It takes a lot of practice to be great at illustration. It’s a journey, and something you shouldn’t expect to be great at overnight. During your journey, you’ll end up making many drawing mistakes. I want to tell you that making mistakes is only natural, and it’s part of the process.
That’s why I talked with over 20 illustrators and want to share the biggest mistakes they made in their illustration careers. I hope by reading these artists’ biggest mistakes, it will inspire you to take their insights and apply them to your creative journey, so you can be the best illustrator you can be!
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What I found interesting after my conversations with these artists is that even though all these artists come from diverse backgrounds and create very different types of illustrations, many of the illustrators shared similarities in their illustration mistakes.
I found that all of the insights from the artists fall into one of these categories:
This section covers mistakes that deal with an illustrator’s process. These can be drawing mistakes within their process to create illustrations or mistakes from their process itself.
Well, the biggest mistake I tend to make is rushing into the whole process of creating an illustration. A lot of times I tend to digitize half baked ideas and when the outcome is disappointing, I get demotivated. So it’s super essential to make sketches, ideate, and redo till you’re satisfied that this will serve the purpose.
I´ve committed several mistakes, but I think that some of the biggest are just practicing the things I like instead of trying to put myself out of my comfort zone. And the other mistake is that as a self-taught artist it took me a lot of time to understand body proportions, things that I could have learned faster if I had studied deeper the human structure and forms.
The biggest mistake one can make as an illustrator is using social media as a guide for how and what they should draw. Yes, followers and ‘likes’ can bring a sense of fulfillment, but if you base your art solely on how it will do online you will soon lose touch with the reason why you began illustrating in the first place. Follow your illustration passions, and the followers will… well, follow. Make art you love first and foremost.
I am a person who likes to draw a lot, draw in many styles and styles, but the drawing path that started for a long time has problems.
And the drawing that takes a long time without resting, because I want the work to be done to see results quickly, I spent 14 hours drawing straight without resting. The bad effects of doing this were that my eyes and brain were not fresh. I could not see the weakness of the job. I could not see job errors.
Take a break and continue working with good eyes and the brain also the body will be fresh. So it’ll help me to see the mistakes and what I should draw, including planning to draw before starting a project 🙂
And another mistake was
I used to try to be someone else (Artists) such as I try to practice their style, the color I used, but finally, it’s not me! It’s not my art.
So I stopped trying to be someone else and created my own.
My biggest mistake would be not experimenting as much as I needed or wanted to. Meaning that quite often I would expect too much from myself too early on into a project, and not give myself time or space to play and experiment with an idea, concept, or technique. I still do this all the time so it’s an ongoing challenge. I’m constantly having to pull back from racing to the finishing line but to enjoy the journey and the process of getting there. And that’s what makes the work that much sweeter anyway.
The biggest mistake I’ve made as an illustrator was to jump into finding a style very early on. It’s more limiting than I realized, less than a year into having developed a recognizable visual voice I realized it no longer felt authentic to me.
The key is actually to focus on the content. The content itself is voice, many artists I look up to work with several mediums, are always exploring and often sharing those half baked ideas. But it feels very true to them because the ideas they are playing around with remain constant, in fact with each new work they delve a bit deeper.
My biggest mistake as an illustrator is probably working without a reference. It doesn’t matter how stylized your work is, a reference brings more life to your work!
These illustrators’ biggest drawing mistakes deal with trying to be perfect.
As an illustrator, the biggest mistake I made was obsessing over perfection. The obsession made me dislike my work and fail to acknowledge my skills. It prevented me from finishing projects. It even got to the point that it hindered me from starting at all with some projects because I was too caught up with how I can make it perfect.
Over time, I learned to embrace the imperfections because it made my work more unique and of course, more human. Imperfections in my works also show the skill level I had when I made them. I no longer obsess over perfection; I seek progress.
I certainly make mistakes constantly, all kind, but the one that took me longer to understand was abounding the pursuit of an imaginary perfectionism standard that I had set for myself.
I really believed that my work should look a certain way, when I couldn’t do it, I overthink them too much. I felt frustrated and with a lack of motivation.
I realized that and started to be gentler with me and looked closer to the kind of process and techniques that I really enjoy doing. I keep repeating to myself, “Finish is better than perfect” to control my overthinking. And, after a while, I started to enjoy the creating process again.
The biggest mistake I made when I started my career as an artist and illustrator is too much obsession with aesthetics. I saw many great artworks and I wanted my every sketch to be stunning from the very first line! I tried to draw everything so accurately that the final result looked just lifeless and boring.
There was definitely not such an impression I wanted. It seemed to be a failure… It was so frustrating that I didn’t want to start another drawing. I was afraid it couldn’t be as beautiful as I wanted. Luckily, I coped with this frustration. Now I know that the most important thing is the process, not the result! Every failure is just a step forward which makes you stronger. Never give up, enjoy your drawing – that’s what I’m saying.
The following mistakes are things these illustrators have learned through working with clients.
Off the top of my head, I think one of the worst mistakes I have made (and sometimes still fall into) is saying yes to jobs that I know are not worth my time, don’t pay well, and are embarrassing to put my name on. It usually happens because I fall into fear when I am feeling low.
But jobs like these, beckon more jobs like them, and I end up not loving what I am working on, missing out on better opportunities, and worst of all stuck in a cycle of fear.
Money is so important to have a sustainable career, but I really believe that you set your path with the work you create. So if you don’t create work you are proud of you won’t get work you can be proud of, and vice versa.
The biggest mistake is not diversifying my income. I thought being an illustrator meant I would be drawing all the time and doing client work to support myself but Covid-19 has interrupted my business. Now I’m realizing I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. Right now, I’m spending my time developing online courses and digital products so I can pave my way into passive income and ensure my business can succeed and grow without relying on client work.
