10 Top Tips To Become a Better Artist

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Old 06 June 2009   #1
10 Top Tips To Become a Better Artist

10 Top Tips To Become a Better Artist

To become a better artist takes years of dedication, passion, energy and time. There are no short cuts but here are some art tips to send you in the right direction. I hope you enjoy what I have wrote here and look forward to the community's response.

Tip 1: Learn the Importance of the Sketch

Sketching is one of those things that every artist MUST do and do often. Sketches don't have to be perfect, nor do you have to show them to anyone. They can be as rough or as scratchy as you like but the thing to keep in mind is it's readability. The purpose of a sketch is to quickly illustrate or develop an idea you have, to capture or study some form of reference so that it can be worked on at a latter date. Because of this, the sketch only needs to convey the right information to you and you alone (unless you are drawing an idea out for a client then the message needs to be crystal clear).

Tip 2: Draw, Draw and Draw Some More!

This is a similar tip to the first but what I mean by this is draw anything that comes to mind or visually interests you. Sketch on the bus, train, in bed and even on the toilet. Seriously! The more you draw from your mind and from reference, the better you will become and the quicker your skills will develop. Take the time to doodle lots of different subjects and in lots of different environments as this will all help build up a mental cataloge of images to draw upon latter when you may become stuck for ideas or inspiration.

Tip 3: Build a Reference Library

This is a great tip that I learned from years back. As you begin to fill sketch books with illustrations of ideas and reference material, you should build up that stack of books with more books. By this I mean buying art books, books on clothing, guns, tanks, other cultures, animals etc. The list of what you should look into is endless and should extend beyond your general interests. But it mustn't stop there. You should also collect images off of the internet and save them to your computer and organize them correctly. Take photos of things you see if you don't have time to sketch them. The purpose is to have a nice big collection of images that inspire you, inflame your imagination and, more specifically, if you need to draw something right, having the material there to draw from will add realism and clarity to your work.

Tip 4: Explore Different Mediums

This is when you take an idea from sketch to final painting. Exploring other methods of creating that end piece can really yield some unexpected results and challenge you to push yourself further into new situations. Playing with different types of paints such as oil, acrylic, water colour or gouache are the options most people would suggest trying, but there is more than experimenting with these. You could try air brushing, pastels, using charcoal or taking the leap into the digital realm. All these different mediums have their strengths that you can harness but you will never know them unless you try them out.

Tip 5: Learn Some Colour Theory (At Least)

This is a big one. Colour theory is a massive, massive subject and I can't do it justice here. What I would strongly suggest is investing time and money in a good colour theory book and learn from that. Even learning only a little bit, will help your work massivley. The more you push yourself to learn, the better and better you will become.

Tip 6: Play With Perspective

Now, by this I don't mean completely bend the fabric of reality or attempt to mimic the works of M C Esher (but looking at his work couldn't hurt). No! What I mean is take the time to learn about vanishing points, 2 point and 3 point perspectives and how to create objects in three dimensions correctly. As this is just a tip, I'm not going to go into the details here but there are numerous books and places on the web that cover this important area. Learning the rules of perception will open up the possibilities of what you can draw and will broaden your artistic horizons greatly.

Tip 7: Hunt Down Your Artistic Weaknesses & Destroy Them!

I was told this by an incredibly exceptional artist called Chet Zar. This tip is something you should approach regularly and be really tough and honest with your self. By knowing what your not good at artistically and making a conscious effort to attack it (them, could be lots of things), will enable you to systematically grow. For instance, if you draw a lot of humans but avoid drawing feet because you know your not that good at it, set aside time to draw lots of feet, over and over again until they look right (just be sure not to get a foot fetish). This links to a previous tip I did of Draw, Draw and Draw Some More! Drawing things that you don't draw often or at all will increase your repertoire and will enable you to paint and illustrate more complex pictures.

Tip 8: Ask For Help & Critiques

I heard this one from numerous sources and I have to say that this is something you don't have to do all the time. Joining online art communities and forums will give you access to professionals who do know their stuff and can really help you improve, but having thick skin is advised. At one point or another, you will get some harsh and unfair comments but that is the risk of being an artist who puts art out for viewer consumption. Never be afraid to ask for help.

