Tips on how to improve your drawing ability

By Brian Ling December 8, 2006

Further our previous discussion on the merits of the ability to sketch and how sketches are used in studios, I now present a list of hints and tips that has helped me improve my drawing ability.

Tips on how to be a sketch god! (or at least get you close!):

1) Know how you draw?
Do you draw lines by moving your wrist, elbow or shoulder? There is really no right or wrong way to draw, though most purist advice to use draw from the shoulder. The reason for this is really about the type of sketch you want to create.

Wrist action encourages “tight” sketches and very good for a controlled sketch style. Drawing from the shoulder gives you a more sketchy and loose lines as you are literally firing off the lines. If you want the create that Emotion sketch this is the technique to use, but frankly this style requires a lot of practice in controlling your lines. Drawing from the elbow gives you the middle ground. At the end of the day pick the technique that you are most comfortable with.

2) Practice.
When I started my design career, I drew everything every day. I refused to use tracing paper, rulers or erasers. If you want to improve your sketching skills you need to invest time and effort. Practice drawing buttons, perspective cubes, and horizontal or vertical lines. I have pages full of horizontal lines of at least 15cm long.

3) Understand the concept of varying line weights.
One of the good tricks of sketching is to use different line weights or thicknesses. Basically you use thicker lines for edges further from the eye, and thin or dotted lines for edges closer to you.

Varying line thicknesses give your drawing movement, and bold outlines in particular makes the sketch jump out of the page.

4) Use intentionally sketchy lines by keeping your arm loose.
In other words lines don’t end at the junction, keep them going and shoot them off. Creating loose sketchy looking lines is really a technique that can be easily learnt.

Carefully creating boundary boxes in light lines, as well as over drawing shapes gives a cool sketchy feel.

5) Redraw your sketches and present them in a better light.
I have seen many portfolios of designers with a few years of experience still include sketches from their school days. Now if you have been following my advice your sketching ability would have improved, so re-draw those old and ugly sketches, there is nothing and no-one saying you should not.

This time, perhaps, take the opportunity to refine it to the level that you are happy with?

6) Use callouts with cool handwriting.
I don’t think I have to say much more about this, but the fact that annotations at strategic places does makes a sketch look cool. Oh and if your handwriting is not too good, I do suggest you pick up a book on drafting and practice.


7) Use the photocopier to save redrawing a good part.
I only recommend this if your sketching ability is fairly good or if you are rushed for time. Otherwise redraw it from scratch. Photocopiers work great with Liquid Paper or Correction Fluid.

8) Draw big, but show it small.
Actually a great presentation trick is to scan in your images, touch up the lines with Photoshop, and present them in a collage. Such a presentation strategy makes average sketches look good, and good sketches look GREAT!

9) Draw small, but show it big.
If you have still a tough time sketching from your elbow or shoulder and if your line control is still not the best, what I suggest is to draw a thumbnail and blow it up on a photocopier or scanner. This way you would have an underlay to redraw your sketch with the same look and feel but with thinner lines.

10) Use layouts created from 2D or 3D software.
Talking about the use of an underlay, use this time tested trick to create your sketches with a correct perspective, or for you to create a 2D orthographic sketch in proportion.

Edit: One more thanks to sammyb
11) Draw with a pen.
From what I’ve been told, sketching with a pen, instead of a pencil, is really about losing the ability to erase your lines, or erasing your mistakes.

The idea here is that drawing with a pen forces you to think before your draw, and as you cannot erase your work, and you will then draw with a determined solution in mind. In other words, drawing with a pen trains your mind to think the design solution through before you actually put it on paper. It will make you a much better designer.

The other reason is that, you stop being precious with your sketches and drawings, i.e. you draw and if it does not look good, you don’t get to erase and draw over, but you throw your drawings away and start fresh. This re-setting and starting from scratch seems to help make you a better designer, so the say!

There you go, 11 great tips to get you out of the stable with a flying start. However at the end of the day, all these 11 points will all come to naught if you don’t practice Practice and PRACTICE! So do hang in there as the pain will not last forever. Sketching and drawing is like riding a bike, once you get it you will never forget it.

Brian Ling

Brian is the Founder and Design Director at Design Sojourn, a Design Led Innovation Consultancy. He is a multi-award winning design leader, and specialises in strategic design and innovation programs that drive successful organisations. Brian’s 20-year career in design, driven through a deep understanding of human behavior, spans over multiple domains such as consumer electronics, government, healthcare, non-profit agencies, hospitality, F&B, retail, online solutions and best in class service experiences.

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27 Comments on "Tips on how to improve your drawing ability"

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thank you very much for you guidelines.very useful information for me.can you show me any video.than much more easy to understand the Technics


This is great advice, especially number one. I have always just drawn on a sort of autopilot and my go to way of drawing is by the wrist. As soon as I read the first point I grabbed my sketch book and being aware of how I was drawing gave light to the solution of one of my biggest problems, I can never draw smooth lines. Somehow I never even thought of changing where I move my arm, I am not even kidding. Thank you.


Thank you so much for these!
I’m going to study Graphic designing from next year in uni, and my drawing skills aren’t really well — but I have a good eye for design.
I’ll practice these steps tomorrow with a pen on paper!


well… ur drawing is also resemble my 2d teacher. also i am aware that u are full experinced…… but i need use my drawing habit for toon boom soft….. so pls tell me how use it………..?


[…] I set out to rekindle my drawing abilities (as mentioned here). This is a warm-up of late. Although there are no set rules when it comes to drawing, one tip I can share with you is to try to move your shoulder when you are drawing sketches instead of your wrist as it creates looser lines. Find more tips here. […]

Lady M

thanks for all the advice it gives me hope as i was debating on whether this was the road to take as i think my drawing is not up to par

Ges Cocker

Excellent examples and first rate tips. Can i use these with my Y11 graphics students? Anymore tips on things like good annotation would be great. Keep up the good work

Syed Farhan

Just a message from a sketching freak

try try until u die 😉 theres always hope

Every successful person has a painful story.
Every painful story has a successful End.

So !Accept! the !Pain! and get ready for



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