How Do You Make a Drawing a Piece of Art?

How Do You Make a Drawing a Piece of Art? Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

I’ve been thinking about what makes a drawing a piece of art a lot these days.

What makes splotches of paint on a canvas artwork?

What makes strokes of ink a masterpiece?

To make a piece of art—a strong piece of art—there has to be an idea. It has to be communicating something, saying something. You could be a technical master and able to paint the human anatomy in perfect realistic detail, but if there’s no idea behind it, is it really art? To me, the idea is king, and the idea should be the focus in artmaking. Not how anatomically-correct you can draw the human body.

How Do You Make a Drawing a Piece of Art? Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

The Focus of Artmaking

There are thousands of tutorials on how to master your craft: how to draw a horse, how to paint fluffy clouds…But what about a tutorial on how to find the ideas that are meaningful to us? And how to use those ideas to inject our emotions, feelings, and unique voice into our work?

These are the questions I’ve been thinking about, researching, and exploring since I began teaching. Instead of focusing so much on technical prowess, I hope to encourage you to focus on the emotional and intellectual investment in your work.

I hope to help you approach drawing differently. Through doing that, you’ll be able to take your art to the next level, gain the confidence to step beyond studying technical craft, and start developing ideas to make the art that’s meaningful to you.

How Do You Make a Drawing a Piece of Art? Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Mimesis vs. Feelings

According Wikipedia, the definition of art is:

“Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.”

Keep reading, and it states:

“Art may be characterized in terms of mimesis (its representation of reality), expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities.”

Mimesis! The representation of reality, an exact replica of the world! Why would we bother? We’ve got cameras for that.

I believe the idea—the interpretation of reality, the expression of self, the communication of feeling—is what elevates a drawing to a piece of art.

How Do You Make a Drawing a Piece of Art? Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

The Only Takeaway

So if you don’t get anything else out of reading my articles, seeing my drawings, or listening to me blabber on about whatever obsession I’m currently thinking about, I hope you just take away this one thing:

Drawing well—making art well—isn’t solely about how advanced your technical skills are. A strong piece of art comes from a strong artist with strong ideas.

So invest in being self-aware, present in the world, and always follow your curiosity. When you focus on those things, when you focus on improving the emotional and intellectual strength of your Self, and therefore your drawing, that’s when you’ll really level up as an artist and elevate your drawing to a piece of art.

“I’ve never seen a bad drawing destroy a good idea. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a good drawing save a bad idea.” –Paul Conrad, cartoonist


This is a big divergence from some typical ways of thinking about art. Maybe it’s controversial, maybe you don’t agree. Maybe you’ve never thought about it this way. Let me know what you think by commenting below!



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15 Responses

  1. Your post gave me a jolt of hope today! Especially the line
    “A strong piece of art comes from a strong artist with strong ideas.”
    I have plenty of strong ideas but always felt I couldn’t do anything with them because my technical art skills aren’t strong.
    But reframing how I define art and my art skills in this way opens up new possibilities for me and gives me a new way to define my work – as art.

    1. Yay! Yes, I had a very similar experience, where I felt like my ideas were really good, and I enjoyed making art, but I didn’t view my technical skills as strong as other people’s. But you’re right, it’s all about how you frame and define you art, and it’s more important to make YOUR art than THEIR art, so why compare them? Thanks for sharing! :D

  2. I totally agree with you. When I finally reached the same decision – that art is about observation and ideas and not just accuracy and technical prowess – it became a whole lot more fun to draw AND, because I did more of it, my technique improved too. Nice article (again)!

  3. It’s so funny that this post came about when it did. Recently I’ve been happening upon a lot of articles and snippets about the importance of story in art.

    I’m just starting out at illustration and often the hardest thing to do when practicing and trying to discover your style is figuring out what to draw/illustrate. I don’t want to just do observational drawings all the time, and in fact saw a girl on Instagram who was rejected from art school because they couldn’t get a sense of her ideas or perspective on the world, because all of her work was observational drawing (very good drawings though!).

    This idea of focussing on story over technical ability excites me though, because thats far more fun for future projects! :D
    Thank you for posting this!

    1. That’s another great way to say it! Story in art. I agree the hardest part is discovering your style and what to draw—but just know that the only way to find it is to keep drawing! The more you make, the more naturally it will come to you. And letting go of the technical hang ups and rules makes it more fun and loosens you up to find your own way of drawing, so you’re on the right track! :)

  4. Fascinating subject. Do you like to clarify your idea before you start; or do you sometimes start with a question and allow the best idea or solution to emerge from sketches or prototypes?

    Sometimes, I find that the reason why I am creating a project (the problem I am trying to solve) reveals itself in a new and truer way only after I have begun.

    Have you come across The Storm of Creativity by Kyna Leski at RISD? She talks about the value of unlearning what we think we know as part of the creative process. You might like it.

    Thanks for another great post!

    1. Hey Howell! My process depends on what it is I’m making and how big or small the project is. For my sketchbook, I hardly ever go in with more than an inkling of an idea—it’s more about exploration and experimentation. Then it’s a process of an idea emerging and revealing itself like you said! Some bigger projects definitely start out with a more concrete idea, but I think it’s important to approach it open-mindedly and let the idea change and evolve as you work and learn more about where the project is going, kind of letting it steer itself.

      I haven’t heard of The Storm of Creativity—that sounds really interesting! I’m going to google that now! Thanks for sharing! :)

  5. This is a great article. You make an excellent point. I think that we strive to express what we feel and see through our art. I couldn’t love my art until I learned to love myself. I couldn’t be ok with what I did until I became ok with who I am and where I am. I think that the key to giving yourself a voice is the inner confirmation of who you are. I’m still at the beginning of this journey and that’s why I’m so interested in what you have to say. Thank you so much for putting yourself out here for all of us.

    1. Yes! You hit the nail on the head! I totally agree that we have to accept ourselves before we can let our real ideas, style, and art shine through. And that’s not easy! I like your idea of the inner confirmation too. It’s like a way to negate the inner critic! Thanks for sharing, and I’m so glad you enjoy the articles! :D

  6. The timing of this article feels so in synch with what I was reading today in my deeply exploring book group….Stephen Buhner’s PLANT INTELLIGENCE AND THE IMAGINAL REALM, Chapter 10 – “a Certain Adjustment in Consciousness” It is the expression of the art, far more than the technical skill of the art that touches us.

    I love the synchronicity ….it’s part of the art of living a true life.

    1. Wow, that book sounds amazing! The Imaginal Realm! Holy moly! That’s so awesome you’ve been reading about the expression of art as separate from technical skill as well. Thanks for sharing! :)

  7. Great article. It definitely got me thinking about my own process.

    So, with that, I have a little bit of quandary. What happens to me when I think of an idea, I overthink the idea, which then leads freezing and not getting the idea completed. I tend to create intuitively. Let the supplies do their thing on the paper or canvas. Fluid. The problem with this end of the spectrum is that the images aren’t as “deep” feeling. Very surface feeling.

    So what’s the solution to this?

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