This is the initial stages for self-improvement for my own art and will be refined as I go along. This is mostly for me. However, I have found that I learn infinitely better when trying to teach other people, so I’ve invited a few people to work along with me here. We can ask for critiques and feedback as we go. I may turn on comments or set up a Facebook group.
Step 1 – Identify the Core Skill In Need of Improvement
What are you trying to get better at? Digital painting? Storyboarding or comic panels? Fantasy art scenes? Figures? Perspective? Color? Composition? Maybe you need help with ALL those things? Just pick one, because it’s overwhelming.
To use myself as an example, I need to work on composition of scenes, color, perspective, and figures. If I were to look at these things as a whole, it’s way overwhelming. I get overwhelmed easily and need to focus. So I move to the next step.
Step 2 – Narrow It Down
Pick one of those things, and narrow it down. Then keep narrowing. Narrow until you are down to some very base components. You’re looking for the atomic-level base component of drawing that you wish to improvement.
Pick one thing for now. You are going to go back to others later.
For my own example, I am going to take figure drawing and narrow it down to poses and posture. I never feel like my characters are standing securely on the ground and have natural, organic poses. I feel like they are often parts glued together and floating in space, with shadows behind them.
My medium in question will be digital and pencil. Photoshop or printer paper. Nothing fancy. I’m not out for a good drawing at this stage. I’m just up for refining skill.
Step 3 – Practice in Isolation
Take that one thing you are going to focus on and practice it without the distraction of other things. Yes, it will be important to incorporate it into the larger whole and make it fit properly, but for the purposes here refining your skill with JUST THAT THING for a while may help create a certain amount of technique learning and brain-to-hand learning and memory.
And how do you build that refinement of technique and brain-to-hand learning memory? Two ways that work in conjunction with one another.
Use references. If you are trying to refine your technique, do not work from imagination. You’re training your brain and your eyes to see. I’ll talk about seeing as a skill at some other point, but you need references to work from. Examples of these:
- Direct Observation – Still-life, people, things that exist out in the wilds of the world. These are important to practice because you are forced to see in three dimensions (something you can’t always pick up from photos), see light and value and such.
- Gesture Drawing – If you need to know how to do gesture drawing, look online for a million references. The best way to do this is from people in life. People don’t stand still? Of course not? And you get to learn how to get lots of rough information down very quickly. You can also do this from motionless things (photos, statues, etc) but it’s good to get in as much from real life as possible. And when I say fast, I am talking 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Set the timer. There are websites that will do this for you, too.
- Historical Drawing – I’m going to go a little on a limb here and suggest not ONLY duplicating art from the old masters to see how they do it, but ALSO the awesome, fantastic art you really like – to see how they do it. Copy their stuff and really study it, and learn how they did what they did. Just don’t try passing it off as your own!
I have read that one of the pit traps we fall into is that we repeat the things we enjoy with no real reference, and train our brains and muscle into bad habits. You want to train that muscle into good habits, which is why using reference is great. Instead of training your hand-brain into bad habits, you are training your eyes to see.
- Take that thing you have isolated to train yourself on.
- Commit to practicing that aspect 100 times. Yes, 100.
Try to see how it didn’t look right the time before, and do it again. Don’t have time right now? Do 5 right now, and 5 later, and keep on going. Number them if you have to. Keep this stuff measurable.
I am also going to try to make a point to getting critiques of my work. I hate critiques. I get defensive and cranky initially. Then let it sink in, work on it, and improve. I may as well move forward on this. I think I’ll try conceptart.org for this since they seem constructive on the whole.