how-to-improve-your-drawing-skills-as-an-animator

How to improve your drawing skills as an animator


Before you start animating, master your drawing skills…


Animation isn’t always about the newest software or the most expensive tools. To be a successful animator, you should begin with a solid grasp of the basics. Whether you’re a beginner or have been animating for years, you'll need to keep your drawing skills as sharp.

Why are drawing skills important for animators?


If you animate because traditional art isn't for you, it can be frustrating to return to paper and pen. This is especially true of 3D animators, whose modelling feels worlds away from traditional art. Even for 3D animators, drawing skills are important. Why?

Animation is all about expression. Most animation styles aren’t realistic, and that’s what gives them their charm. All good animation is expressive. Having good drawing skills doesn’t necessarily mean drawing with realistic detail. It does mean communicating ideas through visual expression—an essential skill for every animator.

1. Make drawing part of your daily routine


The best way to improve your drawing skills is to practice regularly. Drawing every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, will help you see your progress clearly. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to date your work. Find a time every day when you won’t be interrupted, set a timer, find somewhere to sit, and get drawing.

Buying a sketchbook (or tablet if you prefer digital drawing) also helps make drawing easy. Bring the sketchbook with you when you go to work or school. If you find yourself with a free five minutes in the day, take the time to make a quick sketch.

Studio vs Freelance Animation Calendar

2. Find your references


finding references start a studio

Professional animators will often have to draw from their imagination. Before you do this, practice drawing from life. One simple exercise is to sketch the items on your desk in front of you. Pets can also make great subjects, and capturing their movement is part of the challenge.

Drawing people is difficult, but it is an important skill for animators to learn. Most artists won’t have a friend willing to sit perfectly still for them every day. Some artists practice their observational drawing skills by drawing strangers in public. If you want to avoid the awkward scenario in which a stranger looks up and catches you drawing them, look online. Sites like Line of Action offer hundreds of reference pictures, from expressions to figure drawing. If you’re feeling committed, see if there are any life drawing classes held near you.

Professional animators will often have to draw from their imagination. Before you do this, practice drawing from life. One simple exercise is to sketch the items on your desk in front of you. Pets can also make great subjects, and capturing their movement is part of the challenge.

Drawing people is difficult, but it is an important skill for animators to learn. Most artists won’t have a friend willing to sit perfectly still for them every day. Some artists practice their observational drawing skills by drawing strangers in public. If you want to avoid the awkward scenario in which a stranger looks up and catches you drawing them, look online. Sites like Line of Action offer hundreds of reference pictures, from expressions to figure drawing. If you’re feeling committed, see if there are any life drawing classes held near you.

finding references start a studio

3. Expression vs accuracy


Many beginner artists spend hours agonising over the accuracy of their drawings. You’re an animator, not a classical artist, so focus on expression before accuracy. If a drawing perfectly illustrates a particular expression, don’t worry if the eye-to-mouth ratio is off.

That being said, learning the basics will improve your drawing skills. Mastering facial and body proportions will help your characters to feel more ‘real’. As Pablo Picasso once said, ‘learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.’

accuracy vs expression drawing for animators

4. Try new media to expand your drawing skills 


experimenting to improve drawing as an animator

If you hate using a pencil, that’s okay! ‘Drawing skills’ doesn’t have to mean ‘drawing’ in a traditional sense. Experimenting with the media you use will open you up to a wide range of styles and improve your skills. When choosing a new material to work with, ask yourself what you want to achieve. If you love the clean lines you can achieve with pen and ink, charcoal may not be for you. If you love the messiness of pastels, why not try painting?

By all means, keep an open mind when deciding what to work with. It's possible to avoid frustration by choosing materials that suit your drawing style. Remember, some materials are more portable than others. Bringing an iPad and stylus to a café is more feasible than transporting a set of oil paints, for example. For animators working on their digital drawing skills, we recommend Procreate.

For more resources to help you perfect your animation skills, check out our article on the programs every aspiring animator should know.

If you hate using a pencil, that’s okay! ‘Drawing skills’ doesn’t have to mean ‘drawing’ in a traditional sense. Experimenting with the media you use will open you up to a wide range of styles and improve your skills. When choosing a new material to work with, ask yourself what you want to achieve. If you love the clean lines you can achieve with pen and ink, charcoal may not be for you. If you love the messiness of pastels, why not try painting?

By all means, keep an open mind when deciding what to work with. It's possible to avoid frustration by choosing materials that suit your drawing style. Remember, some materials are more portable than others. Bringing an iPad and stylus to a café is more feasible than transporting a set of oil paints, for example. For animators working on their digital drawing skills, we recommend Procreate.

For more resources to help you perfect your animation skills, check out our article on the programs every aspiring animator should know.

experimenting to improve drawing as an animator

5. Practice makes perfect


Improving your drawing skills can be exasperating, especially if you’re a perfectionist. To see progress, little and often is key. Don’t be too hard on yourself if a drawing didn’t come out the way you imagined—it takes time to draw like a professional!

A good way to encourage yourself is to remember that every artist was once where you are now. If you have a favourite artist or illustrator, find their old work to see how much they’ve improved. It can be easy to think that people are born with good drawing skills. Ask any artist and you’ll find out how much work went into perfecting their skills.

For some free resources to help improve your drawing skills, check out our article on ten on the best animation YouTube channels. Many of these channels also have videos helping animators work on their drawing skills.

practice makes perfect image


Interested In Starting an Animation Studio?



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Animation Studio Startup Course

Check out our award-winning online course on planning and launching a creative and viable animation studio. Taught by award-winning small studio founder Jon Draper.


Interested In Starting an Animation Studio?


Take The Animation Career Quiz

Are you best suited to a studio role, freelancing or ready to start a studio of your own?
Take the quiz and plan your next animation career steps.

Animation Career Community

Sign up for free to the Start A Studio Animator community & network with likeminded artists.


Animation Studio Startup Course

Checkout our award-winning online course on planning and launching a creative & viable animation studio.



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