So youre a kid looking down at your anime or comic characters and wondering why after a few years of doodling things arent looking like how you imagine them in your head. Or maybe youre a college student whos wondering why the colours in your paintings arent coming out right. Maybe youre an older fellow or lady whos dabbling in art and youre having trouble with drawing hands. Whoever you are and whatever your problem, you all have something in common;
You want to get better at representational art.
Here on deviantart its often the case where a noobie will ask a question and another noobie will answer with the very uninspired answer of "practice practice practice." At its core this advice is sound, but the noobie-teacher has just regurgitated what he or she has heard a thousand times over from other would-be noobie-teachers and has not expressed much else. Diligence is the key, but without a direction or goal this diligence might be wasted furiously doodling things that will neither improve your skills nor expand your creativity. In what will hopefully be a concise guide to getting better at art, Ill go through WHY youre having difficulties, how to improve and share the defining ideas and principles that helped me learn. Im not a pro, and everyone has their own way of learning, so please critically consider what I say.
Identifying the problem:---
Why was Michelangelo able to paint the way he did, why are there professional artists and even enthusiasts that make it seem so easy while youre struggling to just get a pose right? Ive been there, Ive struggled over and over on a single face or pose or scene and wondered why it looked nothing like the wondrous images in my imagination. Its frustrating. So whats the problem? The problem is that while we may say that weve been drawing for years the truth is weve never really bothered to LEARN while we drew. We were content with recycling what was already in our head: drawing from imagination the same characters and poses over and over and over. That is NOT how you improve. We never took a large portion of our time to draw what was around us and soak up how the world actually looks. This applies to how an arm looks/what muscles are underneath, how form and lighting really behaves, what colours really look like, anything. How could we expect to progress when we were closing our eyes and our minds to the world? The general rule is that if you never introduce anything new to your mind or your drawing experience, nothing new will come out of it.
From anime to comics to any style of representational art under the sun, they all come from the same source: real life. The reason we recognize an anime face is because its based off a real face. The reason we see a fantasy sunset as such is because its based off a real sunset. No matter how exaggerated the features or dynamic the light, all of it has a basis in real life.
How to go about improving:---
So weve figured out the fact that we cant draw well is because weve been neglecting to study real life. Now comes time for the actual action. But simply looking at life and trying to remember the features of say, a nude body will not do. We humans learn from repetition and everyone who draws a good face has drawn many from life. Thats the root of it all:
Draw from life.
If you want to get better at drawing poses, draw people posing. NOT from imagination, remember thats just a rehashing of your old ideas. Learn from drawing a friend sitting down, a picture you see on the internet, anything. There is more to it than that though. If you mindlessly doodle away youre not learning much. You have to focus your efforts in accurately observing your subject. Dont inject anime into it (at first at least) and refrain from taking liberties when youre just staring out. Your job is to draw and soak up how the thing REALLY looks. Drawing accurately is tough though, we werent meant to be organic cameras. This is a problem since when I was first starting out I noticed very little improvement until I learned how to draw from life accurately. So to progress, we need to accurately observe, so how to we accurately observe?
The key is to measure with your eyes.
This can mean using your pencil to measure your subject. This way I personally feel too mechanical and takes away from the spirit of observation. I measure with my eyes. How to do it is to try to compare the sizes and shapes of some objects or features in your subject to other features. An example would be looking at the width of a persons eye and comparing it to the width or length of their nose. By referring these shapes and distances to each other, its much easier to come about an accurate drawing. As a general rule, work from large shapes to small, dont render out an eye then move onto the nose. Start with the general shape and size of the head compared to the neck and shoulders, then work inward, making sure to check and double check that features line up.
After proceeding like this for a while, I noticed an improvement in my overall drawing ability. I was soaking up this new information and applying it in my other drawings. There was another problem though: Things looked flat, and I couldnt create things in perspective. This is where another key idea comes into play:
Planes are the flat geometric shapes that make up a 3d form. A side of a square is a plane. If you shine a light on that cube, you would see that depending on how much a certain plane is facing towards the light, it will appear lighter or darker. A plane on the side of the light source will be lighter than one facing away. There are subtle variations on the light and dark as well, as maybe the top of the cube could be lighter or darker than the side facing the light. This use of planes to trace over a 3d form helps in ALL areas of art. Everything that is 3d can be turned into planes. The key is to think in 3 dimensions within your drawing. Think about how a nose pushes OUT into 3d space while the cheeks slide away and recede. It takes practice, but this is the most important thing in creating depth.
Stay away from tutorials:---
What?! You say, but tutorials are there to help us learn! Yes they are, and certain tutorials for things like how to use a program, how to create a webpage and any other clear-cut step-by-step activity are generally helpful. Art tutorials are often harmful. But why? Because not only are the people creating the tutorials (at least on deviant art) not qualified enough to create them, but they restrict your learning. They make you think in terms of formulas as if this is the only way to shade hair or eyes always look like this. if you start using tutorials for your learning you run the risk of copying the tutorials creators way of making art. Life is the best tutorial.
There are of course exceptions to this; many tutorials are more guides than anything and discuss general principles such as light, motion etc. Here's an example of a very good general art tutorial: www.itchstudios.com/psg/art_tu…
These are helpful in making you understand certain aspects of art. Keep an eye out for tutorials that get too specific; these are to be avoided.
Simple enough isnt it? The more you know about the world, about art that has come before, about history, science, anything, the more you will be able to draw upon. Creativity draws from your well of knowledge, and so the more you know, the more your creativity can grow. Learning about the tribal practices of an ancient tribe or about how a certain aspect of biology works can influence and inspire you in unexpected ways. Subjects and shapes you see from old machinery or weaponry can help you imagine other novel shapes. Art from the past can teach you more about dramatic lighting and direction than anything else.
Be open to critique:---
Part of the reality of being an artist is knowing that there will always be someone (and most often, a large group of people) who is better than you. Knowing this is inspiring though, since anyone who knows or has experienced more than you can become a potential temporary teacher. Ask someone you admire or someone whos artwork you like to critique a particular piece of yours. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes will detect things in 2 minutes that youve failed to see with your hours of work. Dont feel like its a personal attack, be happy that this person pointed out something that would have remained hidden to you forever; your knowledge has increased because this person has helped you.
Thats about it. This guide has kept away from many of the basic principles of art and specific techniques mainly because it's only a directional aid: you now know that you must practice filling your visual library through studies, measure accurately to ensure that information is being absorbed, and learn planes as it's one of the most important principles in art bar none. From here, you can choose to study what you wish.
There are of course certain unchanging principles in art, but for the most part the best way to learn is on your own. No matter if you are in an art program or going it alone, your art education is in your hands. The harder you work the better youll be, so best get started