A big part of getting better at your craft is learning how to learn. It can be frustrating if you work very hard on your art, yet you never seem to make much progress. However, with some focused effort, you can turn it around and improve by leaps and bounds in a way you never thought possible.
STEP 1: Decide
The first step is to decide what aspect of your art you want to improve. Now if your answer to that is "EVERYTHING!", hold on for a moment. You can't improve everything at the same time.
You have to pick ONE small aspect. Be specific. "I want to get better at drawing characters" is too broad. "I want to learn how to construct better faces on my characters" is a much better goal.
STEP 2: Research
Now that you have decided on your goal, you need to do research. If you are not as good as you want to be, that means you have a gap in your understanding. In order to fix it, you need new information. If you simply keep practicing without new information, you won't get any better.
Look online for the best tutorials that you can find on the subject. Bookmark them, and study them closely.
Find photo references. If you can't draw something well, that means you don't really know what it looks like. Make sure you understand your subject from all angles. Even if you want to draw a stylized version, you still need to know what it's supposed to look like in real life.
Find your inspiration. Look for art pieces by other people who have done well in the area you're trying to get better at. Use these pieces not to copy, but rather to compare your work and to see how close you are getting to the skill level you want.
STEP 3: Homework
So you've done your research, but you're not done yet! Here comes the most boring part, but it's also where you will make the real progress. It's time to do your homework!
Go through those tutorials and follow along with them. Don't just read them, do all the steps and draw your version of the tutorial result.
Once you've drawn the result, compare your drawing to the tutorial. Is it just as good? If not, try again! See if you can do it better the second time.
Keep doing this until you can draw it just as well as the tutorial version, or at least until you have made significant progress and you can draw it better than your first version.
STEP 4: Apply
Now you've done your homework, so it's time to apply those newfound skills to art of your own!
Go ahead and make your art. Be sure to keep those reference photos on the side, and make it the best possible piece you can do.
After you finish your piece, compare your result to your art inspiration. Is it just as good? If not, what is that person doing differently from you? Maybe their lines are more polished? See if you can fix your piece and match the quality.
If you don't get there all the way, that's okay too. You can use it to set your next goal of what to improve about your art.
STEP 5: Get feedback
So you've made your new piece, and if you've done all these steps, it might just be your best piece yet! Now it's time to show it to the world, and the next scary step; get feedback.
Post your work on a forum and ask for feedback on the specific thing you practiced. People are not always inclined to help you, but if you are specific, it's easier for them to reply.
You may get some comments you are not happy about. Just take a breather, and realize two things:
- They are only trying to help.
- They may be right.
So before you get defensive, simply ask yourself the question: what if they are right? And if they are right, what can I do to make my piece better?
STEP 6: Fix it
Depending on your medium, this step may not be possible. But if you can, apply the feedback to your piece. It may be disheartening to go back and work on a finished piece, but it's another opportunity to improve your art skills.
STEP 7: Repeat
Congratulations! If you made it through all these steps, your art is now better than it was before. The next step is to simply decide on the next aspect to improve, and repeat the whole process!
The great thing about this approach is that you can get noticeably better with every single piece you make. Sure, doing all that research will take some time. But if you go for quality over quantity, in the end, you will be much happier with your art.