'I want to be a better artist.'

13 min read

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This is a sentiment I hear often on dA. It's usually followed by a question regarding how one should go ABOUT becoming a better artist.

  I've no doubt made journals like this in the past, but here's another one. This page was in dire need of an update, either way. : )

  I could probably talk your ear off for a mile and a half about why I should be the last person you ask for creativity-boosting advice. Aaaand I have my reasons for this, but that's not really what anyone who writes me wants to hear, I think. It's just a fair warning. I'm not an accredited teacher, I was far from the most capable person at my college, I've made a metric crapton of mistakes, and I am nowhere near where I'd like to be in my own personal artistic endeavors. If that doesn't bother you, well, keep on reading!

  The best way I could aid anyone interested in bettering themselves would probably be by giving you the advice that inspires me the most. Stuff I've heard from friends, family, colleagues, teachers, and from some particularly awesome readers. These are some of the words that really stuck with me.

1. Don't neglect the basics.

Yeah, I know. Drawing boxes on tables and fruit in bowls is boring as sin. I completely feel you there.  This was one of the biggest buckets of cold water on the groin I ever received in college. You're fresh out of highschool, eager to bat in the big leagues and show off your killer awesome talents. You've picked your college, you're armed to the teeth with your graphite, T-squares, RIDICUOUSLY priced tubes of paint and paintbrushes alike. You're gonna draw woooorlds man. But oh yeah, first, sketch this pear. Now do it again. And again. And again. KEEP SCRUBBING AND SCRUBBING AND SAYING THE NAME OF YOUR LORD AND SAVIO-- I digress.
But you got to do it. Believe me, in my mind, there is no greater way to hinder your growth as an artist than to neglect your basics. I've told this to everyone who has ever sent a note my way asking for advice. This is easily the most boring, but most crucial bit I could ever give you. I've paid a great deal for failing to realize how badly you need to know your basics, and to this day it's required a lot of self-teaching (and embarrassing mistakes) just to get a decent grasp on the stuff I should have been able to do seven years ago.

It may seem like you've grown past the need for stuff like the most basic perspective, lighting, dynamic, color theory etc..  but the reality of it is, you never grow past it. You should always be seeking to learn more about these things. Every step of the way.

  Oh, and also, if nothing else, there are MOUNTAINS of resources available here on dA. Just do some searches for such, and you'll find treasure troves worth of coloring, composition, perspective tutors. It's really something else.

2. Never make a line that doesn't matter.

I can't adequately explain how great this advice is. Credited to my Foundation teacher in college, that line stuck with me to this day, and has a huge effect on my mindset when drawing. I'll try to explain it as best I can.
When you're sitting down to draw something, let's say in this case a really cool dynamic shot of a character, all fighting-game style, pay attention as you're drawing. If you're anything like me, there are parts of a drawing that are just much more fun than others. This could be eyes, or faces, or you just really love drawing hands. But anyway, it tends to show, when you're really enjoying something in a piece. On the flipside, however, there are portions of your drawing that show you were kind of notsomuch there. If you catch yourself drawing lines as kind of an afterthought, or just to complete something quickly, you're probably weakening the entire piece by keeping them in there.

  It's probably easy to mix up the idea of 'weak lines' with 'detail' as well. A lot of artists on here like to heap on the detail when it comes to designs, and more power to you if that's your thing, because it certainly works for some folks. I'm more the type of guy that follows a Capcom-esque kind of creed. A common thing you hear from Capcom artists, when talking about their own designs, is a kind of mandate on simplicity. Their designs are crisp, to the point, and powerful. There isn't a line in their drawings that doesn't contribute towards the whole.  I'm biased here though, I've been an enormous fan of their artists (Akiman, Nishimura, CRMK, Edayan, etc) for ages now, and I think their work exemplifies my main point very well.

  Let me try explaining from another angle. Have you ever not been sure how to go about proceeding with a character drawing, so you waffle around a lot and end up making wobbly lines or odd, lumpy clothing and/or muscles? That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. There needs to be a certainty, an energy behind it. Even if it means redrawing the same thing over and over again. Try figuring out how you want that arm or leg to look, and then try taking the least about of lines to get your point across. A good way to practice this would be hitting up a site like posemaniacs.com, and doing the super quick figure illustrations. They basically require you to draw a body as fast as you can, typically resulting in only the most important lines.

  Anyway, let me wrap this one up, I could go on forever about this bit of advice. It's just really, really good advice, and I can't thank my prof enough for it.

3.  'Concept artist' =/= 'Character artist'.

Now here's a contentious point if I ever heard one. And no matter how many times I say it, I will get people telling me that their friend works at (insert name here) studio as a Character Artist and it's  totally possible.

And you know, that's probably true. There are some studios out there who I'm sure are capable enough of paying a person to do nothing but characters all day. But as far as my knowledge on the matter goes.. there really aren't many positions like that in existence. If there are, you'd better believe they're going to the best people in the business, of which there are a  lot.  Regardless, I don't think it's a safe idea to just bank on drawing characters for the game industry for the rest of your life. During the game projects I've worked on, most all the art was done early on. It gets revised over the course of the project, but never enough to merit a full days work, day after day. On the job, I've done backgrounds, menu layouts and assets, storyboards, turnaround sheets for modeling, vehicles, objects, weapons, creatures/beasts, monsters, buttons, buildings..  a helluva lot more than just characters.

