20 Common Drawing Mistakes – and how to fix them!

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Improve your drawing by eliminating these common drawing mistakes

Drawing is a lovely skill to have. It allows you to express yourself in so many ways and provides a therapeutic activity to focus your energy on.

There are so many different drawing styles and each of us have our own unique way of putting pencil to paper and making marks. I really enjoy loose mark making and my own drawing is more expressive.

If you are interested in improving the realism of your drawing, I have included a list of common drawing mistakes below. These are things I have personally encountered in my own realistic drawing and that of my students.

Pencil sketch of Nicholas Cage to introduce the article of common drawing mistakes
By Dee

Here is a list of 20 common drawing mistakes and my recommendations on how to correct them.

Drawing with too much pressure on the pencil

Problem: It is often the case that when someone first starts drawing, they put too much pressure on their pencil. As a result, the pencil marks become very deep on the page and are difficult to alter later on. When you try to erase these marks, they remain on the page as ‘ghosted’ lines.

Solution: Always start your drawings off with soft lines and gentle pressure. This means focusing on holding your pencil lightly and sketching the shapes of your subject matter. If you draw in this way, it is far easier to erase and errors and alter your drawing.

Inaccurate Ellipses

Problem: Drawing a lob-sided ellipse on your mug, pot, vase or cylinder-type object. Your ellipse may also be too circular and so appears inaccurate.

Solution: Remember that even though we know in reality a cylinder has a circular shape on top when we are looking at it from a side angle, the circle becomes an oval shape. However, the oval is more tapered off to the edges creating an ellipse shape. The lower your eye level is to the cylinder, the narrower the ellipse becomes.

Incorrect foreshortening

Problem: You haven’t been able to create the illusion of depth to an object or view in your drawing.

Solution: You must make sure that you have reduced the depth or distance between the shape in the foreground and the shape in the middle or background. Even though we know that the length of the object may be a lot longer in reality, the angle from which we view the object makes it appear shorter.

Remember that to create the illusion of depth you must draw objects in the foreground larger than objects in the background.

Not locating your light source before you begin

Problem: The drawing isn’t believable because you have rendered your shadows or highlights in the right place.

Solution: Always locate where your light source is coming from. If your light source is coming from the top left-hand corner of the page, then the too left-hand areas of your drawing will be the ones most ‘hit’ by the light. Shadows fall behind and opposite these highlight areas.

Not spending enough time observing your subject matter

Problem: Your drawing just doesn’t seem right and is almost “cartoon-like” when you intended it to be realistic.

Solution: You must spend most of your drawing time actually looking at the subject matter. Try to see your subject matter with ‘new’ eyes as though you had never seen it before. Try to draw every single tiny element that you see on your subject matter.  If you would like to find out more about improving your observational skills read my article on Upside Down Drawing.

Using only ‘smudging’ to create tone

Problem: You drawing appears flat, grey and lifeless.

Solution: Don’t only use smudging to create tonal value. Smudging on its own can make a drawing appear flat and uninteresting. Try to extend your mark-making in order to create shadows and highlights that are more interesting and create a better sense of depth in your drawing.

[Related article: How to create the illusion of depth in art]

Sloppy shading

Problem: The shadows seem incomplete and inaccurate

Solution: Spend time identifying where your shadow areas are and building them up slowly. Include shading techniques like stippling, hatching, cross-hatching, and scribbling.

Not standing back

Problem: Your drawing is “off” and you feel exhausted after spending 2 focused hours trying to get it right.

Solution: You need to stand back at least every 15 to 20 minutes to get a wide-angle view of your drawing. Look at your drawing in a mirror to get a better sense of what areas you need to work on.

Its really important that you take mini-breaks during any art making process so that you breather fresh air and your eyes get a rest. Go and make a cup of tea and look out the window, or stand outside in the garden.

Elongated forms

Problem: You stand up to look at your drawing and it looks elongated!

Solution: If you are drawing on a flat table-like surface and you aren’t stepping back often enough, or lifting your drawing up, you tend to elongate your subject matter. Try to step back or lift up your artwork regularly in order to get a sense of whether your proportions are accurate.

Incorrect perspective

Problem: The angle of your buildings or street lamps seems wrong. Your drawing seems too flat.