Since I’ve been a freelance illustrator for 7 years, I’ve worked with many clients by now. Culturally and as my personality, I’ve been taking most of the commissions I’ve got asked with always saying “yes”. Being “yes” minded really helped push forward to my career, but I realized it’s also important to say “No” sometimes if I don’t feel like I’m connected to the project, or doesn’t fit my career goal and my philosophy.
Before I was a member of Adobe Creative Residency, I thought saying “no” is mean to them but it was not at all, yet this is the way we can focus on achieving goals and what I want to take time to pursue my project. So let’s say “No” to your clients if you think you need to, and tell them the reason. This way helps you go along smoothly with the client and your career vision clearly.
Say yes to too many jobs while I have some mental issues to sort out. Learning to say no is my biggest goal recently.
Okay, I thought of one! It was starting a project before the contract was finalized, and the project ended up getting canceled.
When I first tried to jumpstart my career as a freelance illustrator, I was too focused on creating work that I naively believed had the potential of getting me client work, when instead, I should have been creating art that I enjoyed and poured my heart into. These two looked very different: the work I believed ‘marketable’ in contrast with the quirky stuff I genuinely love drawing.
As I built my portfolio, no client projects I did create attract further clients or work, while my personal artwork did. As I continued to work in my fledgling career, I started experimenting further and creating characters and worlds that came purely from my imagination; whether for fun or for open-ended gallery shows and community projects. These pieces finally pushed me in what I felt was the right direction, which brought me new and exciting opportunities.
I believe this is my biggest mistake as an illustrator: to focus on marketability, instead of finding my own voice. This struggle made me feel lost and confused…but I am now striving to create art that pushes the limits of my creativity; art that speaks to me and to which others, hopefully, can relate.
Ok, I had to go way back in my career, but the biggest mistake was not calling a client from a google voice number which I always did. But I forgot one time and that client then had my personal number and proceeded to call me 16 times in under 24 hours.
I was lucky I had my agent at the time who was able to step in and tell them to stop but it had already gone on for 24 hours when I finally told my then-agent what was going on.
Always use a google voice number or a work number for clients.
One of the most common drawing mistakes that surfaced from talking with my fellow illustrators comes from a standard of judgment. This judgment is either from external sources or something cast upon him/herself.
The biggest mistake I made as an illustrator is not giving myself enough credit, it’s really easy to be self-critical even if you have achievements you are proud of, it is really important to appreciate yourself as an artist!
My biggest mistake is believing the various false concepts many new artists fall prey to like “I need to be born with the talent”, or “I will never be as good as that artist”. So many times I let these lies weigh me down and they kept me from drawing. Now that I understand art is a learned skill like learning any other skill. I draw as often as possible. Always learning, always striving to get better. Art I believe can never be mastered because you never stop learning. Each drawing one does is like leveling up. Draw more = Draw better (Tom Bancroft)
I don’t think I’ve ever made a big mistake working as an illustrator. However, I think I was always worried about the image that the client wanted and the emotion that I wanted to express.
On a technical level, one of my biggest mistakes was printing a series of digital illustrations on a low-cost printing press. The printing process and the material where you want to print are very important. Therefore, I try to ask for samples and if I can go to the printer personally.
Don’t get frustrated if you don’t have many “likes” and try new things. Don’t get stuck in the same style for fear of losing followers. Feel free and enjoy creating.
It’s difficult to think of a big mistake I’ve made in my career as a freelance artist because I feel like every bump in the road or setback has been a very beneficial milestone I can learn from.
However, I regret being timid with my art when I was in art school. I was the only student in my art classes with an interest in digital art, character design, and concept art, whilst everyone else had a central focus on the fine arts.
My art professors were very critical of digital art, as were a few of my fellow classmates, so I made a lot of fine art to get through critiques and please my professors. I wish that I had pursued my passion more boldly and publicly in school, and used all those hours spent to get a good grade on perfecting my skills in what mattered to me the most. It’s important to exude that boldness with your work and not be afraid to show it.
My biggest mistake as an illustrator would be underestimating my own art and being afraid of showing it.
When I started out I tried to make art that made other people happy. When you create for other people it’s a slippery slope, suddenly you’re relying on their feedback to know if your work is ‘good’.
But if you can find the courage to create for yourself and forget about what anyone else thinks, that’s when you’ll find your groove.
These illustrators share their insights around their biggest drawing mistakes that don’t fall into any of the other previous categories.
There was a time that I lost my file which I was working on for a MONTH. It was quite a painful experience and I always make sure to have a backup since then.
The biggest mistake that I’ve made as an illustrator… honestly there’s not one big answer that pops into my head. I’ve of course made a series of mistakes over the course of my career, slightly wrong perspective there, missing shadow here, etc. But nothing that has been catastrophic, and usually it has just ended up being a learning opportunity.
If I had to name one thing though, then it would probably be that I wish I had gotten into digital illustration much sooner. I’m trained in traditional media (charcoals, pencil on paper, oil- acrylic- and gouache paint), and I didn’t get really into digital art until my mid-twenties.
It feels amazing to create something from nothing. With anything amazing though, there are challenges. There are drawing mistakes every illustrator goes through no matter if you’re at the top of your game or just starting out.
These amazing illustrators are proof that making drawing mistakes are part of the process. They keep drawing, they keep pushing their creativity, and so should you!
I’d like to thank every artist who participated in sharing their drawing mistakes. It’s not easy to express your biggest struggle, and I am grateful for the fact that these artists took their time to share their insights with you guys.
Please click on the illustrators’ names to visit their Instagram accounts and engage with their art!
What is a drawing mistake you’ve made in the past?