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Have you ever wondered why your drawings suck when looked at in the mirror?
Have you ever finished a piece of art that you thought was amazing and symbolized the apex of your current skills – so good that you were eagerly awaiting your invitation to artists’ Valhalla – just to turn it around and think that you can’t draw at all?
It happens to all of us, even advanced artists with lots of experience.
And it’s actually not a bad thing – it’s amazing! It’s like magic!
Read further to learn why this is a good thing and why many artists intentionally flip their canvas.
1. What Flipping Your Art Does
Flipping your drawings confronts you with the reality that you maybe can’t draw as well as you thought yet. Therefore, it’s probably something you fear and avoid doing.
It shouldn’t be!
But first, let’s examine what mirroring your canvas does:
To illustrate this, I’ll use a few of my own drawings.
You see, it also happens to me regularly. Some months ago I finished this little Dracula drawing. It started as a sketch and was actually meant to be a test for my new Sakura Pigma Brush pens.
(Check out all my art tools here.)
I liked it though and put two or three hours into the rendering.
This is what it looks like:
Back then I kinda liked it. But I didn’t feel so good about it anymore once I flipped it.
So let’s take a look at what happens when you mirror it:
Yep, that kinda sucks.
I wasn’t even particularly trying to see my own mistakes.
I had hung the drawing in my living room and as it happens, I have a large mirror in my doorway.
One day I saw my drawing in the mirror and was drastically confronted with my own mistakes and how off my picture somehow looked to me.
Let’s take a look at another example:
A Batman drawing I did at the beginning of 2019:
Let’s mirror this one too, to make its mistakes apparent:
Can you see it? It just looks off in some way…
But why is that? Why is it that your drawings look worse in a mirror?
2. Why Your Drawings Are Skewed Or Slanted
Your Drawings are skewed or slanted because of a scientific phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect. While drawing, the longer you see your drawing, the better it will seem to you. This prevents you from recognizing your own mistakes and you won’t notice when your drawing is slanted.
So, it has to do with how your eyes and your brain get used to things.
The same thing holds true if you look at yourself in a mirror:
Every day you see your own reflection when you get ready for the day. It’s what YOU look like to yourself.
When most people look at a photograph of themselves they feel that it looks bad.
The thing is that they probably look perfectly fine to everyone else because everyone else knows them exactly the way they look like in the photograph.
Actually, it’s the image in the mirror that you are used to that doesn’t look like reality.
It’s the same thing when listening to a recording of your own voice:
Most people think their voice sucks and sounds just weird while it’s actually totally okay for everyone else because they know the voice just that way.
When you listen to your own voice while talking though, it’s totally skewed by the acoustics of your skull.
Your brain gets used to the way your mirror image looks and the way your voice sounds to yourself. It’s what’s normal for you.
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In the same vein your brain gets used to two more things related to drawing:
First, it gets used to the drawing itself.
Depending on the complexity of the artwork you might spend hours and hours on it. Your brain gets used to it and also to its mistakes, thinking that it looks alright, even though it might be skewed.
You basically become blind to your own mistakes. Flipping the artwork can help put things into another perspective.
Secondly, your brain gets used to the drawing mistakes you make on a more global level.
You might tend to draw something particularly asymmetrical all the time and your brain thinks it looks fine.
Flipping your pieces circumvents this adjustment effect of the brain.
Your art looks weird when you flip it because your brain gets used to the mistakes you make in a drawing. It also gets used to the drawing mistakes you make on a regular basis. Flipping your artwork makes these mistakes visible to your brain again.
We now know the underlying principle, so I’ll show you why many artists flip their drawings – and how you can learn from them and fix your drawing mistakes.
3. Why Artists Flip Their Drawings
Artists flip their drawings because it helps them see their mistakes. They can view their drawings from another angle and notice the incorrect parts of the artwork – that they can then easily fix after flipping the canvas back. It’s a common practice among (digital) artists.
Like I said above, viewing your drawings in the mirrored way can be quite humbling and confronts yourself with your own mistakes and inabilities.
Flipping your drawings reveals all the inconsistencies you have with proportions, angles, symmetry, etc.
Changing your mindset about this can transform it into a great opportunity though. An opportunity to accept your mistakes – to learn and grow from them!
You can actually flip your drawings to actively check your proportions and everything else.
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So let’s do this and pick my artwork from above. We’ll use the „magic“ horizontal flip to make it better!
This is what it looked like after mirroring, remember?
What actually displeases me most are the following things:
- The head is too wide, especially the right side
- The eyes (and ears) aren’t level
- The mouth seems kind of asymmetrical
- The neck muscles are too dissimilar
In other words:
The basic proportions are okay here, but there are some symmetry problems.
After trying to optimize those things with a healthy dose of computer magic and flipping it back it looks like this:
Now let’s look at the original painting compared to the ‘fixed’ one:
That’s much better, right?
Now let’s do the same thing with the Batman drawing.
