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bad habits for artists

The WORST Habits Every Artist Should Avoid

How to stop these common mistakes from holding you back

While there’s tons of great advice on how to become a better artist, do you ever wonder what you should be avoiding?

Are there patterns and routines you’ve picked up that could be holding you back without you even knowing?

The truth is… yes!

No matter how many YouTube videos or tutorials you follow, it’s always possible there are some bad habits keeping you from creating your best art. In this post we’ll list some of the most common mistakes artists make and how to avoid them.

Starting with details

If you start every sketch by shading in the eyelashes, chances are you might run into problems later on. Jumping headfirst into the details of a piece might seem like the fun part, but it’s definitely a bad habit to avoid.

Without a strong foundation all those meticulous details won’t help a thing. In fact, they may even make a drawing look worse… If core underpinnings like anatomy or perspective are off, more details can just draw attention to a piece’s weak points.

The secret to good art is starting with the biggest shapes and working smaller. If something doesn’t look right it’s a lot easier to fix before you lay down the details.

Drawing infrequently

“We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better.”

Walt Stanchfield – Disney Animator and mentor

Pick your favorite artist and we can promise you a cold hard fact… they draw every day and have for years. However much experience you might have, the value of drawing regularly can’t be underestimated. Even the pros know that an extended break from art can lead to stiff lines and awkward mistakes when you do pick up a pencil again.

It’s easy to feel pressured to create something you’re proud of with every drawing, which can make the whole process feel intimidating, or even worse… like work.

Waiting until you “feel inspired” won’t help your skills grow. Even a few doodles a day can keep your skills fresh and your creativity flowing.

Using too many colors

This is a bad habit particularly common with digital artists. An app like Photoshop can create 16 million colors and it’s easy to see the temptation to use as many as possible.

But this friends, is a path to the darkside.

Too many colors can cause a piece to lose cohesion and turn even the most refined drawing into a garish coloring book. Classical painters have overcome this problem for centuries by using a limited palette.

Before they even put a brush to canvas, they’ll have a very specific grouping of colors they know they’re going to use. This might be as little as five unique colors, sometimes even less!

By mixing that limited selection together you’ll have everything you need to create balanced art without worrying about how to manage your 15th shade of green.

For digital painters, try laying down just a handful of colors on your canvas in the corner. That gives you quick access to sample, mix and blend as you go.

Drawing the same subject matter over and over

This is a bad habit even the best artists can fall victim to. You’ve probably even encountered a few yourself – talented artists who never seem to stray far from the same subject.

It seems to manifest itself most commonly as portraits of pretty young women. Have you seen a few of those lately? 😉

While repetition is the key to getting better, it’s important to branch out too. If you like drawing people, make sure to experiment with different ages, races and backgrounds. The same holds true for landscapes, animals or any other subject matter.

Variety is key. The wider the range of subjects you’ve drawn, the more confident you’ll be as an artist.

Avoiding references

The people who avoid using references in their art usually fall into two camps…

1: Those that consider using photo references “cheating” and think real art comes entirely from the imagination.

2: Those that think they’re experienced enough not to need references anymore.

Both of these groups are a bit misguided. For centuries the finest painters in the world have relied on live models to help give a greater level of realism to their work.

Whether it’s Da Vinci or Alex Ross, references are the key to capturing subjects accurately.

The same holds true for experienced artists. While building a mental library of familiar subjects is a great goal, nothing compares to observing real life.

Obsessing over likes

Historically, judging art has been a pretty tricky field. Each observer has their own idea of beauty, which varies wildly across cultures and eras.

Social media has made it possible to try to quantify art – to essentially assign a number grade to each image. Is an image that gets 10,000 likes truly better than one that gets 10?

With secretive algorithms powering platforms like Instagram, all we can know for sure is that one of those images was certainly seen more than the other. That’s why it’s so important not to worry about how many hearts, likes, comments or other metric your art receives online.

When you create art just to do well on social media, it’s easy to fall into many other bad habits too. Trying to match how many likes one post got in the past leads to repetitive, high pressure art trying to hit a certain “score”.

Always draw what you like and what you’re proud of. If people online appreciate your efforts, that’s great, but don’t let social media crush your creativity.

Saving art supplies for the “good stuff”

Have you ever bought a fancy new watercolor brush or top tier sketchbook only to find it still sitting in its packaging a year later? 🙋‍♂️

Whether it’s art supplies or a nice pair of shoes, many people stash their best stuff away waiting until the “right occasion”. If you’re waiting until you finally feel ready to sit down and hammer out your magnum opus, you might be waiting awhile.

Trying to be “worthy” of an expensive pen or brush can feel like a lot of pressure, which is the enemy of creativity. Your art supplies are tools and need to be worthy of you.

Use the good paper. Open the new brush. And when they’re all worn out congratulate yourself on using them to their fullest.

Each tool is just a stepping stone on your journey.

Trying to be perfect

When it comes to judging your art, you can be your own worst critic. Every flaw and mistake might stick out like a beacon, especially when you compare yourself to others.

Social media has amplified this effect. When thousands of artists present only their most polished art online (and keep their crummy doodles to themselves) it’s easy to feel like you could never compete.

But if you’re lucky, you’ll never stop seeing the mistakes in your work. Even the most revered artists rarely have more than a handful of pieces they’re truly proud of.

If you can’t see your flaws, you’ll never be able to improve. And improvement is a much easier goal than perfection.


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© Efrain Malo

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