Why It’s So Hard to Draw What’s in Your Mind

Why It’s So Hard to Draw What’s in Your Mind

August 19, 2021

 By Emily Becker

One of the greatest difficulties that beginner artists have is refining their mind-to-medium skills. This is to say that when we are starting out, our greatest challenge is being able to draw the image that we have in our minds.

So why is it so hard to draw what’s in our minds? Here I will break down the things that tend to hold us back from channeling our inner imagination into a work of art. You might be surprised at which of these resonate with you!

You must first learn how to observe.

You might be thinking “I already know how to observe!” and I get it. We might think we are observing the world around us all the time, but you would be surprised at how much detail we miss in our day-to-day lives. This is called passive observation and is what we tend to do as humans every day. It involves observing the larger picture of what we see around us without paying much attention to detail.

On the flip side, we have an active observation. This involves zooming in closer, so to speak. When we observe actively, we pay close attention to detail. You’ve seen an apple before, right? But have you really seen an apple? Zoomed into its multicolored skin and succulent texture inside?

Observation is about stillness. When you observe the object, scene, or person that you want to draw, take up time and space to do so. Turn off the noise and focus on what you want to draw. It’s a lot like meditation in the sense that active observation requires complete focus and stillness.

Here are some things to look out for while you actively observe:

  • Shape: What smaller shapes make up the larger shape of the object, scene, or person?
  • Line: Where can you find lines? What properties do these lines have? Are they short, long, thick, thin, staggered, straight, or curved?
  • Texture: What is the texture like? Without actually touching what you are observing, imagine what it would feel like to run your fingers across the surface. Is it bumpy? Smooth? Are there ridges? Dips?
  • Color: What colors do you see? Are they light, dark, vibrant, or muted? What color family are these colors in? Are they warm colors? Yellows, oranges, reds? Or are they cool colors? Blues, greens, purples?
  • Light: Where is the light coming from in your scene? Where does light touch the surface of what you are observing? How does light affect color? Where can you find shadows?

You need to understand perspective.

Perspective refers to the presentation of objects in a three-dimensional space. We do not exist in a two-dimensional world. Therefore, our art does not need to be two-dimensional (unless you intend it to be). 

To understand perspective, think of a box. If you look at a box in real life, you’ll see that it has 6 sides. While you look at the box, you’ll notice that although you know that all sides are identical squares, they don’t exactly all look like squares from your point of view. That’s because the position of the box relative to our eyes creates an image different from what we know it to be. That’s due to our perspective.

To practice seeing perspective, choose something to look at in the room you are in now. Now, stand up and move to another part of the room, still keeping an eye on that object. Notice how your perspective changes and the object looks different.

When you draw something three-dimensional, see if you can move it around a bit or change your perspective to see it from a different angle before you begin. This will help you understand the shape of the scene or object that you wish to draw.

From there, consider the depth of the object or scene. Consider how you can draw it to show that depth. This will elevate your drawing skills and allow you to project your imagination onto the page with more accuracy.

Improve your line quality.

Improving your lines will help you accurately project what is in your mind onto your medium. Line quality refers to the thinness or thickness of your lines. The weight of your lines will help you create form and texture, allowing you to utilize many different techniques in your art.

Some artists will say that mastering line is the foundation of creating art. After all, drawing lines is often how we start to project what is within our mind’s eye onto paper. That initial outline or sketch is what we use to build upon with other elements to create a final product.

Here are some tips to improve your line quality and take your art to the next level:

  • Try tracing: If you have tracing paper (or just thin notebook paper) try laying it on top of an image that you’d like to trace. Observe the thickness of the lines and their smoothness. Try tracing the outline of the image first, making an attempt to create smooth, swift, sure lines.
  • Stay consistent: When you draw a line, keep your pencil on the paper for the duration of that line, avoiding lifting it up or “hatching” your way through it.
  • Notice your hand: When you go to draw a line, notice the position of your hand. Is it the best position to draw that line? For example, for a curved line, you’ll want to make sure your hand is tilted and able to move fluidly. For short, staggered lines, you might want your hand to be more upright for accuracy.
  • Keep it light: Try not to apply too much pressure with your pencil while you draw your lines. A steady hand is a relaxed hand, so take a deep breath and avoid pressing too hard.

