Ask the Art Prof: How Can I Draw What I See in My Head?

Final Crit

“How can I really draw what I see in my head? I draw and everything always comes out differently than I want it to. Then I get mad and just give up because I don’t know how to make it come out the way I want. What do I do?”

When I sit down to draw, I like to have focused goals for myself, as well as an overall sense of what I’m trying to achieve visually. I draw a large quantity of preliminary sketches, (read this article I wrote about preliminary sketches)  and prepare myself both mentally and technically to deal with the upcoming challenges that I know the final work will bring.  I do a lot of experimentation and troubleshooting in the preliminary sketch process so that I will have a concrete sense of what I’m doing when I’m working on the final piece.

However, as much as I prepare myself, I intentionally never make firm decisions about precisely what I want my drawing to look like when it’s finished.  If I already know what the drawing is going to look like before I start, its a signal to me that there is going to be nothing creative about the process of making the drawing.   If you have only one picture in your head that you’re trying to reproduce, you’re basically setting yourself up for guaranteed disappointment. Go into the drawing prepared with your goals, but not to the degree that those goals actually strangle other creative options that might occur as you’re in the trenches of drawing. 

Pastel Portrait Drawing Assignment

One of the best parts of the creative process is that the results will never be predictable.  You really never know how things are going to turn out. Instead of resenting your piece because it’s not exactly as you imagined it, embrace the unpredictability and surprise yourself.   Be willing to relinquish some control as you’re working on the drawing, so that you’re allowing the drawing to breathe and evolve on it’s own. Welcome the opportunity for the drawing to transform into something different and unexpected. The most exciting pieces of art that I’ve worked on had results that were surprised to me.  These works shifted many times as I was drawing them and I ended up with results that I could never have dreamed of.

Naturally, there will be periods when the final results are not what you wanted. Remember that this is an essential part of being an artist, and that you have to make bad work if you want to make good work.   Be tenacious and don’t give up when things get rough, you have to force yourself to push through these difficulties if you want to get to the good work.  The majority of my work doesn’t even get exhibited, and only a small fraction of that is what I consider to be my strongest work. I accept that a large portion of my artwork never makes the final cut. 

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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.

Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.

Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks

Related articles
“What is a gesture drawing?”
“Is drawing considered an innate talent or a craft, which can be learned by anyone?”
“How can I learn to shade objects in my drawings?”
“What is the best way to practice my drawing skills?”
“How do you get yourself to practice drawing?”
“What is the most important mindset a student needs to have in order to create a successful drawing?”

3 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: How Can I Draw What I See in My Head?

  1. help me i am young and i see so many good drawings from their minds and i ask why i cant draw as well as it was in my mind

    • You actually draw what is n your head. And your drawings are bessed up in your head, so they come messed up on paper too.
      You need to study and understand what you see, and your drawings will look better both in your head and on paper.

      Of course I don’t know how you draw. Maybe (probably) you draw better than me, unless you aren’t a beginner, but in every case, you should always aim for improvement

  2. I can’t understand this, I always drew what is in my head. The more I gain drawing skills, the more my mental pictures improve, then, i can draw them better.

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