Its main problem is that the right side of the face (the part that’s in the shadow) is a bit smaller than the left side of the face. And the whole face is somewhat distorted.
After distorting it digitally and flipping it back I ended up with this:
Let’s look at a before/after animation here, too:
To be fair the difference is not as apparent as with my Dracula image. I guess that means the drawing was better, ha!
CHECK OUT: How To Draw Shadows On A Face
4. Why Your Drawings Look Better Upside-Down
Have you tried turning your drawings upside-down? Did it look better? If yes, what’s the reason for that?
Your drawings look better upside down because your brain can’t instantly recognize the subject or object you have drawn. It only recognizes shapes and colors. Therefore any mistakes you made in your drawing aren’t immediately visible in your upside-down drawing.
For that reason, I think flipping your canvas vertically has a different effect than flipping it horizontally.
It might hide your mistakes instead of revealing them.
I haven’t experimented with this, but drawing upside-down seems to be a useful exercise in itself.
5. Three Ways To Flip Your Artwork
Now that we know how it all works – how can we actually do it?
It’s simple. There are three ways to mirror your drawing:
5.1 Turn It Around And Hold It Against Light
Simple and easy. Just pick up your painting and hold it against a light source like the sun, a window or the ceiling light of the room you’re in.
NOTE: This obviously only works with thin paper that is opaque enough for light to shine through. If you use high-quality drawing paper that is thicker, you can use the following methods.
5.2 Use A Mirror
Every household has a mirror somewhere. So just hold up your drawing and stand in front of a mirror.
5.3 Flip It Digitally
This is the modern 21st century way. Digitize your artwork by scanning it or taking a photo of it and flip it on your computer or your smartphone.
Photoshop isn’t even a must, you can do it for free in a lot of other ways.
I’ll first deal with computers and then with mobile devices.
5.3.1 How To Flip Your Canvas In Windows Photo View
1. Open your image in Windows Photo View
2. Click on ‘Edit & Create’ and then on ‘Edit’
TIP: To get here faster, right-click on your image and then on ‘Edit with Photos’.
3. Click on ‘Flip’
4. Click on ‘Save a copy’
5.3.2 How To Flip Your Canvas In Paint
1. Open your image in Microsoft Paint
2. Click on ‘Rotate’ and then on ‘Flip horizontal’
5.3.3 How To Flip Your Canvas In Photoshop
1. Open your image in Photoshop
2. Click on ‘Image’ → ‘Image Rotation’ → ‘Flip Canvas Horizontal’
5.3.4 How To Flip Your Image Online
Nowadays, there’s a website for pretty much everything. Accordingly, there are websites dedicated exactly to what we want to accomplish.
A good choice is http://flipapicture.com/.
1. Go to the website
2. Click on ‘Choose File’ and pick an image
3. Select ‘Flop Horizontally’ and click on ‘Click here’
4. Save the flipped picture by right-clicking anywhere on it and choosing „Save Picture As“
5.3.5 How To Flip Your Canvas On Mobile Devices
Android and iOS versions are continually updated. In some versions, you can flip an image with the standard image viewer and in some versions, you can’t. It would be too complex to list all possible scenarios.
There are a lot of very easy-to-use apps though that do what we want.
For example, good ones are
Flip Image – Mirror Image (Android)
They’re free and pretty much self-explanatory.
6. Why You Should Flip Your Drawings More Often
The sad thing is that this technique is often an afterthought.
I myself know how it is:
You have a new idea for an amazing painting, you plan your composition, lighting and colors… and then you’re eager to start and jump into the sketching phase.
One of your first sketches turns out great and before you even know it you have a finished piece of artwork.
But then you happen to flip it and are bummed out because your work could have been much better, had you just put some more time into the preliminary drawing.
It doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t!
You could actually save yourself a lot of frustration if you just flipped your image every now and then before rendering all the details.
This can help you lay a better foundation for your finished piece of art and make it look way better in the end.
Furthermore, you can only get better by doing this!
By regularly confronting yourself with your own drawing mistakes, you might notice patterns. Things you draw wrong regularly. It helps you to improve in those areas and it also helps you to see better.
I know that a lot of people don’t use this as much as they should – especially beginner artists.
I for myself should use it way more often.
For my next art project, my goal is to flip my canvas a few times in the sketching process, to lay a great foundation for my finished piece that I’m going to be happy with when all is said and done!
7. Word Of Advice: Don’t Cheat!
Finally, I want to make something very clear: This isn’t meant as a shortcut to success.
Don’t use the flip trick as a magic pill to fix your drawings digitally once they are finished.
This won’t help you become a better artist and it will deceive everyone who looks at your art.
Even worse, you will deceive yourself and it won’t make you truly happy in the end. Be honest to yourself and everyone around you.
Use the flip trick during the drawing process to fix mistakes you might not have seen at first.
You will learn how to see the things you often draw wrong and improve your art more quickly as a result. It’s like magic!
P.S.: Just to let you know: I have a YouTube channel, too. I’d appreciate it if you check it out!