May 2017

Lesson 5: Common Drawing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Common drawing mistakes and how to fix themThis is a short lesson on the importance of paying close attention to what you’re drawing and how to avoid common mistakes.

The format of this lesson is: question, answer and solutions. Try your best to guess what is wrong with each of the examples below. These examples are based on a few few common mistakes I see over and over again. They are meant to make you think more critically about your own work.

Note: Scroll down slowly so you don’t accidentally reveal the answers.


A big mistake that beginners make is not paying enough attention to the flow of lines in their artwork. Can you spot the mistakes with the examples below?


Example #1:

What’s wrong with this drawing?

The sword’s handle or hilt is not straight. If you put a ruler up against the side or the middle of the blade, you’ll notice that the hilt is not aligned with the blade. It’s crooked.

How to spot mistakes as an artist

When drawing an object being held in a hand, draw the entire object as if the drawing were an x-ray. Then erase the lines you don’t need.


Example #2:

What’s wrong with this scene?

The surface of the table and the horizontal ribbon are not straight. Again, if you use a ruler to check the alignment, you’ll notice that they’re very crooked.

Lightly draw the table first and then the objects.

For the gift, draw both ribbons in their entirety without thinking about which one is on the top or bottom. Then erase the lines you don’t need.

Another solution is to use a ruler so you don’t have to draw a continuous line through all of the objects on the table.


Example #3:

Find anything wrong with this tissue box? Hint: there are two.


The opening of the tissue box is not forming a proper rectangle because its sides do not exhibit the same width.

The furthest corner of the box hiding behind the tissue makes the tissue box look stretched out, forming a skewed rectangle.

How to critique your own artwork _ Example 3_Tissue Box Answer RFA



Draw the box first to make sure you have a solid shape, then draw the tissue.


Consider The Underlying Structure

This is where I see most people make mistakes. I’m a victim of it too…

Example #4:

Can you spot what’s wrong with this portrait?

How to critique your own artworkAnswer:
There’s not enough hair in the upper right, which makes it look like she has a cone-shaped head. This is a common result of drawing the hair first.

The right eye is much larger than the left eye. A common result when an eye is partially hidden behind hair.

The right jaw has a wider angle compared to the left. This is a common mistake when the rest of the jaw is hidden behind hair.


When drawing people, think about the skeletal structure. You can draw light guidelines before you start drawing in order to understand more of what you’re seeing.

Hair is not a tool to hide things. Whenever you’re drawing a face with features that are only partially visible, always think about what you don’t see and how your drawing will look if the full face were to be drawn. You can even go ahead and draw it lightly to see if the visible features make sense afterward. If not, make the appropriate corrections before you start shading and adding details.


Example #5:

See anything wrong with this boy?

For some reason, he has additional joints in his arms. It’s a common result when drawing a character’s clothes before drawing the body.

Draw the body first, then draw the clothes last.


Example #6:

What’s wrong with this car?

The wheels are too big. Draw a full circle the same size as each tire and see what happens. The dotted red lines show that the wheels would need much more room to fit inside the car’s body.

How to spot drawing mistakesSolution:
Draw the full shape for each wheel to determine the maximum size the car’s structure allows and then erase the parts you don’t need.


Bonus Example #7:

Last one! I’m not going to give you the answers though. Let me know what you think the answers and solutions are in the comments below.



All the examples above have one purpose… to get you to observe your artwork critically. Whether you’re drawing animals, people or things, you can apply the same observations to correct mistakes which may not have been apparent to you before.

I find it also helps to ask questions while I draw. Questions such as:

  • How is the vertical/horizontal alignment of ______ ?
  • Does my drawing make sense mechanically?
  • Does it look right? Why not?
  • Is it symmetrical?
  • Is it still symmetrical when I look at it in a mirror?
  • Etc…

Constantly ask yourself questions as you draw so you can make sense of what you’re doing and be aware of the choices that you’re making. Attention to detail is very important if you want to draw realistic art.


Homework Assignment

Up until now, you must have a lot of drawings from each homework assignment. Look back at your work and analyze each and every person, object or scene you’ve drawn. Did you find any apparent mistakes that you didn’t see before? Share you findings with me on facebook. Any brave person who posts their mistakes and a fixed version of the drawing(s) will be featured below along with a link to their facebook page.