Tip 9: Develop an Original Style

Ah, a real tough one this as developing your own style takes time and experimentation. By exploring lots of little different mediums and genres, you'll soon get to know what you like and how you like to do things. Over time, by doing things the way you want and in the subconscious way you approach a painting, a style will emerge that will be recognizable and more importantly, it will be your style.

Tip 10: Learn to Accept Failure as a Positive Thing.

Possibly one of the most important lessons an artist (or almost any professional) can learn. Not every picture you create will come out looking the way you wanted it too and the same goes with any experiment to try out. There is no such thing as a bad result... there are just results. Learning to take something positive out of everything you do will change the way you look at you next piece and how you approach it. If something doesn't work or you don't like it, don't do it again or use it as a bench mark to launch yourself from in your next piece.

So, I hope that that is enough information to digest and apply into practice.
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Old 06 June 2009   #2
I don't know if I agree that one should try hard to develop an original style. Most artists I know didn't develop an original style by aiming at it. It's usually something that just happens as you become more confident as an artist. It's actually kind of hard for a good artist to not have a unique look, as being a good artist typically also means to have gotten beyond the stage of slavishly copying others or references. For most, a style of your style simply means you combine your foundational knowledge/studies with your various influences and your own experiences, and you naturally end up with your own style.

If I were to put together a top 10 list, it'll probably be somewhat different than yours, as I would place certain things in higher priority than those on your list.

Last edited by Lunatique : 06 June 2009 at 05:56 AM.
 
Old 06 June 2009   #3
What's stopping me? I'm afraid of never being a good artist. I start a picture, but I never finish it. I carry my sketchbook with me all the time. I open it up, but I just can't draw anything. The slightest pencil mark gets erased in an instant. When I do manage to manifest my idea into a sketch, it's just a rough one, but it's clear to me. I leave it and never visit it again. I get bored with drawing random things in the house. As if it's beyond me or something. I know I suck at drawing faces, and I'm limited to drawing a human in any pose I want to without ref. material. I have so many ideas in my head I can't ever focus long enough to draw anything solid. I jump back and forth between "projects" so much that I have nothing to show for any of my time spent "drawing". Why am I rambling? Oh, I always hear "draw! draw! draw!". What exactly should I be drawing? Lunatique had an example of studying a Loomis book on a thread around here. Something about setting goals to do 15 drawings from the book a week or something. That sounds worth while. I just hate that I spend more time staring at the blank pages of my sketchbook longer than I do drawing. I'm full of ideas, but I can't let them out. Does this happened to artist?
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Old 06 June 2009   #4
Victor - You can't let that stop you. You might feel frustrated because it's a catch 22 situation. You can't produce good works without practice, but practicing to get really good takes a very long time, and you want the gratification of producing good works now, as you have tons of ideas but not the ability to execute them. I know how that feels. I felt like that in my early stages of learning and growing as well. I still feel like that now sometimes when a very hard to execute idea comes my way and I'm not getting the look I want.

There really is no shortcut. It's exactly like playing an instrument. You might hear a killer guitar solo melody in your head that you want to play, but you just started learning guitar and has neither the muscle memory or the fretboard knowledge to execute the solo, yet you badly want to rock out and feel that gratification of playing that killer solo, blasting your amp so the windows shake. Without the knowledge and the practice all you do now is make a lot of obnoxious noise that sounds like a guitar dying of a horrible disease--there's no musicality at all. The only way to get there is to pay your dues. Practice whenever you have free time, do it for hours, weeks, months, years, and one day, it'll happen.

So many people have ideas, but only a fraction of those people pay their dues to learn how to execute their ideas. The rest just remain fans of those who have learned how, and every year that goes by they lament the time they've wasted not learning how to do it themselves.
 
Old 06 June 2009   #5
Robert,
The reasons for my frustration and lack of production are quite clear now. I may have stated them above, but you put it in simpler terms. Thanks. What you said about those that "do" and the fans is so true. In high school when I wanted to get into comics, people would say that it was a hard business to get into. I said this then, and I still say this today. There may be tons and tons of artist. An overwhelming number actually. Still, only a small fraction of them are actually working in comics, because they paid their dues as you say. What I'm saying is that to someone who is afraid by the fail rate of a given field such as comics, they need to realize that though many are interested in becoming pros, only some are actually trying. Thanks.


