Wednesday, August 23, 2017

5 Tips to Draw Faster Without Getting Sloppy

If you want to be a freelance illustrator, you need to learn to work fast - not only in order to meet your deadlines, but also so that you can take on enough jobs to make a living.

Judging from conversations I've had with other illustrators, I get the sense that I work abnormally quickly - at least for a book illustrator. During busy seasons I may have to complete more than a dozen illustrations in a month. Back when I was working on Bible scenes, I had about two days to complete each one! After working at this pace for the past few years, I've developed some of my own techniques for drawing quickly and I thought I'd share them with you.

I'm not going to talk about premade brushes, photobashing, speed painting or other Photoshop shortcuts. This is a list of tips that can apply to all artists, no matter their industry or medium. Best of all, these are techniques that will improve the overall quality of your artwork, rather than making it look sloppy or rushed.

Here are my tips on learning to draw quickly without sacrificing quality.
  1. Use more photo references. If you're stuck drawing something over and over again because it doesn't look right, most likely you're not looking at photo references. Take the reference photos that you need, and 90% of the time this solves the problem. Don't spend an hour trying to draw a good hand from your imagination. Get off your butt, take a reference photo, draw the hand, move on!
  2. Leave details for last. If you render too early, you're more likely to waste time on something that later needs to be changed in order to fit the rest of the drawing. Make sure that you've completed the entire rough sketch and figured out all the tricky parts BEFORE getting caught up in rendering the highlights on your character's eyeballs.
  3. Practice short figure drawing poses. Go to a live figure drawing session, or try drawing people or animals in public, for example while riding the bus or subway. Use an online figure drawing generator and set the timer to 1 or 2 minutes. Try doing this for 15 minutes every day. This will teach you to work quickly, establish major shapes and not get caught up in rendering details.
  4. For complex buildings, objects or environments, use a 3D modeling program such as Blender or Google Sketchup. Sometimes clients have asked me to draw tricky things like a Victorian mansion with a wraparound porch or the Temple of Jerusalem. If I tried to draw those things from imagination, I would have spent hours going slowly insane. Instead I downloaded some 3D models, posed them in the correct perspective, traced over the major shapes, then added my own details and colors. To be clear, I'm not saying to slap photos or 3D models directly into your drawings. I'm saying to use them as basic perspective guides to draw on top of. (Here's some examples from myselfHoward Lyon and Wylie Beckert.) Although it takes a while to learn how to use a 3d modeling program, it will save you so much time and frustration down the line.
  5. Practice working under deadlines. When you're drawing for yourself, it's easy to get into the habit of taking your sweet time. You ponder, tweak, fiddle and change directions. While it's important to relax and enjoy your art, if you want to learn to draw faster, you need to light a fire under your butt! Give yourself an assignment with a less-than-comfortable deadline, or participate in a collaborative project like a zine or a group gallery show. Deadlines will force you to commit to artistic decisions and make them work. Think of it as a way to practice decisiveness.
Now get cracking, artists!

Have you discovered any tips and tricks for drawing more quickly? Please let me know in the comment section?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Kelley! As a beginner artist who gets too caught in details, this is great.
    I was wondering if I could request/suggest a post about drawing from imagination? I've seen your post about your artistic progress (SO inspiring, by the way) and noticed that most of your early pieces are based on photographs. How did you make the leap into drawing from imagination? Did copying teach you anything that you could further apply in your original pieces? Any insight would be deeply appreciated!
    Keep this blog awesome as always! I always pop in at least once a week to check if you've uploaded anything new :)

    1. Hi Augustina! Thanks for being a regular reader of the blog! Sorry I didn't respond to your comment sooner.
      I actually would disagree that I made "the leap into drawing from imagination." I still work from photo references and 3D models all the time. It's possible that I just haven't posted those photos on my blog as much lately.
      Ironically, being able to draw from imagination, without references, is a skill that comes from drawing a lot from references. For example, let's say you want to draw a dog from imagination. Give it a try. It probably won't look all that great. Now go spend a few months sketching from dog photos, studying dog anatomy, and hanging out with dogs in person, observing their behaviors and movements, sketching them from life. NOW try drawing a dog from imagination. It's probably going to look way, way better than your first attempt, because now you understand how dogs work.
      So drawing from imagination starts with drawing from reference.
      Hope that makes sense! Thanks again for your comment.

  3. Speaking of delayed responses... *cough cough* (creeps in furtively)

    That actually makes a LOT of sense. I will put it into practice! Thanks a lot for the advice Kelley!


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