For a lot of people this is something they just don't like to hear, but I'm really sorry to say it's true. If drawing is a hobby, and all you want to do is draw people and pin-ups, then by all means. But if you are specifically gunning for a job in the game industry, your horizons are going to have to expand. And you'll be a better artist for it, trust me.

(Don't even get me started on folks who seem to think you can get a job just creating/drawing ideas and having other folks build the game for you. They just..  hoo. Huge wake-up call looming in the not-too-distant future. This job does exist, but usually involves you being the Creative Director. Btw, there are no entry level creative director jobs. ; P)

4. Don't try to please everyone.

Be willing to grow, be willing to learn, but be willing to enjoy your own work.

I've never had a harder time improving than when I was too busy thinking about everyone who dislikes my stuff. And it's true. You can't please everybody, no matter how hard you try. It just spreads you thin, it makes you lose focus.

The problem here is the interpretation, though. I'm not advocating you don't listen to critique, and plug up your ears when others give you suggestions on how to improve. Having a thick skin as an artist is immensely important. So is the desire to get better, to be receptive to change. However, this does not mean you should allow a hateful opinion to change the course of something you personally want to do. Really, it all depends on your personal standards and what you want out of yourself as an artist.

Again, let me make myself clear here. Critique is vital to an artist's growth. Being used to criticism, and able to take it and shape something out of it, is an invaluable trait, one you will benefit most from learning early on in your career. I don't like it when artists hide behind the word 'style' more than anyone else. But you know what else is important? Knowing the difference between criticism intended on bettering you as an artist, and just straight-up hate for your work. One is a resource you can use to level up. The other is noise. Noise wastes your time, and the time of the person making it. Chances are nothing you could create would make them happy, so it's not really meant to be. Press on, and don't lose sight of yourself. : )

Any artist should be so lucky as to create work that makes people want more. That's the real be-all and end-all of art, in my opinion. If people want to see more from you, you're doing something right.  And I don't think it matters if what you're doing is western, eastern, toony, flashy, painty, indie, noir-y, abstractified, or furry fishhead anthro space alien debutantes fighting dragons. :|

5. Drawing is only non-productive when you aren't doing it.

If you're anything like me, you've wasted a lot of time in your life worrying that what you're putting to paper really isn't pushing any of your own personal boundaries far enough. And while expanding your horizons is a fantastic thing to do, sometimes you just got to kick back.

I've spent several days just drawing nothing but characters heads before. And yeah, I've paused and been like.. awgh this really isn't going to help me get any better at drawing legs, or making a picture look like it's popping right off the page.. these are just FACES WHAT AM I DOING. But ease up. A day spent drawing nothing but faces is better than a day spent drawing nothing at all.  I also can't stress the importance of warming-up. Before you sit down to try and bang out the best thing your portfolio ever did see, you should probably do a few short exercises first. Think of it as your creative muscle. You shouldn't work out by going straight to the most strenuous part of your routine. Hell, even if you ENJOY that crazy awesome strenuous kind of work (like most all of us do, it is our passion after all), you should still do a bit of 'jogging' first, in my opinion. Do some silly doodles, sketch out some really really loose body poses, or in my case, just litter the page with lots of little toony pictures. I like making expressive faces, and stretching and squishing eyes and mouths and stuff. It can really go a long way.

6. You only get as much out of college as you put in.

I've had a lot of notes asking where I went to college, and what sort of colleges I recommend others look into. Where I went doesn't matter, for one, and two, there is no one school I could recommend you hit up for a guaranteed excellent time. So much of what you receive from your college experience directly correlates to the effort you sink in. Sure, you can help your cause IMMENSELY by just doing some homework into the art schools you're interested in..  get yourself out to the campus, ask students what they think of certain courses, see if the strengths of the school match your own, etc. My college was very good with traditional work, and notsomuch with digital. If I had done a bit more research and found that out earlier, I might have picked a different school. Still, I made due with what I had in front of me, and I think I learned a lot of great stuff, even though the school was far from the most renowned. Hell, I've said before.. the ideas behindEverafter and Living in Sin were both borne out of class assignments, haha.

But anyway, just do your homework. Be really hands-on. Find out what each school specializes in. Do you want to hone in on sequential art? Animation? Art for games, movies, what? Figure those things out first.

  Yes, college was a worthwhile experience for me, and I highly recommend it. There's something amazing about being around a ton of other artists from varying backgrounds. You can learn a helluva lot from your fellow students. Practically as much as you can learn from the teachers.

7. When in doubt, shut the hell up and draw.

I'm going to go ahead and take this advice now. |D Be seeing you folks. Hopefully this was helpful to somebody out there. And if not, well.. I owe you some minutes of your life back. AND YOU'RE NOT GETTING THEM.


My SDL team headquarters: The Gokiburi-gumi (Profiles, fanart and duel highlights.)

The Everafter webcomic: Outdated.
© 2011 - 2023 Endling
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