If you’d like me to pick apart your previous work and share my corrections with other RFA readers on facebook, let me know in the comments below or send me a message on facebook.

Happy drawing!

Go to Lesson 6 ->

Lesson 5: Common Drawing Mistakes and How to Fix Them Read More »

Lesson 4: How to Draw with Accurate Proportions

How to draw with accurate proportionsProportion simply refers to the size relationships between objects. If you want to draw a subject or scene with accurate proportions, you must employ proper techniques and train your eyes over time.

When drawing, most of my time is spent on measuring, comparing, re-measuring and re-comparing. The more time you spend trying to improve the accuracy of your drawing, the better you will “see”.

How to Draw With Correct Proportions

I’m going to introduce a few techniques to measure and check your accuracy. When you draw, it’s best to use as many measuring techniques as possible. You can use these techniques in any order, wherever you see fit.

I like to measure my subject before, during and sometimes even after I finish my portraits.

Measuring before I draw helps me understand what I’m seeing and familiarize myself with the subject. It’s very helpful when drawing portraits of people I’ve never seen before.

Measuring after I draw is a way for me to do a final check to find mistakes that I may have missed and a way to gain confidence in the finished product. You should never leave measuring to the very end!

Important: If you’re following along, you’ll want to use very light pressure so you can easily erase any mistakes you make.


1. Measure with Your Pencil
2. Check Relationships Between Objects on the Vertical and Horizontal Axis
3. Check Angles
4. Observe Negative Space

#1: Measure with Your Pencil

To draw something accurate in relative size, you can use your pencil and thumb as a measuring tool to measure the relationships between body parts or objects in a scene. Here’s how to do it:

Maintain Accuracy Across All Measurements

Before you make any measurements, it’s important to understand how to maintain accuracy throughout the measuring process.

How to draw with accurate proportions _ How to hold your pencilRaise your pencil up directly in front of your eye without bending your elbow. If you bend your elbow, it will be very difficult to maintain consistent measurements. This could result in compounding mistakes. Since your arm is pivoting from your shoulder, not from your eye, your measurements will not remain accurate throughout the process. To combat this, lower your eye as close to your shoulder as possible to get the most accurate measurements from start to finish.

If you’re drawing from a reference image, there’s no need to worry about bending your elbow or tilting your head because you can measure directly up against the reference photo.

If you’re not comfortable measuring with a pencil, you can use a proportion drawing tool.

Measure Your Subject’s Length and Width

How to draw with accurate proportions_Measuring


Use the tip of the pencil and the tip of your thumb to measure the height of your subject’s head. To find out how tall he is, move your hand down slowly, counting how tall your subject is in head units. For this example, my subject is equal to 8 heads. These units are relative, so you can draw the subject much larger or smaller compared to the original size of the reference image.

Let’s say I already drew the head and then decided I might as well draw the rest of the body too. Since I know the man is 8 heads tall, all I need to do is measure the head in my drawing and multiply that by 8 to find out where I’ll need to draw his feet.


You can do the same thing for the width as well. Simply measure the head’s length and then turn your pencil horizontally. You can figure out the width of the head as well as the shoulders, waist, etc.
Note: Sometimes, the relationship between two body parts will not be a whole unit. In this case, you will need to search for other relationships or do your best to eyeball that part of the sketch.


How to Transfer that Information to Your Sketchbook

How to draw with correct proportionsWhat’s the maximum length you want for your drawing? Once you decide, make a tick at the top and bottom of the sketchbook. It will help if you draw a vertical line down the entire page to align the ticks perfectly.

Since we know the man is equal to 8 heads tall, we can confidently divide the space into 8 equal sections vertically. Double check that the spaces are all even. You can use a ruler to do this. Now that I have my ticks, I know the exact height and width to draw the head.

How to draw with accurate proportions _ Transfer onto paper 2

Measure and Compare Other Parts of the Body

You can use this technique to measure all other parts of the body to get a good idea of the size relationships between each. This is very useful when you’re drawing several people in one scene. How do you know how tall or wide to draw one person compared to another? How big do you draw a child’s head compared to her parents?


