Barb Sotiropoulos

7 Ways to Improve Your Art

For many people art is a just hobby while for others, it’s how they make their living. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of making art, the desire to improve your artwork is common to all. The most common advice to improve always tends to be the same – just put in the reps. While it could be argued that doing something over and over again will eventually get you results, there are some specific things you can focus on that will improve your art that will make all the “reps” worth the time.

making notes on how to improve your art

Study Artists You Admire 

I want to be clear that by study I don’t mean copy or steal directly from. In Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist, he describes this process really well. The premise behind this advice is to find an artist you aspire to be like or even a few artists and study what it is that they do well. Is it their use of colour, composition or engaging subject matter? Are they just simply really good at giving their artwork titles that are interesting and somehow add to the art?

Grab a notebook and write down some keywords about what each artist you chose does well and think about how you can apply this to your own work.

Take a Class

Let’s take our first point one step further. Does the artist you admire offer classes on an aspect of your artwork you want to improve on? Consider looking into this further to see if the investment in their course or workshop is right for you.

If they don’t offer classes, do some research to see what classes are available online or in person that you can take to improve your skills. Many local art supply stores hold classes on specific subject matter. If the class you want doesn’t yet exist you could make a request or find out if someone in your area gives one on one instruction. You don’t have to enrol in art school to improve as an artist, but there is tremendous value in working with and learning from someone how can help you pin point exactly where you can improve.

Work on Nailing Your Line Drawing

Many 2D artists start their work with a line drawing. This is the absolute foundation of your work. If the line drawing is off in proportion or information that you need to accurately render your subject, the whole thing can very quickly go off the rails. If you feel like you’ve improved your rendering skills but your drawings still look off, it might be time to take a step backwards and make sure that the drawing itself is accurate to begin with. If you’re not sure, talk to another artist friend or mentor that can give you guidance on where you need to improve.


On Episode 342 of the Sharpened Artist | Colored Pencil Podcast John Middick and I discuss why your line drawing is the most important step in your process.


Try Creating in a New Style

This may seem like slightly counterintuitive advice, but there are benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes switching the primary medium you work in or trying out a new style of art will help you come back to your primary medium and style with a fresh perspective. The exercise isn’t about trying to master a different type of art or medium because the first isn’t working, but rather giving your creative brain a bit of break from focusing so hard on something you might be struggling with. You may even pick up some tips from your creative detour that you can start infusing into your usual work.

Start Using a Sketchbook Regularily

Although it took me a really long time to get into this habit myself, I can’t imagine not regularly using my sketchbook now. There is no better place to practice, explore and give yourself permission to fail. Putting in the practice time isn’t just about drawing say, an eye over and over again, but really breaking down how an eye is drawn. Study the general geometric shapes that make up an eye. Try drawing an eye like an artist you admire.

If you want to copy another artist’s work as a means of practicing, this is the place to do it. If you choose to post the drawing online make sure you are giving credit to the original artist and NEVER try to pass off some’s original art or concept as your own. It’s ok to be proud of your drawing if you did a great recreation of another artist’s work, but it’s bad etiquette to not credit them. Try to limit the how much you do this also. Your goal should always be to find your own voice in art not to try to mimic someone else’s.

Use Better Quality Materials

Have you ever used children’s materials to create artwork? While it’s possible to get a certain level of rendering quality from student grade materials, they are also not formulated to perform the way most artists using the mediums more seriously need to. Does this mean you need to invest in the most expensive pencils? No. What about the best paper? Also no. Be realistic about what you can afford, but many student grade materials don’t have the lightfast ratings or contain lower quality pigments that can affect the quality of your results.

Often just trying to upgrade one step up from where you are now can change and improve the look of your work. Expect to have a bit of a learning curve however, some of the techniques you may be using now as a work around with lower quality materials may not be needed with better quality ones. Do some small practice pieces in your sketchbook with your new medium to get comfortable with it before you attempt a bigger artwork.

Spend More Time Studying Your Reference Photo

Most people think they know what an eye looks like and will likely be able to draw you some version of it without looking at a photo. If you are creating a portrait of someone specific, however, think about what THEIR eye looks like. Each person’s eyes have subtle curves and nuances to the shape of them that when drawn accurately determine the likeness of that person. When we are focusing too intently on drawing a subject sometimes our brain will fill in the gaps with what what we think we seeing or how we think something should look.

Improving your skills as an artist especially with representational art is very much about improving your observation skills as well. Think about how loosely or intently you are currently using a reference photo. A common trick is turning the photo and your artwork upside down so that you start to see the image you are trying to replicate in shapes and lines as opposed to what the actual subject is.

Have you done something specific to improve the quality of your artwork? Share it with me in the comments below!


John and I hosted a 2 hour live ZOOM workshop where we discussed tips and tricks to improve your line drawing! Get a step by step and behind the scenes look at:

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CREDIT: Royalty-free stock photos from

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