Does practice necessarily make perfect or help you improve in your sketchbook?

Have you ever felt that you aren’t getting anywhere with your drawing? Do you spend hours and hours sketching but you never seem to improve? How many courses have you purchased over time but never completed? You like the idea of learning but have never quite understood how what you focus on wanting to learn fits.

How quickly have we all become disillusioned with the things we start, abandoning activity?

Perhaps practice isn’t that much of an issue for you as you approach drawing in your “down time” as opposed to worrying too much what you produce. If you are that lucky person, I salute you and the contented frame of mind you have reached!

Chances are, however, if you like to draw and get a lot out of it you will want to improve.

Practice is a fundamental element of becoming a better artist, of discovering your style and refining your skill and technique.

The more mistakes you allow yourself to make the faster you will improve. If only we belonged to a culture that encouraged this trait.

Cue the sketchbook format. One of the reasons people keep one is to use it for practice and experimentation. A non judgemental type of space to feel free to make mistakes.

In this article I look at some key ways to focus how you can practice to support you improve your drawing.

Developing our creative voice requires us to have a consistent plan in place. This plan is made up of a series of activities all designed to support you improve but also to keep you motivated.


What are the instinctive thoughts you have surrounding the word “practice?” In my head, the word is associated with mistakes, maybe boredom or pain, that I’m not good enough, or extra time needed to stop what I am working on to complete something. Simultaneously though, I can sometimes feel excited that by practising I will improve if (and it’s a big if) I believe that I am good enough in the first place to reach the desired goal.

Does this apply creatively too? In thinking about practise what type of mindset do you need to adopt when filling that sketchbook to make you want to come back to it time and time again?

For me, it’s simple. How can I almost forget I am practicing and learning as I go? In order to be able to do so I apply the following thinking strategies that are closely aligned to my personal reasons for drawing – having fun and mental well being.

There are two different “zones” of behaviour when it comes to becoming good at something. I loved Eduardo Briceno’s Ted Talk on How to Get Better at the Things You Care About.

He talks about these two zones of behaviour as being defined as the learning and performance zones. 

The amount of time we tend to spend in each is usually indicative of the success we are likely to have in what we produce. 

The problem is that our culture demands us to spend much of our time in the performance zone, constantly producing output.  

It’s a vicious cycle. If all we focus on is output and performance, of expecting to produce amazing drawings and artwork we quickly feel as if we are not good enough. We have not addressed what we need to learn more of. And likewise this trait applies to the more competent artist who thinks that they are good enough and don’t need to spend time learning.

I love the fact that the sketchbook short circuits this idea of producing something for performance sake. We can simultaneously learn and produce at the same time. 

The goal is to allow ourselves to spend more time than we do in the learning zone. 

To truly get the most out of this zone you need to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and if you can have fun whilst you are at it (as mentioned above) all the better.  Drawing and sketching is fun. You can learn as you go.

Do you have a goal or a vision for what you want to achieve whilst sketching? (Write it down now.)

Some top tips to consider with regards to practice

I think a balance needs to be struck with regards to keeping an open mind and allowing yourself to make mistakes as part of your learning journey. My collection of top tips when it comes to practice are worth reflecting upon to support the right frame of mind.

1.Do you have the correct environment and or equipment to support you? Carving out some physical space or equipping yourself with what you need depending on what you are doing is important. A good builder invests in his tools.  Don’t allow poor “tools” to let you down. Quite often, not equipping ourselves makes our learning more difficult. (If you want to become better at watercolour, for example, buy the right type of paper.)

You do not want this to distract you from what you want to be creating. Likewise do not allow this to over dominate either! You don’t need much to start drawing or sketching. Sometimes we can become waylaid with the materials or space we need to feel as if we can succeed and never quite get off the starting blocks.

2. It helps to also practice towards a goal. This may sound strange but refining our focus further is important. So, for example, having a sketching goal with a focus on well-being may require a different approach to filling a sketchbook aimed at creating your first painting. What small steps can you take to realise your goals? Break it down into small activities.

3. Make sure your goal interests you! Can you see yourself staying interested in what you want to achieve? Does it pique your curiosity?

4. Be realistic! Are you really going to have an hour a day to fill a sketchbook? Or more likely 20 minutes? Understand that you may start with enthusiasm but that sticking it through may become a larger challenge. If you are able, get a group of friends interested in drawing too so that you are able to stay accountable to one another and keep going! I would also add being kind to yourself as part of this process.

5. Identify challenges as they arise. Make mental notes of the things you’d like to work on and incorporate this into your drawing habit. Push yourself further by researching who does it well, inspires you and may show you how to overcome the challenge.  There is a wealth of resources out there for you to learn from!

6. Create a sketching practice plan linked to your goals!

With some thought I believe that you can use the sketching format to learn and produce beautiful art work that documents the process of learning and becoming better.

I forget I am practising on most days because I enjoy what I am doing and am curious to resolve drawing dilemmas.

Practice does support you improve. The added dimension, however, (and one that all artists across the eons of time would agree with), is that you will always be on a quest of self improvement. And to echo David Bayles,

“The seed of your next artwork lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.”