The Artist’s Guide to Drawing Difficult Subjects

Is everyone working hard on their art goals? I don’t blame you if you are making slow progress; it’s been a strange year. I said before that I feel both lucky and unlucky right now; I have lots of time to work on my website, art, and business ideas, but I’m doing it all because I lost my job back in March. It’s unfortunate that that happened, but I feel for those who are on the front lines working in hospitals and in grocery stores. I see you, and I appreciate you!

Tokyo Mew Mew art made back in April/May?

Drawing Difficult Subjects

For this blog post, I would like to talk about something that lots of artists struggle with, which is drawing difficult subjects. When you’re unsure how to draw something, it can get frustrating after a while. Even after 4 years of art school, I struggle with getting my drawings right! But I’ve come up with some ideas that might help you if you’re stuck on a piece, or suffering through art block. Read on for more details!

Using free figure drawing websites.

If you are having trouble drawing human figures, or having a more confident hand, try looking at some figure drawing websites! My favorite one is this one called Line of Action. With this, you can set up your drawing session with different settings. You can change the models you see based on clothing, gender, and time intervals. It’s very good for warming up as well! One of my favorite classes in art school was called Cafe Sketch, where the first half of class was using these websites, and the other half we went to different locations in the city and drew real people. That class forced me to draw constantly, so I was able to build up my confidence with drawing more fluid and quicker. Since I focused on comics in school, it really helped me finish my pages faster too! I highly suggest you check it out, and set the time for 30 seconds or a minute to really test your skills with drawing quickly. It’s a good exercise! I filled up two sketchbooks in that class.

Setting up still life sets in your room

Do you want to get better at rendering or painting? Try setting up a still life! These are fun to make with random items in your house, and you can have fun getting creative with the set up and composition. In my watercolor class, we would paint still lives all the time. For our final we made a collective still life that we all painted together. It was fun! I suggest looking up some still life paintings that you like for inspiration. You can even take a walk to the park and take pictures of nature and paint that too! The possibilities are endless. Still lives are a good way to practice your rendering because you can set up the lighting and color compositions how you want, and as an artist you can control the piece in a way that looks appealing, like adding more highlights or shadows, etc.

Use reference! It’s your friend!

Reference is very important. It was a big part of our creative process in art school. Our teachers wanted us to use reference for everything, and they could tell when we didn’t use reference in our pieces. It’s important to use reference in your pieces because it helps you to be more accurate in your subject matter. Our imagination is powerful, but it’s not worth it to make it up sometimes! There are tons of ways to gather your reference; Google is your best friend, but so is taking the photo yourself! If you’re struggling with drawing hands, do the pose with your own hand and snap a photo. It’s way more convenient than trying to make it up. Are you wanting to have some interesting lighting in your piece? Take a look at some artists that have captured what you’re looking for, and try to replicate it in your own way. Reference is essential!

Even the creator of Sailor Moon used references for a lot of her outfits!

I have to say, reference at the end of the day, is a tool, much like your pencil or tablet. I wouldn’t recommend trying to copy your reference exactly as you see it. As an artist, you can take what you see in your reference photos, and apply it to your art. This is key especially if you are using someone else’s art or photo as reference. You don’t want to get called out! Just look at the photo above. The artist was able to take the pose, coloring and lighting to create this piece of “Black Lady” or evil Sailor Chibi Moon, and altered it to make it her own. Looking at the side by side of this is really inspiring to me because it shows you can use reference in everything you see! And it’s not exactly the same either; she took her own creative spin on the colors, character, and outfit, and pulled the piece together. I love this!

Practice Drawing Your Weaknesses

If you’re like me and actively avoid drawing subject matter that you’re bad at, challenge yourself to draw that thing more! For me, my weaknesses are backgrounds, feet, and male-presenting characters. I’ve done drawings of all three of these things, but I still could use some practice with them. When I worked on “Jazz”, I struggled with the backgrounds. I in retrospect, I should have taken more references for many of the backgrounds, and altered my layouts to further place Jazz into her environment. However, I would have never known that if I didn’t draw it! The same with you; if you struggle to draw perspective, for example, I suggest really taking the time to study perspective and draw it as much as you can. If you can, try looking up YouTube videos, or signing up for a Skillshare account. Both of these things can really help your art blossom!

Sketch of my characters! Both boys and girls 😀

On my current comic project, I am struggling with drawing the male character, Teo. If you know my art, I almost exclusively draw female characters. Whenever we work on this project together, I try to draw Teo as much as I can. When we start drawing the actual pages, I will be very strict on myself to gather as much reference I can on anything I am unsure of. We both want this comic to look good!

Keep an Inspiration Folder

My last piece of advice is to keep a folder of inspiration that you look at from time to time, either on your computer or otherwise. Back when I was on Tumblr, I followed a lot of artists on there and would save photos and art that would inspire me onto my computer. I still have a lot of the same photos I saved way back in 2013! I sorted them by watercolor pieces, certain artists or games, and I look at them whenever I need a boost of inspiration. Nowadays, I haven’t saved any photos lately, mostly because I bookmark them on my social media accounts, but it’s generally the same idea! If you do this, you may discover new artists that inspire you and motivate you to try something new!

Above are a few pieces from my inspiration folder. They were selected at random, but they kind of show a couple things that inspire my own art.

As an artist, you are able to pick out certain things in nature, other art pieces or otherwise, and find inspiration in them. Even the most mundane things can be inspiring, and sometimes you can even have visions come to you in dreams! One of my favorite pieces came to me in a daydream, and the moment I saw it, I had to make it real.

I made this back in 2018. It’s a hodge-podge of art supplies I had on hand, so I don’t remember what tools I used! Maybe gouache, colored pencil, and white ink…?

That’s about it for this post! I hope these tips help you in you own artistic journey. Some days it feels like I can’t draw a thing, so I go back to my fundamentals, take a break, or look at something inspirational. It’s all a balance, so don’t feel discouraged when it feels like you’re going backwards! It takes time to learn & grow <3

Be sure to check the links below, and I’ll see you in the next post!


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