Art is a process.
Like that of the scientific method and philosophical alchemy, art can be refined and improved through process. From observation, to experiment, to reflection and conclusion, art is improved by the steps we make towards change, not solidification and stagnation. Much of the advice out there for drawing is simply practice or avoid distractions. This advice is good, but there is more to creation than just throwing yourself mindlessly into a task and avoiding bad habits along the way. Good habits and knowledge will help to excel your learning process faster, and from that, improve faster and more effectively.
Look at it
As an artist, observation is key. The skill we develop is not just seeing, but interpreting what we see, remembering what we have seen and recording it in the form of visual art. This is a skill that, aside from blindness or vision degradation, you will be able to improve during your entire life. The way of seeing from an artist's eye never goes away. It can only improve.
When seeing, it is important to make note of what you are observing from a creative and technical standpoint. Am I looking at an interesting fabric texture to store away in my mind for later? Does this landscape have beautiful, flowing lines I could use in a comic? Should I note the way the sunlight hits these clouds and the hues they produce, and where? These are all important mental notes to make when seeing, as anything, from micro to macro can be seen and studied.
Take a picture
Is it interesting? Worth keeping and sharing? Record it on camera to save for later, if memory will not serve. (always remember to follow copyright rules, and respect people's privacy!) The photos don't have to be very good. I, personally will always take photos of my hands to draw. I find it nearly impossible otherwise. Photos can be used to record what memory can't, from fine detail, to exact colour. Building a steady collection of resources will give you something to go back to when you need help, or just inspiration to get past art block.
If possible, get grabby. Go to the fabric store. Touch everything they will let you. Touch wood. Touch stone. Touch plastic. Touch sharp metal. Touch rough things. Touch soft things. Remember them. Look at them. See their components. See what makes them what they are. Physically handling things gives you a stronger memory of them, and a better capacity to render things in 3D when you understand the proportions and mass of an object.
Play with it
Beyond touching that object, Lift it. Hold it. Swing it a bit. Find the centre of gravity. Learn what it is. What it's made of. What is the historical purpose of the object? Learn who invented it and why. Learn how that animal evolved. Learn where that style of architecture originated, and imagine how it might change or evolve in the future. Will it become defunct? Could it be used for something else? If you took it apart, what would you have?
Turn it over
If you are observing a landscape, or other large image, take a photo and turn that upside down. Working away from the brain's natural recognition of symbols is a significant way to improve. When we change what we are looking at from the recognizable to the unrecognizable, we stop seeing symbols (eye, nose, hair) and are able to see the abstract. We simply see light, dark, shape and colour. These are much more easy to reproduce with accuracy, without interference from our minds telling us, No, no, a nose must look like THIS!
Take your art supplies. Clean them. Clear up your workspace. Empty the garbage, go put the dishes away. Remove the used scrap paper, wipe the table clean. Brush or air-spray the dirt from your keyboard. Clean your mouse. The underside, too. Clean your tablet and stylus. Wash and condition your brushes. Clean your palate. Sharpen your pencils. Clean your eraser and your blending tools. Change your pen nib and clean the used ones. Organise your copics. Make note of any dead or missing colours. Replenish your paper supplies. The cheap stuff and the expensive stuff.
Maintain your space as you work and you will feel a level of stress lift from you. You will find your working more efficient and practical with a little bit of care and tidying.
take two or more reference or inspiration pictures. Place them next to each other. Observe. What do you like about each? What don't you like? How is the use of space in one? Are they using the same perspective? Does one stand out as superior in your mind? If so, why? Does the other have merits that the first does not?
Keep in mind that there is no perfect reference, or perfect inspiration. Some match what you imagine your drawing to be more than others, but one single reference need not be used for a drawing. Multiple images of multiple angles and lighting give more visual information when Seeing, and will again expand your artistic database. Observing more than what needs to be drawn will help to pull your drawings off of the page and keep them from looking flat and lifeless. To add life into a drawing, observe and report... life!
Also, make a mental note when comparing your artistic database to itself: is every image similar? Do you see overlap everywhere? Is it time to expand beyond what you currently hold now? Growth cannot exist without experimentation and exploration. When you see repetition in the art you love and the art you produce, it is time to try something new.
