[Disclaimer: I acknowledge the following statements are merely opinions and it is completely fine if you disagree with any of them. I'm merely hoping you'll find my journal informative and inspiring.]
If you're wondering how to improve as an artist, the answer is...
Practice, of course! But, I've also come to understand that the attitude we bring towards improving is almost as equally important, if not more important. I say this because it is our attitude and mindset which may determine whether we are "in the mood" to practice or not, and of what subjects we're willing or limiting ourselves to practice.
I believe a lot of artists may feel they are not getting much better at art and feel frustrated because they've been drawing intensely for months or years. Some may have actually improved noticeably but won't let themselves recognize it because it's not good according to their standards or expectations. Or some may have actually not improved much because they have become accustomed to a particular style or method which they have settled into which didn't give them much room for growth. Although there are countless other reasons why an artists might not have improve as much as they'd like, I'd argue that a change in attitude could lead to quicker improvement as an artist.
I probably don't need to tell you what kind of attitude it would be best to adopt, as I'm sure you intuitively know what to strive for. But simply visualizing having an exceptional attitude towards art can help a lot. Put yourself in the place of someone who has the most enthusiastic, positive, and ideal attitude towards his or her own art and is set on learning and getting better. How does it feel to be in their shoes? How would their attitude influence their perspective on their own art and their decisions? How does their enthusiasm help them practice? What subjects would they be interested in studying? Would there be any limit to what they'd like to learn?
If you've read this far, chances are there's at least some part of you which believes you have the capacity to improve, and it is that part of you which you must nurture. If you believe you can improve, then realize it's coming from a place which wants you improve and it is cheering you on. Let the following become your truth and foundation:
You want to improve. You can improve. And, with effort, you will improve.
If you can make this declaration to yourself, really feeling it and internalizing it, then it will be significantly easier to follow up with adhering to some basic guidelines:
1. Realize the benefits of studying figure drawing
Although the kind of subjects to study and practice depends on the genre and style(s) you're looking to adopt, one of the most tried and true methods to improving in most areas of art is figure drawing. Now, if you never ever ever ever want to draw people, and only landscapes or abstract/surreal art, this may be an exception. But note that studying the human figure and its anatomy can be the training grounds for getting a good handle on shading/values, perspective, proportions, textures, composition, and coloring (let me know if I left anything out) – each of which can apply to drawing pretty much anything. Besides, drawing humans correctly and drawing them well is one of if not the greatest challenge for any artist, and to have a good grasp on figure drawing will likely indicate the artist is well versed in many aspects of creating art, not to mention serve to boost the artist's confidence.
That said, if for some reason figure drawing is not your thing, then choose what it is you wish to study in order to improve but take that subject seriously and study it until you understand it down to its most basic elements. Which brings us to our next guideline...
2. Research and explore your subject
Whether it's reading a biology book to understand the internal structure of organisms, or reading a book about geology to understand how mountains and different rock formations are formed, or going on a trip to study nature, or whatever it is you're wanting to improve look into it! We are extremely fortunate to have the internet's search engines at our disposal to obtain information or find resources which give us the ability to educate ourselves about practically anything! When you understand the nitty gritty facts of what something is composed of and how it is built, it may drastically improve your artistic portrayal of it.
3. Know your medium
This probably should've been the first guideline because it applies to every artist in general: learn about the tools you have at your disposal and learn them well! This varies across the different art forms, but the principle is the same. The more you know about your pencil/paints, paper/canvas, or tablet/software, the more tools and options you'll have access to in order to create the kind of art you want to create. Obviously I don't expect anyone to have a complete understanding of any particular medium (heck, I don't even know everything Photoshop is capable of), but I'm just throwing out there that it is important to be aware of the conveniences and techniques available to you which may make your creative process easier and more enjoyable.
4. Don't be afraid to experiment
Sometimes the best way to learn something new is to experiment with different techniques. One of the best things, in my experience, has been to discover new ways of painting or composing new pieces. And, sometimes I'll try taking on a new approach towards an art piece but end up feeling really frustrated throughout the entire process. The point is, by trying different approaches, styles, techniques, etc. we learn what works best for us.
Find a reference of a subject you're interested in getting better at (figures, portraits, landscapes, etc.) and do your best to recreate it. It doesn't have to be an exact replica in the end, but the point is to work that particular subject into your memory so that you understand it well enough to create something like it from your imagination in the future. Practice often – at least an hour every day if you really want to improve!
Finally, remember it's OK to be hard on yourself, in fact, I think it's important to be critical about your own work. But DON'T hate yourself for making mistakes. At times you may feel angry and frustrated for not being as good as you want to be, and this is completely natural. But realize that emotions/feelings cannot control your actions, nor do they say anything about what you are capable of. You have the power to take a deep breath and look at things objectively. If you find yourself in a self-hating mood, just remember: "You want to improve. You can improve. And, with effort, you will improve." Look at your weaknesses as lightly as possible and put that on your list of things to study.
So, that's all the advice I'll offer for now. But before I bid all you adieu, I'd like to share with you a few great resources which really helped me improve my attitude and discipline towards getting better at art.
1. DEVELOPING DISCIPLINE
- The Crimson Daggers
The Crimson Daggers Livestream Channel
David Rapoza (Founder) and his daily study livestreams has been a substantial source of inspiration, information, and encouragement for me to improve as an artist and develop the discipline required to do so. There was a period when I did an hour-long study every day and listened to one of his daily broadcasts on Livestream, and let me tell you, it was SO HELPFUL and entertaining to study with one of his archived shows running in the background. I highly recommend learning about his philosophy and adopting a daily, hour-long study routine for yourself if you can.
2. RECOMMENDED BOOKS
These are books which cover the following core fundamentals of illustration that have been recommended to me:
- Perspective: Vanishing Point by Jason Cheesman-Meyer
- Anatomy: Any/All books by Andrew Loomis and George Bridgman. Also, Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton.
- Lighting and Color: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist and Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney
- Composition: Mastering Composition: Techniques and Principles to Dramatically Improve Your Painting by Ian Roberts
3. FREE VIDEO TUTORIALS
- Feng Zhu's School of Design
FENG ZHU'S SCHOOL OF DESIGN VIDEO TUTORIALS
An amazing resource covering the fundamentals of creating concept art using a tablet and Photoshop (although the theory discussed can be useful to anyone).
Another website with tutorials about doing digital painting with Photoshop. I have just begun watching/reading the tutorials offered and will provide a summary about what is offered once I am through.
I don't expect many people to read my entire journal, but if you have, I'm glad you were interested in what I had to say, and good luck with your artwork and reaching your goals! I hope my words helped!