Sunday Mailbag: Frustration with Skills?

January 28th, 2018 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Any suggestions on staving off the frustration that comes from not being as good as you want when you first learn to draw. Every time I start practicing and realize it looks bad I get frustrated and stop.

A: Actually I tell people that those kinds of feelings, as discouraging as they may seem, are a good thing.

Drawing is as much, if not more, mental than it is physical. You need to develop great hand/eye coordination to become good at drawing, but it’s really your brain that draws as it needs to see and visualize what you want to create and then command your hand to do the job.

Often, and especially when you are in the early stages of developing your drawing skills, your brain gets ahead of your hands and that leads to frustration at the drawing board. Your head sees and knows it wants something better than you are producing, but you just can’t get there on the paper. That’s actually a really good thing, because the first step in becoming better at drawing is recognizing what you are doing isn’t as good as you want it to be. That frustration usually means you are about to take a leap forward in skill level. It’s when you are satisfied with your work and think, “hey, this is pretty good… I’m getting the hang of this” that you stagnate and your progress slows down. Your “eye” and brain stop searching for that next level because you don’t see it up there to reach for. The main problem with that frustration is that, while you are not happy with your work, you can’t see what’s wrong and where you need to improve. But knowing something is not working a large part of the battle. Artists who are mediocre at best but think their work is great will never be better than mediocre. We all need a healthy does of insecurity to keep improving.

The other thing to remember is that ALL artists who seek to improve go through stages where they are frustrated with their work. It’s part of the growth process. It’s a good thing… embrace it. Above all, don’t stop drawing!

Thanks to John Bly for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. BAnt says:

    I suppose that frustration is a good thing if you are able to overcame this stage with pretty visible improvements. It ‘s a difficoult way, but I hope to be able to follow it.

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New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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