Your Drawings

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 improve things and give the drawing some punch.

If shadows confuse you, read this: How to Draw Realistic Shadows in Pencil

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. Drawn by Wildlife Artist Kevin Hayler
A giant tortoise scale by scale

I did this tortoise one scale at a time. Madness really, but the texture is everything.

These 6 tips will help you learn: How to Draw Texture with Pencil

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 improvements.

How to Make Your Drawings Interesting: Final Thoughts

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 inspiration I urge you to check out Stephen Bauman on Proko. His classical drawing technique is masterful.

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

Now you know how to spice up your drawings, why not learn to sell them too? This guide was written for you. Take a look!

selling art made simple book

If You Want to Sell Your Art

Check this out!

Psst…it’s only $12.99!

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

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How to Make Your Drawings Interesting: 14 Ways to Improve a Drawing
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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