  • The buttock is equal to 2 head units.
  • The right shoe is slightly smaller in total width than the left shoe.
  • Etc…


If there’s another person in the scene, you can compare the 2 bodies against each other so you know how wide to draw the second person or how big their head is compared to person #1.

#2: Check Relationships Between Objects on the Vertical and Horizontal Axis

proportion sketch comparison

Getting the sizing right is great, but it’s also important to know where to align everything. Let’s say you already jumped ahead and made a rough sketch. You got the length and width of each body part right, but something just doesn’t seem quite right.

In the examples below, I’m using vertical and horizontal lines to find out where certain body parts are aligned.

How to draw using the sight size method _ Vertical and Horizontal Relationships ComparisonIf you look at the first row of images, you’ll find that the following statements are true:

Image 1: The right shoulder and right buttock are aligned perfectly on the vertical axis.
Image 2: The middle of the head is in line with the inner side of the right foot.
Image 3: The bottom of the left shoe comes down to the middle of the right shoe.
Image 4: The left elbow is lower than the right elbow.

If you compare the top row to the bottom row, you’ll notice that 3 of these observations do NOT match the sketch. Now I know what’s wrong with my sketch and what I need to fix.

Tools you can use

To get accurate vertical/horizontal measurements of your subject, you can use the following tools:

  • A pocket level tool
  • A weight on the end of a string, aka a plumb bob + line (works for vertical measurements only)
  • Your pencil: Put your pencil up in front of your eye and align it with a straight horizontal or vertical edge, lock that angle in place and then move your hand back over to your subject. You can reference a straight edge such as a flat horizon line or perfectly straight poll if you’re outside. If you’re indoors you can reference the edge of the floor or the side of a wall. Make sure your vertical/horizontal references do not change!

If you’re drawing from a photo reference, you can simply use a ruler or pencil. Press the ruler flat up against the photo and align it to the edges of the paper. For super accurate measurements, you may want to try a drawing board with an inbuilt transparent ruler.

If you’re drawing from a digital reference, you can use an image editing software to draw lines directly onto the photo.

#3: Check Angles

Angles are especially hard to eyeball. For this dilemma, I use a sliding technique. What you want to do is hold your arm out between your eye and the subject without bending your elbow and then tilt your pencil at an angle until the edge of the pencil matches the angle you’re checking. Then carefully slide your hand in front of your drawing while holding the pencil as still as possible.

How to draw with correct proportions_angles

Important: Your sketchbook must be in a fairly upright position, sitting on something stable such as an easel and aligned fairly close to your subject for accurate results. As a beginner, you want to minimize the amount of travel time while you’re moving your hand from the subject to the sketchpad.

If you lost your grip and lost the angle, don’t worry. Sketch it anyway by making your best guess, then verify your line by repeating the process above until you get the angle just right.

You can use the same sliding technique to measure the relationship between several body parts. For example: the angle from the bottom of the seagull’s foot to the end of its tail feathers.

No doubt this is a tedious process. The more you do it, the faster you’ll become. Over time, you will tune your eyes to draw more accurately, allowing you to do all of this at a quick glance.

#4: Observe Negative Space

If you find it easier to draw geometric shapes like squares, triangles or circles than it is for
you to draw detailed subjects like people and animals, here’s a useful technique you can add to your drawing process.

Look a the negative space around your weirdly shaped subject to find familiar shapes such as triangles or circles that are easy for your brain to recognize. Shifting your focus from the subject to the space around it will change the way you see, perhaps simplifying it, which will allow you to make more sense of things.


Important things to remember

#1: Don’t press too hard
Keep your lines light. Make sure everything is in the right place before you start adding details and shading.

#2: Always triple check and cross-check
Measuring once or twice is not enough. Small errors that you make in the beginning can add up to bigger mistakes in the end. So make sure you do your due diligence. I like to measure my subject before, during and even after I’ve completed the drawing.

#3: Spend A LOT of time measuring to get the best results
The more time you spend, the more accurate your drawing will be.

#4: Use all the techniques above In any order you want
…just make sure you try all of them.


