• Nienke Vletter

Wanna start drawing? First tackle these pitfalls!

“I would love to make something like that, but I can’t draw”. “I will never be as good as you / him / her” or “I’m afraid to fail, so I don’t start drawing”. These are just a few remarks that I get VERY often. During workshops, in DM’s on Instagram or Facebook or during face to face conversations with people.


It’s such a shame, because drawing should be about the fun in gives you. Yet we get so easily distracted by the result, we lose sight of that fun. I think there are a number of reasons why we are so focused on that result and why it’s hard to let that go. By knowing the cause, hopefully we can tackle them (or better: kick ‘m out the door)! I hope this blog will help a little in letting go of those restrictive thoughts.



Instant gratification

Nowadays we are so used to be able to get what you want right away. You get on your laptop or phone and book your holiday, order food, buy new shoes and swipe a little left and right for a fun date / booty call ;-).

Because of this We tend to forget that some things take a little more effort. That it takes time and practice.

You didn’t learn to ride a bike or learned how to read and write in just one day, did you? Nope, you learned it by doing it lots of time, put in the practice hours and – in case of the biking – falling flat on your face sometimes. When that happened, you would get up and try it again (after a kiss on the head from mom and a bandage on your knee).


The same goes for learning how to draw. You can’t get better if you don’t make mistakes first. Not without making lots of ugly stuff that you might not be proud of. That’s why I shared this quote in one of my previous blogs: ‘We all have 10.000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out, the better’. You have to go through that pile of ugliness to get to the good stuff. Just like when you were a kid and you had to finish your plate with yucky vegetables to get that dessert (I was literally gagging at the table when I had to eat cauliflower ;).


The pitfalls of social media

Over lelijkheid gesproken: het is allemaal de schuld van social media! Nee echt! ;-)

Speaking bout ugliness: is all to blame on social media! No, really! ;-)

It is amazing that we have a world filled with so much inspiration at our hands. On one hand it can be tremendously motivating and inspiring. But it can also be completely paralyzing and intimidating at the same time. When we go on social media, we often forget two things.

  • For one: everyone only shares the pretty pictures. All those failed, ugly drawings people make? You don’t see ‘m online! So it looks like everyone is better than you and everything they draw always succeeds. Which can cause you feeling that your ugly drawings are a sign that you’re not good enough. Instead of you realizing that it’s part of the creative process! Trust me: I’m no stranger to these feelings. When it happens, I feel like I’m not a ‘real’ illustrator (hello imposter syndrom!), because I can’t get an illustration onto paper right away. I find it pretty reassuring when other illustrators share the struggles they sometimes go through to get to a good result. No matter the years of experience, it’s totally normal that it takes time and lots of effort (and frustration and a mental breakdown here an there). Illustrator Rebecca Green wrote a great blog about the process of one of her latest picture books – all struggles included.

  • And the second pitfall? We compare ourselves on social media with people who are on a totally different point in their creative adventure. You might be looking at someone with over 10 years of drawing experience while you only started drawing 1 year ago! But unfortunately those Instagram posts don’t come with a daily disclaimer, so we tend to forget this over and over again. We are fast in concluding that we are not good enough – like it’s an unalterably fact. I even have people doubting if they can join o my workshops ‘because they can’t draw that well’. While the whole idea of a workshop is that you will learn how to! If you could already draw really well, you wouldn’t have to join the workshop, right?

‘Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. The only one you should compare yourself to is your former self.’

This quote is another great reminder for me. Whenever I see someone online whose work I really admire (and a voice in my head saying ‘You aren’t that good’), I remind myself: ‘I’m not that good yet.’ But there’s a lot I can still learn! Nowadays I mostly get excited about that idea instead of it paralyzing me.


The 80/20 rule applies to creativity as well

I firmly believe 20% is talent and 80% is hard work. Maybe there are people who could draw amazingly from a young age. But that doesn’t mean they will or have become successful artists. Most artist or illustrators have put in a lot of hard work to get where they are. To become a professional those 20% will help, but for most people being a professional is not the goal! To learn enough skills to have fun when you’re drawing; isn’t that what it’s about?

When people say to me: ‘I would love to be able to draw like that’ or ‘I wish I could create something like that, but I can’t draw’ – it isn’t just good manners when I reply: ‘But you can’! I really mean it. Of course there are a few people that really lack feeling for drawing. Chances are that they don’t like it anyway! Not everyone loves creative hobbies :-). But if you do mean what you say and really like to be able to draw: it’s just a matter of putting in the hours and start learning.


Practice makes progress – not perfection

Which brings me to the last quote of today: ‘Practice makes progress’. Originally the saying goes like this: ‘Practice makes perfect’. I used to say this too, because that’s how the expression goes and I didn’t really think about it at first. But I definitely changed my mind about this one!

Remember that when you practice, you grow, you improve, you progress. It doesn’t have to be perfect! *One more time for the people in the back: It. Doesn’t. Have. To. Be. Perfect.


And even so: what might look perfect to you now, you will look back on in a year or two and you will see possible improvements anyway. Because you’ll have grown and collected another year of skills.


So the next time you’ll caught yourself thinking: ‘This isn’t fun, because I’m failing’? Try to see it as a good practice round. The one where you end up falling to get back up again. This will take away the pressure of the ‘perfect’ result. You can only improve by doing. Not by scrolling endlessly on Pinterest and Instagram and leaving your sketchbook empty ;-).


Need any help?

Are you ready to start your practice, but don’t know where to start? Or where to find the inspiration? The Sketch Journaling course (which I made together with my colleague Anne from GoudenLijntjes) might totally be your thing!

You can choose our offline weekend in September (2 days packed with fun, inspiration and a goodiebag!) or our online course (10 video’s about illustration, handlettering, urban sketching, composition, color theory and much more). Both workshops are currently in Dutch, but we will release an English edition of the online course in October.


Sounds good right? Will you join us?


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