Monday, April 20, 2009

Elephant Week and Art Day: Art Tips – drawing what you can’t draw

Art Tips: I thought it might be useful to talk about ways to learn how to draw what you can’t draw or don’t think you’re good at drawing.

Everyone has something they can’t draw, or think they can’t draw. I have several things, but this post and this week is dedicated to one of the things that I don’t think I draw very well: elephants. Every once in a while, I’ll draw an elephant that I like, but more often than not I have to draw and redraw the elephant to make it look like a normal elephant and not a mutant creature.

Below is a list of some strategies that I use. What works for you? Or do you just avoid the subject (I do this sometimes, and Maurice Sendak famously did this with Where the Wild Horses Are – when he realized he couldn’t draw horses, they became Wild Things).

Break it Down: Break the subject down into simple basic shapes or pretend you are drawing a stick figure version of whatever it is. The drawings today are my elephant face made with a 3 part process, starting with basic shapes.

Back to Basics: Beginning drawing books and drawing books for kids are great for learning to draw things – if your art is very stylized, it can help to add a foundation to your drawings that give them even more appeal than they had before. BTW, don’t discount those drawing and art books that have unattractive covers. Sometimes they try to put so many things on the cover that it makes it seem like they couldn’t possibly know anything about art. Recently I found a book like that at Borders, in the discount section: The Complete Guide to Drawing and Illustration by Peter Gray. There’s a ton of good info the book, even if there aren’t any elephants.

Research: Find pictures, hire models, go to the zoo! If you don’t know what it looks like, find out.

Repetition: Take as many pictures as you can find of the subject and draw all of them, then look for more pictures or take some yourself and draw again. Repeat this step until you can draw the subject without looking at reference material. Then draw it in your style.

Elephant Week (a.k.a. accountability): This week I'll be drawing/painting elephants and posting them each day. Sometimes it helps to know that other people will see what you’re working on. It gives you incentive to learn how to draw it before you stylize it.


  1. You know... I think maybe I could do that.

    And I am one of those people who has decided without a doubt that she cannot draw.

    Hmmm... strange.

  2. Draw Carrie, Draw, Draw, Draw! I like to encourage creativity ... or insanity, whichever one you'd like. Not that I'm saying creativity = insanity, or zombie-ish behavior or anything ;)

  3. he he he he!!! He is so cute and I just love how you laid all this out! Your are a very good teacher. This is outstanding!!! Thanks so much for your very, very kind words. They really touched my heart. I really appreciate you taking time to write something from the heart. I know how busy you must be and that you would take time to write a comment means so much. thanks again.

  4. Great planning there.
    My nemisis is shoes. I've got this total inability to draw shoes accurately.
    But I'm working on it!

  5. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my art Vanessa! I meant what I said about your art. I love it, and I think you do an excellent job of capturing the mood of the new book and the other illustrations of yours that I've seen. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your art in the future.

    Thanks Lily! I totally know what you mean about shoes - especially if someone is wearing them. I can do Converse High Tops, and I sort of fudge all the rest, especially anything with heels. Good luck on your shoe drawing quest - maybe I'll join you.