How to make Blurry, muddy drawings more interesting

Difficulty rating = skill: ✭✭✰✰✰ | implementation: ✭✭✭✰✰ (Semi-beginner to Intermediate)

Keep in mind that art is subjective, yes, but knowing how to control your drawing and having deliberate power and balance over the result is very useful — this is for that.

So you have a drawing that you made trying to make it look good, but your brush strokes for the details are kind of broad and you don’t feel that confident, so you use soft brushes like the airbrush or you blend a LOT.

You heard (or felt) that it made your drawings more “real” or complex if you made it have more blending and softness. But… It feels off. The colors are almost there, maybe, and it looks kind of “real”, but it feels more like an imitation of something and it lacks uniqueness or just doesn’t have the “oomph” to elevate it. Maybe you feel like having made it all soft and blended like this is playing it safe, and it even influenced your color choice to look too flat for your taste. Maybe you even overcompensated, but you’re not even sure!

What do you do?

How do we fix blurry drawings?

There’s 3 things to keep in mind here. Edges, form with lighting, and color variation. These are major art fundamentals, but in this quick tip we’re just going to go over them briefly enough to point you in the right direction.

In my visual example, the lips have only soft edges and no “sharp edges” or hard, defined areas. They don’t have “lost edges” either where a part is purposefully melded with another to intentionally show less information.

What do I mean by edges? Well. they’re the outline or transition between planes, objects, or even colors.

If every transition is blended and has the same or no texture for each one, no purposeful choice in what edge to show and not show, there’s less emphasis and focus on any one part. This leads to less visual interest in how the piece is chosen to be shaded and colored. It doesn’t “say” anything, and it shows less confidence and knowledge in what is being depicted.

So what should be done? There’s actually a bunch of ways to go about this, and it can be a part of one’s unique style with the way this kind of problem is solved. But let’s start easy.

Let’s choose what parts to make hard and defined, in this case, selecting the parts that will have significant light and shadow transitions. By doing that, we automatically choose what will stay more blended and soft by just leaving them that way mostly – soft edges are benefitial for more fleshy, soft and bendy bits. Then where the two surfaces “meet” or aren’t as important, we make the edges just not be there, like parts of the lips that touch without shadow. A bit of whatever’s necessary or looks cooler.

So with that in mind, now we have a guide of what we intend to keep blended and what we intend to use hard brushes on to define. It’s fine if we stray a little later but now we have an idea.

Plan out what parts you’ll define, at the very least, in your mind.

In the original drawing, there’s only a vague sense of trying to make them 3-dimensional by following an idea of how lips are supposed to look like. But the thing with that is… some parts look flat or there’s not enough dimensional-ity. Not knowing the form and just drawing things with how they vaguely look like, is a downgrade. It shows a lack of understanding and consistency in how the object depicted would function in 3D space.

Let’s try to break down lips as simplified forms and then go from there. They’re like two bendy cylinders close together and attached at the edges. Plump lips are more pronounced in their “roundness”.

The more round the more they face the right on the right side of the lips, and more to the left on the left side of the lips. Look at photos of lips, lips in real life, and 3d models of lips and compare. It’s helpful to make guidelines that “curve” around the lips and show how where each plane of the object faces. It’s ok if this takes a while.

For this, I will establish the lighting to be the top right, so that means shadows will be on parts facing away from the light on that side. With that in mind, lets draw out what would be lit according to the guidelines.

That’s what we will put for our fixed version.

3D models are a useful reference to figure stuff out.

Okay, so we know where to blend and not blend, and where the light and shadow should go to make it have more dimensional. That’s good. But how do we make it pop? Make the colors less muddy or just a little bit more interesting.

We an add more variation in the colors. But… we’re dealing with human skin. It’s just going to be the skintone and lip color, right? No, there can be bits of any color in skin and lips too. It’s easier if we desaturate the colors when we add them to more vibrant human skintones.

In this example, let’s choose 4 different colors. We have that peachy-red of the skin, and that de-saturated green of the lighting, but we can make a quad relationship on the color wheel. We add the complimentary (basically the opposite) of the colors we already have, and add them in small quantities to make the main colors stand out more. Peachy-red gets cyan-blue, grey-ish green gets grey-ish purple. We can also add a darker red color that’s still in the peachy-red’s territory. Let’s also pre-plan where we will add extra pockets of color.

Color variation isn’t always necessary, but it helps when the drawing’s colors are too dull.

We have the ideas ready for how we’ll manage the edges, form/lighting, and color variation. When we implement it all, we can add more details, as it’ll be a lot easier to see what’s going on with the object now after these fixes.

So how would the final result look like? This is how I would do it real quick.

The fixed example, lips with more interest. Just one way to do it.

So, putting that together, we end up with a drawing that with just a few tweaks, is more defined and has a more unique sense to it than “blurry attempt at lips”. Do you think it’s more of an improvement from the original?

This is just how I’d do it, you can follow parts of the advice, or deconstruct it further to your own advantage.

Here’s a visual recap with a different drawing. You can do them in different order sometimes and add flourishes like here.

Interesting-o-gram.

Very blurry drawing, select edges and erase unnecessary blurry bits. Adding different colors, not just monochromatic if you like, this one uses neighboring colors. Keep in mind the form of what’s being drawn, you can use geometric shapes to visualize it, and even move around the colors and lighting according to that. Add more color variation, textures, and effects.. basically experiment – usually this is where you just add more color variance and that’s it but you can do more. The result? An inhuman, colorful eye with more intrigue.

I hope this can add a different perspective for when you’re “stuck” on a drawing.

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