Three Ways To Make Your Art Look More Like What You Actually Imagine It Will Look Like

2017 Artwork Gap between imagination and art article sketch

If you’re new to making art, one problem that can be extremely annoying is the fact that your art can often look totally different to what you expected it to look like when you had your original idea for a particular painting or drawing.

Even if you’re more experienced at making art, you’ll probably also know that there’s still at least a slight difference between what you imagine (before you start drawing or painting) and what your finished artwork actually looks like.

Sometimes, this can lead to you creating more interesting pictures than you had planned to, but sometimes it can lead to a frustrating situation where you realise that you can’t draw the really cool picture that has just appeared in your imagination. However hard you try, you just can’t seem to really do it justice.

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve been busy making a series of (mostly) 1990s-themed paintings that are meant to be a continuation of my old “Awesome Stuff” art series. These paintings will be posted here in full later this month, but I felt like talking briefly about one of them in particular. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

 The actual painting is somewhat larger than this small preview, and will be posted here later this month.

The actual painting is somewhat larger than this small preview, and will be posted here later this month.

When I started making this painting, I’d planned to make a painting of a swanky 1990s Hollywood movie-style party. And the final painting actually sort of looks like that! It even looks like something from the 1990s, rather than the 2000s or 2010s!

Yes, my original plan to include drawings of 1990s celebrities failed fairly quickly, but the basic idea of the painting actually looks relatively close to what I had originally imagined when I started making this painting. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable!

So, how did I get to this stage? Here are a few tips:

1) Research (and aggregation): One of the problems that you might have experienced can happen after you’ve seen, read, heard about etc… something really cool. This can often be something that lingers in your imagination, but it’s something that you might not know a huge amount about. When you decide to use it for artistic inspiration – you suddenly realise that you don’t know how to use it.

I’ve had this experience with quite a few interesting things, like the cyberpunk genre, the film noir genre, the 1990s etc… And the easiest way to solve this problem is simply to do as much research as you can. A good place to start is to open up a search engine and to do an image search for as many different words related to the thing that has inspired you as possible.

Look at the hundreds of pictures that appear in front of you and start to see if you notice anything that they have in common with each other. Is there a particular colour scheme that appears often? Is there a particular fashion style that appears often? Is there a particular type of architecture that appears a lot? I’m sure you get the idea.

Once you’ve worked out what all of these things have in common, try to find a way to use that in your own art. For example, going back to the painting I showed you earlier – some things that I realised (from looking online and from my own memories of various films) that formal parties from 1990s movies had in common were gloomy lighting, tuxedos, opulent buildings (with decorative plants), little black dresses, short hairstyles, floral print dresses, suave and sophisticated men, ruggedly drunk men, fin-de-siecle decadence etc…

By working out what lots of different things had in common, I was able to come up with an stylised original painting that (almost) looks like it could have come from a movie that was made in the 1990s. Well, an animated movie anyway (my art style isn’t exactly “realistic” yet).

2) Practice. Practice. Practice: If you’re new to making art, then one of the reasons why your art looks nothing like what you expect it to look like is because you’re drawing the things that you can draw, rather than the things that you want to draw.

The more you practice, the more you experiment and the more you learn, the more you will be able to draw. A good place to start would probably be learning how to copy by sight alone. Once you know how to do this, then literally anything that you see can be something you can learn from.

Even if you don’t make any practice sketches of something, learning the right way to “look” at things (eg: recognising that photos are actually 2D images, even though they might depict a 3D scene. Knowing how to convert physical objects that you see into 2D drawings etc….) can mean that you can pick up tips about how to draw and/or paint from random pictures, movies, comics etc…

Even if you don’t explicitly set out to learn new things, if you practice regularly then you’re probably going to end up experimenting slightly (out of curiosity, since drawing similar pictures repeatedly can get very boring) and you’ll end up learning new stuff by doing this.

So, the more you practice, the closer your art will end up looking to what you expect it to look like.

3) Know when you’re being too specific: This sounds extremely counter-intuitive, but if you start your painting with a slightly vague and fairly general idea of what you want it to look like, your finished painting probably end up looking more like what you expected than it would if you had a highly detailed and very specific image in your mind before you started painting.

In other words, let your imagination do it’s thing (and come up with a specific mental image) and then try to reduce that to a series of general descriptions (include any emotions you feel in these descriptions too). Then use those descriptions as the basis for your painting or drawing.

Although it will probably look slightly different to your original mental image, it’ll probably be closer in “feel”, “atmosphere” and “spirit” to your original mental image than it would be if you tried to copy your mental image exactly.

If you leave the details slightly vague, you will probably end up with a better picture than you would if you had a highly-specific idea of what you wanted your picture to look like. At the very least, you won’t end up feeling disappointed that your final painting didn’t meet the unreachable artistic standards of your imagination.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