Solution: Make sure you understand the basic principles of perspective drawing. You need to have a horizon line, a vanishing point (or a few) on the horizon line, and directional lines leading up to the vanishing point. Objects that are in the foreground will be larger than objects in the middle or background. With these principles in mind, you can start structuring more accurate perspective in your drawing.

Giving up

Problem: You have worked on your drawing for 30 minutes and its just not working! So you give up!

Solution: If you reach this point and you feel like you can’t do anymore, take a break and rest your eyes. Remember that even great masters like Da Vinci and Michelangelo felt this way often. Reaching this point is actually a good thing because it means you are pushing your limits – which can only lead to growth. Drawing is a skill and with lots of practice, you will get better and better. Don’t give up!

Not practicing – progress not perfection

Problem: Your drawing isn’t perfect or doesn’t fit into the idea you have of perfection. You expect to get it right the first time round.

Solution: Try to accept that everyone draws differently and developing your own unique style takes time. You must see your drawing journey as a winding path of progress and not perfection. Remember that mistakes can add to the magic of your drawings.

Drawing too tightly -anxious drawing

Problem: You are very anxious about getting your drawing right, so your drawings tend to be very tight and often small.

Solution: Let go of fear and anxiety. Scribble, play. Do lots of drawing exercises where you let go of trying to get things looking perfect. Read my article on Upside Down Drawing for ideas on how to liberate yourself.

Holding your pencil incorrectly

Problem: You just can’t draw lines accurately and you shadows are too “hard”.

Solution: When you start drawing your general shapes you should hold your pencil higher up the pencil. This gives you loose and flowing lines and helps you to generally plot your composition.

Once you have got your composition accurately plotted out, you can hold your pencil closer to the lead point in order to start defining outlines and edges of shapes and forms. Holding your pencil closer to the lead point gives you more control over your mark-making and line drawing.

Outlining everything

Problem: Your drawing appears to be flat and cartoon-like.

Solution: Don’t outline everything. Try to create ‘edges’ using tone and shading and eliminate the hard outlines – this is one of the most important factors in creating a realistic drawing.

Inaccurate face and head proportions

Problem: Your head and facial features just seem wrong. Your head appears to have a strange shape.

Solution: Remember that your hairline isn’t the end of the shape of your head. Before you draw your hair, draw the whole shape of your skull.

To get facial features accurately positioned you need to remember that a face is divided into three equal parts: hairline to eyebrows, eyebrows to the bottom of the nose, bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin. The eyes are halfway between the top of the head and the chin.

The bottom of the nose is halfway between the eyes and the chin. The mouth is one third of the distance between the nose and the chin. The distance between the eyes is equal to the width of one eye. The corners of the mouth line up with the centers of the eyes. The top of ears line up slightly above the eyes, in line with the outer tips of the eyebrows.

Not enough contrast

Problem: Your drawing appears to be too grey and lacks in interest.

Solution: Make sure to really work on getting your dark areas as deep and dark as possible, using an 8B pencil. Keep your lightest areas white. Try to get a full range of tonal variation in your drawing.

a drawing pad with pencils around it and a text overlay that says 20 common drawing mistakes

Using the wrong tools

Problem: You just can’t get dark enough shadows and the paper buckles when you try to rub things out.

Solution: Make sure you are using a range of good quality pencils, and try to avoid using the H grade pencils. It is best if you start working with a 2B pencil and move towards using a 6B and an 8B for your darker areas. Also, make sure to use good quality drawing paper with a weight that is at least 90gsm. I would recommend using these Derwent Drawing Pencils to get the best tonal variation.

Rushing your work

Problem: Your drawing seems unfinished and unresolved.

Solution: Take your time when drawing. Have breaks when necessary and don’t try to rush through your artwork. It’s good to work on something and come back to it the next day in order to look at it with fresh eyes.

Not spending enough time on the background

Problem: Your drawing seems unfinished.

Solution: Take time to consider what you are going to be drawing in the background and how you can achieve this. The background is just as important at the foreground objects and must be given as much attention in order to create a successful artwork.


It’s always a good idea to ask a trusted friend or family member their opinion on your artwork. It is good to have someone else share their objective view on your drawing and identify areas that are working and areas you can further develop and improve on.

If you feel anxious about showing your drawing to someone else, you can also post your drawing on an online forum or group where you will be more anonymous. However, if you don’t want to get someone else’s opinion, reflect on the 20 common drawing mistakes above and use your inner art critic to identify which may apply to your drawing and how you can improve.

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