Would you like to save some time on your projects? This is the right blog post for you to read!

I should mention that when looking up “art tricks”, it is important to remember that there are no true “tricks” in the sense that learning a simple shortcut would improve your art skills overnight and allow you to skip years of practice. It just doesn’t work like that.

However, some lovely tricks will save you time and resources on each project you make! Here are my five personal favourites that I use frequently.

Tip 1: Making Your Tools

I know artists who make nearly all of their tools, even going so far as to modify their brushes. Making your tools can be as involved as building your drawing desk, or it can be simple like what I end up doing.

Here, I unbent a paper clip to make a gouache mixing tool. The problem with gouache is it’s quite gummy, and that’s hard on brushes. Keep your brushes straight by using this simple tool to mix instead!

Tip 2: Put a Piece of Paper Under Your Hand

If you’re making a graphite drawing, it’s easy to smudge up the page with your hand. Solve this by putting a piece of scrap paper underneath your hand! Your hand will stay clean and the pencil marks will stay where you put them.

I am not left-handed, but I imagine this trick would be extra useful if you are! I don’t do this with ink, because wet ink will smudge regardless of whether it’s your hand or a piece of paper touching it.

Tip 3: Use a Mirror to Check Your Proportions

If you’re struggling with proportions, especially in a portrait painting, hold your work up to a mirror! When you’ve been looking at a picture for ages, your mind doesn’t notice as many things as it otherwise would.

By looking at it in a mirror, you trick your mind into seeing it fresh, and you’ll notice any proportional errors right away. I recommend doing this after sketching and before painting because starting to paint over a disproportionate sketch makes your job so much harder than it has to be.

Tip 4: Add Water to Pen Ink

If you want to shade a drawing quickly while you’re out of the house, use a water-soluble pen and then add water! As you can see in a couple of my swatches, different shades of black have different undertones and will make different fun tints when you dissolve them.

You can do this with Pilot G-2 ballpoint pens, and with just about any kind of fountain pen ink. I have several fountain pens from Lamy and Kaweco, and there’s also a brilliant set of Etchr fountain pens!

Tip 5: Skip the Inking Stage Altogether!

If you have pencil line art that you’re proud of, you might be afraid to ink over it. Inking is such a worthwhile skill, and you should practice it, but if you need your current piece to turn out correctly with no risks, then here’s a trick for skipping the inking phase: Simply take a clear photo of the drawing, and raise the contrast and exposure until the pencil lines are black.

Here you can see that I took a clear photo with good lighting and a correct angle, then I manipulated the settings to make the paper bright white and the pencil lines as black as possible. I like my pencil lines to stay just slightly off-black because my colour schemes are quite earthy, but if you want perfect black all you have to do is turn the saturation down.

I use this trick when I intend to colour the picture digitally in either Photoshop or Procreate, but you can also use this trick for things you print out. It saves me a lot of time, and when I make my little comics I like the pencil texture better than ink because it suits the terrain and atmosphere of the locations I draw.

Which of these techniques helped you the most? Are there any new techniques that you thought of after reading this list?

Have a great time making art, and be sure to subscribe to our email newsletter for more posts like this!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.


  • Mags Addison said:

    Thank you for these little tips – very useful

    August 01, 2022

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