• Ayami Kitabayashi-Garcia

How to see like an Artist

Artist Level: Beginner

During college, I noticed some art lessons were more helpful than others. The ones that helped me to see were the big improvement boosters! It's like learning how to ride a bicycle. You want to learn how to balance before you can learn how to ride a bike. When you draw, you want to know how to see before you can draw.

So here are a few practices I found super useful when I first started drawing. They focus more on how to see like an artist.

Practice drawing images upside down

I used to take magazine clippings of people's faces and draw them upside down. Are magazines still relevant? The point is the practice of drawing everyday things upside down, helps to undo biases we have in our heads, of how things SHOULD look.

Beginners draw like this all the time. Eyeballs are eggshaped and pinched at each end. That's just how they should look like. Well no actually, the eyes have more nuances than that.

Drawing upside-down helps to focus your eyes on the lights and shadows and cuts the inner chatter. When your drawing reference is upside down, you have no idea of the function of that dark part of the face. It's just there. But I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you finish and turn that drawing right-side up!

Using a grid

We get bogged down in trying to draw the whole picture. Instead, focus on sections, so it gives you enough time to study each area individually. I would even go as far as, have a reference image upside down and gridded! Then gradually take the training wheels off, once you feel confident enough.

So gridded upside down -> without grid upside down -> gridded right-side up -> without grid right-side up

The takeaway should be, to be able to give the appropriate amount of attention to all parts of the drawing, and to pull up a mental grid when you need it. Having a mental grid is also useful for measuring distances between parts of your drawing. Using a grid is great for beginners, but don't let it become a habit to nit-pick the minutiae. It will be equally important to step back and look at the picture as a whole.

Step back frequently

Often times we are working away and in our heads, that we don't pay attention to the big picture. Take frequent breaks and look at your work from a distance. Does anything look off? Are there parts of your art that need more work than others? This kind of dialogue is also just as necessary.


Whether you're in a drawing class or doing studies, squinting can help with the values of your art. Squinting helps to generalize values. It gets rid of all the small details and focuses on the fundamental values that make the object look the way it is.

Squinting can be hard to grasp at first. The way I go about it is by comparing the generalized values to one another. How much lighter, or darker, is this shade compared to the one right next to it? It also helps with balancing my artwork; to make sure there are no values that are out-doing each other.

With the exception of drawing upside-down, I still, to this day, use these techniques. They are helpful habits to have and can carry over to other mediums like painting, sculpture, or photography.

I hope this has been a helpful insight, and please let me know in the comments if these tips have also been beneficial to you.

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