How to improve your skills:

Still not sure how to improve your mind-to-medium skills? Here are some helpful tips to prepare you for your next project:

Draw from a reference.

There’s no shame in using images or objects as a reference while you draw. There’s no rule book that says you are only a legit artist if you draw 100% from your mind and memory. Having a reference can give you the insight you need to bring a mental image or memory to life. It can also help you improve your skills as an observer!

Refine your imagination.

Your imagination is your guide. We are capable of creating incredible mind-boggling things when we are in touch with our own imagination. The best part is that every person’s imagination is completely their own! Your imagination is unique to you and will bring individuality to the art you create.

To refine your imagination, practice first writing down the things you see in your mind’s eye. This might mean recording your dreams first thing in the morning. Keep a notebook at your bedside and when you wake up, write down what you dreamt of right away before you forget it. Dreams are a clear projection of our unique imagination and being in touch with them will help you understand yours.

Another practice is visualization meditations. Look up “Visualization Meditation” on YouTube and give one a try. See what your imagination comes up with during the meditation and see if you can capture it right after with a pencil and piece of paper. If it doesn’t look exactly the way you imagined, don’t worry! You will improve the more you practice.

Capture memories.

Our memories are often our artistic muses. What a beautiful thing to be able to draw the memories we cherish! There’s no perfect universal formula for capturing memories, as every person has a unique mind that remembers things differently. However, there is one technique that I find particularly helpful for remembering particularly important and precious moments. It’s called a 5 senses inventory, and involves capturing a moment like this:

  • Sight: What images do you see in this moment? Take a look around and make a mental note of the shapes, textures, colors, lines, and light that you see.
  • Hearing: What do you hear in this moment? What sounds are particularly loud or soft? How do these sounds make you feel?
  • Touch: What is touching your skin right now? How does the surface beneath you feel? Are your hands touching anything? What physical sensations do you feel on your skin?
  • Smell: What can you smell? Does the air have a particular smell to it in the place you are? Is there an especially noticeable smell?
  • Taste: Even if you are not eating anything right now, observe the taste in your mouth? Is it a remnant of something you ate or drank earlier? What taste can you pick up on?

Write down what you observe and give the memory a name and date. When you feel called to pick up a pencil and draw that memory, you will be able to recall it with ease.

Focus on a single medium at first.

Oftentimes new artists try to master many different mediums at once and end up getting overwhelmed. To focus on honing in your mind-to-medium skills, focus on just one medium. I recommend starting with a simple pencil and paper to begin. This is the most accessible medium and the easiest to master for most people.

Practice, practice, practice!

The key to improving your mind-to-medium skills, more than any of the tips mentioned above, is practicing. Hold yourself accountable by making a goal for yourself on how much you’ll practice each week. Don’t focus too much on the end result of any of your attempts to draw what is in your mind’s eye and instead, practice for the sake of practicing.

One technique that is particularly helpful is keeping a sketchbook and drawing something from your mind’s eye daily. Even if you spend just 5 minutes a day, you’ll be able to see your improvement over time in your sketchbook.

Let go of perfection.

Lastly, let go of the need for every drawing to be perfect. Especially while you’re practicing new skills and learning new mediums, it’s imperative that you learn how to flow with your creativity without placing a value judgment on what you see on the paper.

Nothing you create will ever be 100% perfect, no matter how long you have been creating art. Perfection is a standard that doesn’t truly exist. As long as you can let go of your standard of perfection, you’ll be able to let yourself get into your creative groove and steadily improve your skills and your craft.


Are you a master of drawing what is in your mind’s eye? Let us know what your top tips are! No matter where you are in your creative journey, keep practicing, observing, and allowing your imagination to run wild. I can’t wait to see what you create next.