5 drawing mistakes that are ruining your fashion illustrations & how to fix them

Disclaimer: I am well aware that this headline is clickbaity. I really really want a lot of people who draw fashion figures to click on it. It is frustrating and sad when I see people really put themselves into their work only to ruin their efforts with few easily avoidable mistakes

First, let me just tell you I am very well aware how hard drawing figures is for beginners. I have been writing a post on it for weeks now and it’s even hard to explain once you know what you’re doing. So I feel you. I get it gurl. That said, if you’ve already done all that awesome work, wouldn’t you just love for your figures to look straight up awesome if you can?

Some of these are not even new skills you need to learn or add, you just need to NOT DO them.

How awesome your figure will look afterwards depends on where you were to begin with but I promise, it’s gonna be so much better than the one you started with. 

So let’s get started.

1. Black outline

You know the one I am talking about. That uniform black outline on your fully rendered drawing framing your figure on a white background.

How to fix it: 

First do your pencil sketch lightly. Use any H pencil ( 2H is great and you can get it almost anywhere). If when you finish rendering your illustration you feel like there is not enough contrast or definition, a black outline ain’t gonna fix that baby. So if you feel you want to have a stronger differentiation between two elements (ex: two legs or sleeves and hand or hair and face) add a shadow shape. Shadow is very rarely a thin line and even when it is, it almost never looks like a thin line. It usually has its specific shape depending on the place and light. 

2. Drawing lines where there are no lines

Most often I see this on collar bones, abs (all the time), nose line, lips and eyes.

I get the confusion and I understand where the impulse comes from. What happens is you would like to say something but you are lacking the words: you see there is something happening but you don’t know how to show it on paper. You know there is a bone in the nose and you see a shadow. So you draw a line from the eyebrows to the nostrils to tell us what you are seeing. You can tell the way you told us and the way it looks to you are very different but you don’t know how to say it in any better way.

How to fix it:

Fix is similar to the one above. What you are seeing are shadow shapes. Solution to this is to develop your language, to make your drawing dictionary bigger and richer. One way is to ook for ways other people have solved it. But not just any other people. Look for great artists, people who have been in it for decades. When you see a way you like, resolve to learn it. Find a way to really understand it. Don’t just copy it! Delve into what it is and why it is. Once you do, once you know the principles you will be changed from within and you won’t have to remind yourself to not do something. True knowledge works like that, from within.

3. No face in an otherwise fully rendered illustration

I see this all the time too: there are shadows, there are many folds, there are details on the clothes, even embroidery, but the face is blank. Now off course there are many illustrations that don’t have details of the face drawn and they can look magnificent, but take a closer look at what good well known illustrators  who work in that style do: the entire figure is very simple and quick so when there is no face it makes sense. It’s part of the expression and style of the illustration. But when you fully render a drawing and leave the face blank, it’s just confusing. Your art looks unfinished and it is obvious you simply didn’t know how to draw this part. 

How to fix it: 

Take two weeks/ a month and learn to draw the face. Find at least a way to give suggestions of facial features. It’s something you need and obviously enjoy, so learn the face.

There will be an article here next week on how to draw the face or go on You Tube. These Proko videos are well explained and easy to follow.

4. No exaggeration

Now, I know some of you are just trying to get the drawing out and you are not even thinking about what it is you want to express with the drawing. Your only goal when drawing that figure is to draw that awesome dress on a beautiful girl so you try to stick as closely to your reference as your skill allows. But here is the issue: drawing and photography are two very different art forms. Photography gives us thousands more information bits, many of whom we are completely unaware of. This means that to say something that is obvious in photography, we need to find a different way to express it in drawing. Hence, some ideas need to be accentuated or dramatised ( Note: this doesn’t mean something can’t be subdued, it just means it needs to be very obviously subdued). Which brings us almost close to my point: the biggest problem I see with beginner figures is that they are wooden and flat and it is because people don’t realise they need to communicate their intentions much more clearly. Sometimes certain poses don’t translate well into illustration. Other times it’s because people didn’t accentuate certain elements.

How to fix it: 

What you need to remember is this: truth in art is very relative. You are not drawing a person, you are drawing your idea of that person and it is almost certainly different to mine. But because you are drawing it you need to show me your truth. So make that truth obvious! If you love the volume make it “voluminous”, if you like how happy a model is make her ecstatic, if you  love the energy make it 2 Red Bulls energetic. Do you see what I am saying?

One little caveat: if you are just starting to exaggerate, start with clothes not the body. Both are great, but I see often people change the form radically but don’t do anything to the clothes. Start with clothes.

5. No sharp line lines on joints

I see this constantly. It’s probably because people feel unsure so they are indecisive. Elbows, knees, ankles and wrists round like there is no bone in there. So figures start looking like bad paper cutouts: flat and weightless.

How to fix it:

Do this and your drawing will improve by 40%! Remember in illustration it’s better to exaggerate than to be indecisive. If there is a bone close to the skin make it obvious. An elbow is always better knife sharp than to be rounded. Knees too. Joints on fingers definitely. We need to know there is something hard within that body, so if you have a place to show it, use it.

A fully rendered illustration with no black outline in sight. Notice how she used a contrasting shadow to add depth and definition. Illustration: Elena Arturo

On the other hand here the illustrator worked with mostly line, but notice how the line changes shape and width to imply a change in light.  Illustration: Yoco Nagamiya

Here is an illustration with no facial features, but as you can see the entire illustration has almost no details and is drawn in broad brush strokes or using negative space. Illustration: Aurore de la Morniere

You can see how the illustrator used low contrasting shadow shapes to define her facial features.There are never outlines on the lips or collar bones or nose. There is one on the eye but that is make up not eye itself.  Illustration: David Downton

Warning: These are all true and changing these 5 points will 100% change your drawing to the better BUT to every one of these rules I can show you 100 examples of where doing it does work and is a great artistic choice. Difference between your drawing and those that do work is that they use those elements intentionally and they are very well aware of their effect.

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