Look at your past work. Look at your present work. What have you improved on? What have you not-so improved on? What have you avoided working on for fear or frustration? (The skill of drawing hands won't magically manifest itself!) Ask why you made the colour choices you did. Has your knowledge improved since then? Does the piece convey to you the emotion or message you intended?
Ask yourself how you would change the piece if you started from the beginning. Ask what you would add if you kept working on it a bit more. Turn it upside down and ask what it looks like now. Ask why you feel it is one of you better / average / worst pieces. Ask how you feel right now when looking at it. Ask why you made the choices you did in what order. Ask how you are different from the art that inspires you. Ask how you are similar.
Be curious, be provocative with your art. Provoke a response within yourself to the questions of observation.
Draw in a different setting
If possible, pack up your supplies and move somewhere else to draw. Go outside in natural light. Switch from incandescent bulbs to halogen, or from halogen to incandescent. If you are able to move your working light source, move it.
You may notice that you tend to favour a certain light source direction or certain colour schemes in your drawings depending on what your actual lighting situation is like. Change it up and see what changes. Do you favour warm tones because you use an incandescent bulb? Do you compensate under the blue light of halogen? Is the lamp in front of you causing a heavy hand shadow? What if you moved it behind you, or rotated your table towards a window? Drawing outside can also help with observation under natural light. And fresh air never hurts.
You've rotated and flipped your reference to observe it, now flip your drawing. This can be used for both technical and creative improvement. It is not just necessary for accurate realistic reproduction. By flipping it, would you add an element to the composition? Is the placement on the page proper? Is the lighting direction what you really want?
Art never needs to be stagnant as a process. It can be a dynamic learning tool for your memory and senses. This can be applied to the process of drawing as well. You can apply all of your senses and knowledge to drawing, not just determination and practice.
Leave it for another day
If you become too frustrated, leave it. Rest your eyes. Do something else. Once you have observed, asked questions, flipped to check for symbol-based errors, and exhausted the process of observation, application and criticism, leave it. Let your mind not dwell on things that frustrate you. Determination is admirable, but exhaustion is unproductive. Do not procrastinate on those things that you find difficult, but instead allow yourself to work to the point that you cannot keep improving, then stop, rest, and return. You may have a new perspective or find a new method in the time between drawing as when you are currently creating. During your resting time, you may want to go Seeing, and try to find some answers.
Ask for help
Once you have asked these questions of yourself and your own work and your own personal process, invite the observation and opinion of others willing to give critique. This step can be scary and uncertain, because you have no control over what feedback you will receive. All you can do is attempt to have your art seen by those who are willing and able to provide effective feedback. Friends and fans may not be your best source for improvement, but neither will be those who choose mockery. Criticism that is too soft and gushing, or pointlessly rude should be given little attention, while focus should be placed on ideas and suggestions that you may not have thought of yourself. Gracefully accept comments and criticism, but know that they are only the opinions of others. What you create is ultimately up to you and you alone.
Pick up a ruler. Measure a piece of your reference. Note the size of the reference image. Adjust the measurement to the scale of your drawing. Now measure the same piece of your drawing. Do they match up? Is that arm the same length as your reference? Are those trees the same distance apart?
If you are exaggerating and stylizing your drawing, is your character uniform from different angles?
(If digital, simply use the proper function) take a few pieces of black or white paper. Systematically cover up parts of your drawing. Find a composition within the composition. Just the eye? Perhaps an abstract array of colour. Maybe a more dynamic way to display the character without too much empty space. Add more detail while the image is cropped. Or don't add detail, and look for various different crops within the image. This is part of the process of Seeing, and helps the brain remove clutter and only focus on what is necessary. You may find that you need far less visual information in an image than you are currently providing.
Last but not least, record your process, not just the finished product. Record those questions you have, those feelings and intuitions, those little tips you have learned, the feedback from others and the little things you want to remember. Art is a process, not just a product, and the process can be just as rewarding as anything that is produced. Your journal need not be public, it only needs to help remind you of where you came from and where you are going.
I wish everyone the best of luck on your artistic journey!
(This is my first news article, I hope I have submitted it correctly)