Homework Assignment

I have 4 images here, each with an increasing level of difficulty. Your homework this week is to use the techniques in this lesson plus what you learned in the previous lessons to draw your most accurate representation of each image.

How to measure correct proportions homeworkOnce you’re done, you can post your work on the RFA Facebook page, which is where I’ll post my left-handed homework assignment as well. If you submit your 4 drawings on Facebook, I will feature your work down below with a link to your facebook page so other readers can check you out. Feel free to draw other subjects or scenes as well!

If you want constructive feedback, please write “constructive feedback request” somewhere in your facebook reply :)

Happy drawing!


Readers Who Completed the Challenge!

José Perez


Kara T.

Go to Lesson 5 –>

Lesson 4: How to Draw with Accurate Proportions Read More »

Lesson 3: Going From 2D to 3D

How to Draw Form and Volume 3DIn this lesson, we’re going to focus on how to give our sketches a 3 dimensional quality.

At the end of this lesson, we’re going to revisit our homework assignments from the previous 2 lessons and apply the techniques from lesson 3. If you haven’t read and applied what you learned in lesson 1 and 2, I encourage you to visit them before you read on.

Lesson 1: How to Sketch

Lesson 2: Learn to See Things Differently


Drawing in 2D vs 3DWhen drawing something realistically, we’re depicting what a 3D object will look like on paper. In reality, the objects drawn are actually 2D because they have no physical depth.

How in the world can we draw something that looks 3D, while in reality being flat on the page?


What Makes Drawings Look 3D?

Many factors contribute to this. I’m only covering a few in this lesson and will sprinkle more in the following lessons.


The image below shows you 2D objects being transformed into 3D. I added some shading for you to visualize it better.

How to Draw Form_3D objects with shadowsThe reason why these objects look 3D is because I’ve given them additional faces. Each face is called a plane and each plane is facing a different direction. Multiple planes on one object give the illusion of depth. You can now imagine each object having volume.

It’s easy to draw 3D objects when they have obvious vertices or hard edges, but what about weird shapes like circles, blobs, or even people? How do you define the planes/faces on a round object? That’s where contour lines come in.


Contour Lines

The first row of objects below appear completely flat. You could say they each have one face.

How to draw 3D shapes_Contour Lines

In the second row, the objects have lines wrapped around them which make you visualize their many sides. These lines are called contour lines because they follow the form of the object. Contour lines can run in any direction along the surface of an object to help you create the illusion of form, giving the object a more meaningful shape.


When to Use Contour Lines

Here are some examples of when you can make use of contour lines.

Drawing Faces:

If you’re drawing a character whose face is tilted, contour lines will act as guidelines to help you find out where to place features on the face, such as where to draw the eyes, nose and mouth. Notice how the eyes on the cat in the second row wrap around the face more naturally. The nose and mouth are also aligned properly down the center of the face compared to the first cat.

2D vs 3D cat sketch example RFA

Here’s a more obvious example – a creature with 6 eyes:

How to Draw Contour Lines and Eyes_ spider example

Use your imagination to think of where you can make use of this technique. Perhaps a belt around Santa’s large stomach, a ring around a finger or a headband around someone’s head.


Defining Surfaces

Contour lines can be used to accentuate curves. Observe how the lines used in the examples below make a big difference in how the subject is perceived: Full lips versus flat lips. The more curved my lines are, the more plump the lips appear to be.

Here’s an example of a flower. When you look at the flower on the right, the stripes of each petal are curved. The curves follow the shape of each petal.

Flower contour lines example


When Should You Draw in 3D?

The short answer is: whenever possible.

First of all, whether you’re drawing a transparent or opaque object, you’ll want to approach it the same way. As a beginner, it’s always a good idea to draw all sides of the object. This practice will help you improve accuracy, so you can draw objects that make more sense.

Using the toy car example below, drawing the entire object in 3D helps me know where to draw each wheel instead of guessing where they should go.

2D vs 3D Car example


How to Draw in 3D

Since this lesson is an introduction to 3D, I want you to focus on only a few things to begin with.

Drawing Objects with Vertices and Hard Edges

This is the quick and simple method because it doesn’t account for perspective (something I will cover in lesson 6):

Steps: Draw a simple shape with corners, duplicate that shape, draw lines to connect the vertices together and then shade the object.

