The Unfinished Tiger. How to loosen up your drawing style.

A lot of artists/illustrators wish that their style was looser and more fluid. They want their characters to be expressive. I might be able to help or at least let you know what I do to add life to my art subjects.

Draw from memory. I know that sounds scary but it works.

Let’s take the tiger I am currently working on. I’m still not satisfied with him but he’s getting closer to having the right feel. I first started by studying photos of tigers. I do some basic sketches so that I understand what a real tiger looks like. Second, I study how other artists have handled their ideas of what a tiger is. Have they drawn their tiger with a big forehead or little?  Small eyes or large? etc… When I think I understand which characteristics I might like to have in my tiger then I start drawing without using any reference except what I have collected in my brain.

The drawings I do are fast, but clear. I only work on one pose at first. I don’t worry about different angles or poses, because I am just getting to know who my character is. So I draw and draw and draw, the same pose over and over making minor changes. Because I am drawing the character over and over my pencil lines become more relaxed. My pencil knows where to go.

So far I am not satisfied with my tiger. Sometimes it only takes a couple pages to get what I want, but ones like this tiger I ‘ve done at least 20 pages of sketches. Often I get tired and can’t “see” the character in my head anymore so I take a break. I will also review what I have already created and it’s not uncommon for me to spot things that I like in early sketches. I will try to incorporate anything that I liked into my next sketches.

Once I have gotten the character just the way I what it I will continue to draw he/she several times to memorize every detail. By this time my lines just flow with confidence! It’s time to start drawing the character in various angles and positions. But by now I really have the character’s image deep in my mind and it’s easier for me to feel that they are real.

Does this work for “realistic” work?  I think so.  Instead of relying on tracing paper to copy and redraw a image, try just drawing it over and over.  Make changes as you go until you get what you want. Because you’re getting to know your illustration so well your sketches will show increasing confidence.  Increased confidence will create fluid lines.  Fluid lines give life to a character or scene.

One last tip.  Spend some time drawing from memory with NO model at all.  Draw a person, a room, a toy,  etc…  It doesn’t have to be perfect, just keep drawing it over and over making corrections.  Keep trying to draw from your memory and see how much you can remember.  Two things will happen, first you’ll be surprise at what you can tease out of your brain. Second, your work will take on a look that is true to your personality.  Pretty awesome!


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15 Responses to “The Unfinished Tiger. How to loosen up your drawing style.”

  1. Wonderful post Andrea! I too often draw from memory rather than copy an image. I feel it gives the animals I draw more ‘character’ :)

    • Andrea says:

      I used to have an artist living with me and my husband who drew everything from memory. I was amazed and didn’t think that I could to it. But, lo and behold, by just doing it I was amazed with the results. It’s helped me so much.

      You know, if you have any tips for expressive drawing I would love to include them on my blog.

  2. Jan says:

    Thanks for the peak into the process. As a person who is very drawing challenged, it is fascinating!

    • Andrea says:

      All people are drawing challenged (well, there are exceptions but they’re freaks!). I believe the true difference between people who can and can’t draw is enjoyment. If you kind of enjoy drawing you’ll keep at it and you’ll get better.

      I would advise that you don’t worry about being bad or good, but to just do. Eventually, you will create something that you will like, for about a day. Then you won’t like it anymore and you’ll have to keep drawing. And so it goes…

  3. Janet Smith says:

    Wonderful process and wonderful results. I love your tiger. I hope you turn him into a real tail. Um… tale.

  4. Adrienne says:

    Great post! I have been really wanting to create some characters (which I have never done before) and this is like, the most perfect way to go about it, I think.

    I am used to drawing “realistic”, but I want to draw more characters, and illustrations… Do you have any suggestions on where to look for more guidance on that?

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Adrienne, I have been where you are. I could do realistic work but what I wanted to do was characters. In my next blog post I will go into detail on how I learned to created characters I wanted. So stay tuned!

  5. Molly says:

    Thanks for the “behind the scenes” look at your process. Process fascinates me as much as product. Maybe more.
    This also shows another important aspect, practice! There’s no substitute.
    You must know what you’re doing, your drawings have so much character. (Some might say, multiple personalities) 😉

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Molly, Process fascinates me too! I also like the process to be demystified. We see a lot of finished work but rarely do we get the chance to see the work it takes to get the final piece. Basically, in real life, there’s a lot of crap before the rainbow.

  6. I LOVE this! Such a great character design! I especially like the overlapping forms in the arms and paws, and the distinctive head shape. The whole thing is very dimensional. I think the only think I’d change is to clarify whether the tail is going behind or in front of the hindquarters — but you were probably already planning on doing that. Seriously, this piece is really amazing!

    Great advice about memory sketching too. I agree, the best path to success is a good mix of drawing from reference and drawing from imagination/memory.

    • Andrea says:

      Hey Charles! Nice to hear from you! Yah, the tiger isn’t finished yet. That’s why his butt is kind of vague.

      I’ve started putting together another blog post on how I was able to learn to create charaters. If you have any tips on this topic I would love to hear it. Maybe I could add it to the post.

  7. lucien says:


    My dad made his living as a commercial artist, was an illustrator for the Camp Dix newspaper during WW1, and illustrated comics depicting his three year stay at Iola Sanitarium in Rochester, NY as a tuberculosis patient. I am now 72 and loving to embroider. I can’t even draw a straight line using a ruler; and, my proportions are unbelievably horrid. Having read your “Unfinished Tiger” tutorial, I am thinking it would be fun to try my hand at drawing something from memory, rather than to trace images I snag off the Internet. I came across this site, and drew my first stickman. Tooooo funny!

    • Andrea says:

      I’m so glad that you’re going to give drawing another try! I just heard a lecture by Dan Krall. He is a children’s book illustrator and has worked on various animated cartoons. His lecture was about how he can’t draw hands or perspective and it doesn’t matter. Unless your work is super realistic your imperfections can only help.
      Keep me updated!

  8. Jeff Rivera says:

    Great post , Andrea.
    I loved watching the process and I really like your tips.
    The tiger is amazing.
    May be I can give drawing a try.
    As a children’s books author sometimes I want my illustrations to be the way I imagine them but I haven’t tried to do them myself.

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