The fear of drawing people (and how to get over it)

Here’s a confession: I used to dread drawing people. Drawing animals was my thing, and the thought of human-like hands and faces made me cringe. Whenever I found myself in a situation where I needed to draw human characters, I would sneakily avoid the discomfort zone by drawing abstract figures that lacked faces and some other physical details. That worked quite well for fashion illustrations, but I knew that eventually I would have to take the bull by its horns.

After making a conscious decision to get over my insecurities, I asked myself where the fear of drawing  people was coming from. The answer was quite simple: my fears spurred merely from the lack of practice. I shied away from sketching people, because I had never properly trained myself in drawing them. That is why I always struggled with proportions and perspectives and would rarely be happy with my sketches. Of course, I never expected to be Da Vinci 2.0, but next to lacking the skills and knowledge of drawing human anatomy, I hadn’t developed my own unique style of drawing them either. I couldn’t draw people with realistic proportions and details, nor did I have my own style of drawing them…and that was more than enough to make me insecure.

Today things are very different. I draw human characters with zen-like joy and have left the fears behind me for good. Blimey, I have even been paid to draw custom portrait illustrations, which have become one of my favourite type of commissions!

Knowing that there might be other creatives out there trying to cope with their own insecurities, I decided to compile a small inspirational first aid kit on how to get started with overcoming your creative phobias. So here’s to you, fears: goodbye and good riddance!

Leave your comfort zone (comfortably)

Kindly force yourself to do the things you fear and challenge yourself to practice in a fun way. When I realized I desperately needed practice with drawing people, I decided to give a go at life drawing classes. However, as easels felt quite intimidating, I chose to approach the discomfort zone through my comfort zone and spent the first sessions drawing with my trusted ol’ pencil in my tiny sketchbook. It was a soft and comforting welcome to the fear zone.

Don’t worry about acing everything

Trying different styles and techniques is great practice, but you don’t have to become great at everything. Try water colour, inks, pencils and pens. Go for life drawing classes or try drawing manga. Experiment and don’t stress about creating only masterpieces. My life drawing sketches were never anatomically astonishing. However, I did my best even with the most challenging poses and dressed the naked models with colourful underwear to keep the process of practicing lighthearted and fun. Moral of the story: even if your sketches won’t end up hanging in a museum, each of them will help you improve.

Watch and learn

While avoiding comparing yourself to others, be open to learning from people around you – online and offline. Take part in drawing challenges (like #franuary initiated by Fran Meneses to practice animal drawing skills), watch tutorials, attend workshops, meet up with peers who can guide you or imitate styles and techniques you see on Instagram (Obvious side note: Imitating is good for practice, but copying is very, very uncool!). I created a private Pinterest board of inspiring examples of human characters drawn by other illustrators and used it as a base for experimenting with my own style. That was very helpful.

Give it your own twist & enough time

Next to studying human anatomy at life drawing classes, I spent plenty of time just doodling different kind of characters, playing around with their features. Would exaggerated proportions be my thing? Or funny noses and angular shapes? Perhaps cartoonish, boneless limbs? Sketch by sketch I got closer to the type of characters that what felt truly mine. Learning and developing a style that I now feel strong about took me years, so don’t worry about not reaching your goals over night – it’s a process.

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