On drawing accurately


When you are drawing from a reference or life, is it important that you get your drawing to look EXACTLY like the original reference, or are you allowed to make mistakes? I’m asking this because I’ve been practicing drawing accurately on my own for quite a long time. Whenever I finish a drawing, I will overlay it on photoshop, or on top of the reference photo over a light box to check my accuracy.

I flip the reference (if it’s a photo) a lot to see my mistakes. Before I overlay the drawing, it tends to look very close to the original.

I like to think I have a good eye but I still notice some mistakes by a few mililmetres. It always bothers me when I see the inaccuracies. I want to go into game art and am starting my degree in the subject in September this year and I was hoping I’d atleast get a hand on this basic fundamental of drawing. Am I putting to much pressure on my self? I’m still practicing but I lack direction. Could anyone help?


I think if you are doing figure drawing the important thing is to understand the structure, basic proportions, and to create a likeness of the figure. Overlaying a drawing over the photo is an interesting way to really train your eye to see angle and proportion quickly. I’ve never done that, but I have thought about doing something similar. But things being a millimeter off? Wow. Yeah I wouldn’t worry about that at all. (Unless you are drawing too small and are working on areas of the face like the eyes, then a millimeter can make a difference).

My concern is that you’ll be spending so much time with accuracy that you’ll miss what is really important. I’d say do that kind of accuracy test for fun and maybe learn a few things about how you draw, like how you consistently draw the legs too short or whatever. Again, it sounds like a neat way to accelerate training your eye to see angle and proportion and make corrections to your perception quickly, but that high level of accuracy is not THAT important. Having a good grasp of proportion, the structure of what you are seeing (anatomy) and getting a likeness is the most important when drawing from life.

Later you’ll be pushing your drawings, drawing the figure in a pose that has more gesture, more force, more movement, and more exaggeration in its features. Caricaturization will become the name of the game.

Initially you’ll want to train your eyes, but after that (which should only take a semester or two) an artist’s job is to draw things better than they see them. Reposition the hand just so it doesn’t create a tangent with the leg and makes the pose more readable. Make the jaw bigger because that character will look so much better that way. Push your forms, create interesting shapes, appealing characters, inventing new things that are fun to look at, things that are hyper-real. Be informed by reality, but don’t be a slave to it. But if you can draw a likeness of a figure with nothing but pencil and paper, that’s a good start. After that you need to be able to draw primitive objects in 3D from any angle and in perspective. Then you can break down the human body and other objects into those basic 3D shapes, which become your construction drawings. Then it’s just drawing shape upon shape, and you can invent new characters by swapping the shapes normally used to create a human with pushed versions of those shapes, ones that are rounder, sleeker, bigger, smaller, or blockier than the realistic counterpart.


I like to think I have a good eye but I still notice some mistakes by a few mililmetres. It always bothers me when I see the inaccuracies. I want to go into game art and am starting my degree in the subject in September this year and I was hoping I’d atleast get a hand on this basic fundamental of drawing. Am I putting to much pressure on my self? I’m still practicing but I lack direction. Could anyone help?

I would agree, achieving precision when drawing freehand is an important attribute to acquire for an artist let alone maintain over time. With that said however, I’ll recommend dialling back adverse critique just a tad, give yourself credit where due for firstly taking the initiative embarking upon pre - course preparation. Because fundamentally drawing whether copying an image or from still too figurative life subject matter is suffice to say extremely challenging without the additional self inflicted pressure of being “millimetre perfect”. I mean short of tracing a photo, hyper accurate portrayal eventually develops after years of practise, so don’t stress over every single mistake its basically by which we learn and hence progress as artists.

For the time being I’d suggest focusing on practising via hand eye coordination the methodology of drawing by hand. Prior to migrating across into the digital medium, my background was as a portraitist where attaining a close physical likeness of a particular individual was crucial in executing a successful meaningful painting people were willing to pay money commissioning. Reflecting on it now quite humbling to think somewhere there exists work traditionally I’d created, hopefully continuing to evoke emotive memories for those friend and client alike.

Now a series of exercises coupled with tips I’ve picked up over the years that might prove useful, which in effect for me personally remain so to this day:

A - Copying from reference images albeit specifically tracing the outline then adding detail by eye, primarily trains the foundational skill of Observation. Nowadays to be honest mostly overlooked. In stark contrast the Italian Renaissance Master Michelangelo Buonarroti, employed the use of full scale cartoons (sketches) pricked with a pointed implement then held against the wall, and a bag of soot (spolvero) banged on them to produce black dots along the main lines, therefore impressed into the fresco (wet plaster) in fact traced. A technique implemented painting the ceiling Masterpiece of the Sistine Chapel.

B - Importantly bearing in mind is to draw what interests you, rather than a typically boring subject some textbook deemed was appropriate.

C - Objective critique can be a little sparse unearthing. So here’s a tip, once you’re satisfied with what you’d accomplished, get someone you trust implicitly to play the critic. Can be either a family member and/or trusted friend etc. Show them the work and reference together for comparison but here’s the thing don’t say you’ve drawn it, make up a story like “Oh an artist friend drew it…blah, blah”

D - Once you feel ready, move onto still life, from the archetypal “bowl of fruit” or again something of interest. Experiment with lighting conditions, perspective, colour/texture or indeed a tutorial walkthrough, essentially whatever proves most helpful.

Furthermore Concept Art for games is actualised pre-production, in other words before the rough sketches are finalised during the latter art design development stages. An DTs example production pipeline details the creative process here:


Lastly you’re off to a good start identifying those area’s requiring further attention. By the way to be totally honest displays a certain maturity and I think a successful conclusion of your end goals in all likelihood.



I recommend this book: Framed Ink, from amazon. The author really opened my eyes about style vs. realism and I’ll try to pass on the little knowledge I found on this new book.

There is nothing wrong with drawing in photo realism, but the way I see it, reality is only a neurological perception that is going on outside our skulls, even if all of us here go to draw the same subject from life, we’ll all end up with very different results, provided our skill with the pencil is the same, we don’t see the subject the same way, thus what really matters is ~emotion~ any medium skilled artist can draw a photo realistic portrait, provided they have a lot of time to finish it, but takes a very special caring to your drawing to make the viewer ~feel~

There are a lot of games that do stylized characters… the guys from Gearbox and Telltale games do an amazing job at it.
My advice is, do both. You’ll be valuable. But don’t stress yourself if you got something just a little off, as long as the anatomy is correct, it doesn’t matter.


Thank you ALL for your advice. I really appreciate the tips :slight_smile:


draw the same thing 50x while researching books and tutorials for tips. You’ll eventually draw it to the T.

However, you’ll come to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. You should just find the stuff you want to draw and build a ciriculum around that. You could draw anything you want, it just takes a lot of time, repolishing and asking for pro critique.