Why Does My Art Look Weird When I Flip It?

art looks weird when flipped

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 how you can use it to fix every drawing mistake!


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.

I liked it though and put two or three hours into the rendering.

This is what it looks like:

Dracula drawing

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:

Dracula drawing mirrored

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:

Batman drawing black and white

Let’s mirror this one too, to make its mistakes apparent:

Batman drawing black and white mirrored

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. How Flipping Your Canvas Works – The Principle Behind It

It’s difficult to find a concrete explanation of the science behind this phenomenon.

I personally think it has to do with how your eyes and your brain get used to things.

Basically it’s the same effect when 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 on 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 the longer you look at it.

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.

To summarize:

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 how you can use it to fix your drawing mistakes.

3. How To Fix Your Drawing Mistakes By Flipping Horizontally

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.

RELATED: Can You Learn To Draw?

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?

Dracula drawing mistakes

What actually displeases me most are the following things:

  1. The head is too wide, especially the right side
  2. The eyes (and ears) aren’t level
  3. The mouth seems kindof asymmetrical
  4. 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 digital magic and flipping it back it looks like this:

Dracula drawing with fixed mistakes

Now let’s look at the original painting compared to the ‘fixed’ one:

Dracula drawing animation

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.

Batman drawing mistake

After distorting it digitally and flipping it back I ended up with this:

fixed Batman drawing

Let’s look at a before/after animation here, too:

Batman drawing animation

To be fair the difference is not as apparent as with my Dracula image. I guess that means the drawing was better, ha!

Since we now know the theory of it all, let us move on to the technical side of things.

4. 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:

4.1 Turn It Around And Hold It Against Light

flipping a drawing in a window

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.

4.2 Use A Mirror

holding a drawing in a mirror
(Yes, this is me in my bathroom.)

Every household has a mirror somewhere. So just hold up your drawing and stand in front of a mirror.

4.3 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.

4.3.1 How To Flip Your Canvas In Windows Photo View

1. Open your image in Windows Photo View

an image in photo view

2. Click on ‘Edit & Create’ and then on ‘Edit’

edit & create in photoview

TIP: To get here faster, right click on your image and then on ‘Edit with Photos’.

rightclick and edit with photos

3. Click on ‘Flip’

flip an image with photoview

4. Click on ‘Save a copy’

save a copy with photoview

4.3.2 How To Flip Your Canvas In Paint

1. Open your image in Microsoft Paint

an image in Microsoft Paint

2. Click on ‘Rotate’ and then on ‘Flip horizontal’

Paint, Rotate, Flip horizontal

4.3.3 How To Flip Your Canvas In Photoshop

1. Open your image in Photoshop

an image in Photoshop

2. Click on ‘Image’ → ‘Image Rotation’ → ‘Flip Canvas Horizontal’

Image Rotation, Flip Canvas Horizontal

4.3.4 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

flipapicture.com page

2. Click on ‘Choose File’ and pick an image

flipapicture.com choose file

3. Select ‘Flop Horizontally’ and click on ‘Click here’

flipapicture.com flop horizontally

4. Save the flipped picture by right-clicking anywhere on it and choosing „Save Picture As“

4.3.5 How To Flip Your Canvas On Mobile Devices

mobile phone

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) and QuickFlip (iOS). They’re free and pretty much self-explanatory.

5. 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!

6. Word Of Advice: Don’t Cheat!

cheater

Finally, I want to make something very clear: This isn’t meant as a shortcut to success.

So:

Don’t cheat!

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!

-Daniel

P.S.: Just to let you know: I’m also on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. I’d appreciate it if you check it out!

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