Tip: If you draw your second shape lighter than the first, it will appear further away.

How to draw 3D objects step by step_edges and vertices

For shapes with round edges, draw your connecting lines at the outer-most edges. If you size your shapes differently like the example below, it will give your drawing an added layer of depth. However, as mentioned above, this freehand method is quick but not very accurate compared to what we’ll be learning in lesson 6.

How to Draw 3D Round Edged Shapes Examples

For cylindrical shapes like cups, jars, pop cans and vases, you can use the method below: Draw your 2D object and then add ellipses to the top, bottom and/or sides.

How to Draw Cylindrical Objects

By changing the diameter of your ellipses, you can tilt your cylindrical shape more or less, as illustrated in the example below:

How to draw 3d objects on paper ellipse size
A bowl drawn from different angles

This idea can also be applied to drawing faces. You can change the direction you want your subject to face by changing the diameter of each ellipse or ring.

In the image below, assume that the sphere in the center is facing straight towards you. The point at which the 2 rings cross is the very front of the sphere.

As you look to the left, each sphere starts facing more towards the left side. The opposite applies to the right side. If you want a character to look up or down, you can apply the same idea to the horizontal ring.

How to draw contour Lines
Manipulate the vertical or horizontal ring to change the direction your character is facing.


Drawing Irregular Objects

Contour lines help you turn irregular 2D shapes into 3D. You can influence the way a viewer perceives your drawing by manipulating its contour lines. However, this process comes with some practice. If your contour lines do not accurately represent the shape you are drawing, for example, a sphere, your viewer will not perceive a sphere.

Here’s an example of how contour lines can manipulate your perception. I’ve shaded each object to better illustrate what I mean. Contour lines + shading make a powerful pair!

How to Draw Using Contour Lines _ Circle Example RFA 4

Tip: If your lines curve near the edge of your object, it makes the viewer think there is more on the other side, which magically lifts the object off the page.

A sphere, if observed from any side, has the outline of a circle shape. So if you want to draw a sphere, use various ellipses as contour lines.

A series of narrow rings will give you a pebble-like form, while a series of wide rings will give you a wider, rounder form. Here are some examples of what I mean. For each shape below, I’m showing you the front of the shape and the side view.

No matter what shape it is that you want to add contour lines to, always visualize it from different angles so you can create contour lines that best describe the form.

The ability to draw good contour lines takes a lot of visualization and practice. Once you understand it, it’ll be one of the greatest tools in your toolkit!


Summary of the Above

In short:

  • You can make things look 3D by indicating that your subject has multiple planes.
  • Use contour lines for irregular objects like circles, blobs, etc.
  • Always sketch in 3D. Your final drawings will look more accurate.
  • To draw a 3D object with vertices: draw 1 shape, duplicate it, connect the vertices and then shade it.
  • To draw irregular shapes such as spheres or blobs: use a series of contour rings.


Your Homework for the Week

Your assignment for the week is to take a look at your drawings from lessons 1-2 and recreate as many drawings in 3D or incorporate contour lines in them if you haven’t done that already. I’ll be submitting my left-handed homework to facebook. You’re welcome to share your homework on there as well :)

A great way to practice drawing contour lines is to grab a newspaper, magazine or a few pictures off the internet and draw over them! If you want more examples, head over to Google Images and search for “object wireframe” or “animal wireframe” etc and study the images. You can use them as reference while you practice drawing contour lines.

If you want to try a more difficult exercise, check out these cool pictures here. Try creating forms using only contour lines. Here’s a simple tutorial you can use to draw a hand:

This week’s challenge: Turn 15 2D objects into 3D sketches. These objects can be anything from apples, chairs, milk cartons to light bulbs. Submit your drawings to the RFA Facebook page and I’ll feature your artwork below! Each transformation must have a 2D column and 3D column similar to the example below:

Have fun!

If you’re waiting for the next lesson, sign up to my special mailing list in the sidebar or follow me on facebook!

Update: Click here for lesson 4


Readers Who Completed the Challenge!

Kevin Stockard


Manjistha Rawat

Lesson 3: Going From 2D to 3D Read More »

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