This is almost a therapy session. Send my bill to CG.
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Old 06 June 2009   #6
Smile

Originally Posted by Lunatique: I don't know if I agree that one should try hard to develop an original style. Most artists I know didn't develop an original style by aiming at it. It's usually something that just happens as you become more confident as an artist. It's actually kind of hard for a good artist to not have a unique look, as being a good artist typically also means to have gotten beyond the stage of slavishly copying others or references. For most, a style of your style simply means you combine your foundational knowledge/studies with your various influences and your own experiences, and you naturally end up with your own style.

If I were to put together a top 10 list, it'll probably be somewhat different than yours, as I would place certain things in higher priority than those on your list.


You know what, I agree with what you have said. Nicely spoken.

Just so you know, my list isn't ranked by priority but with that said, what would be in your top 10?
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Old 06 June 2009   #7
My top 10 tips would be:

1) Buckle down and really learn the foundations (composition, perspective, anatomy/figure, color theory, values/lighting...etc). You cannot really call yourself a competent artist until you have done so. Ideally you should not only learn them, but master them, and when you do, you're not merely competent, but confident and authoritative as well. This doesn’t just apply to beginners, but also advanced and professional artists as well. Many experienced artists have glaring weaknesses—for example, an artist may be great at inanimate objects and landscapes, but his anatomy and figure is lagging far behind. We could all gain from strengthening our foundation knowledge and skills, and I definitely have my own weaknesses I need to work on.

2)
Break out of tunnel vision. If you are obsessed with anime/manga, superhero comics, photo-realism, or any kind of specific style and have not been exposed to or have explored fully other art movements, styles, cultures, and time periods, then you need to become more well-rounded. Tunnel-vision is creatively crippling and it breeds imitation and homogenized artists who can't think outside the established box. Cross pollinating and hybridizing various art styles and influences is the healthiest and most creatively interesting.

3) Don't be a mindless artist. Think about why you are creating. Is your only interest to make "cool shit" and "hot babes"? Do you even have something to say as a human being living in a complex society? Is everything about your creative works completely disposable and meaningless? If you are only serving the basest level of gratification, never involving the higher motivations like intellect or emotions, then maybe it's time to dig a little deeper. You have a soul--use it. This isn’t just about being “deep”—it’s about quality. For example, the difference between crass and shallow sci-fi/fantasy/horror films and cinematic masterpieces is usually in how much heart and soul the creators poured into the writing.

4) Don't slavishly copy reality--we invented the camera for that. As artists, we have the power to stylize, exaggerate, simplify, selectively detail, idealize, use abstract and surreal approaches--it would be a shame to not utilize those powers. I'd rather see works that have obvious artistic footprints left by the artist, than works that could be mistaken for photographs. Artists like John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, Richard Schmid, Gustav Klimt, Nicolai Fechin...etc are far more interesting to me than artists whose works are so uptight and rendered to death that all the expressiveness, spontaneity, and life has been snuffed out. (If your job requires photo-realism, then a job is a job, but what about your personal works?)

5) Surface polish is the last thing you should worry about. Loose or tight brushwork, sketchy or clean lines—they’re simply options you choose from to match different subject matters. Much more important is the underlying structure and foundation knowledge. Surface polish is an ongoing experiment, and it's always changing and evolving. A good artist should be able to utilize all kinds of surface treatment approaches effectively, not just locked into one and knowing nothing else. Experiment often with different mediums and styles the way chefs experiment with different cooking ingredients. Doing so, you'll naturally gain insight into how each is best used and then be able to deploy whatever technique that suits the image you're working on.

6) Do not simply practice hard--you must also practice smart. Merely filling up sketchbooks aimlessly with doodles is not smart. You must target your weaknesses and not dwell on things you can already do in your sleep. Be scientific about it. Treat it like a science experiment with a structured plan that attacks the problem efficiently with purpose. Analyze failures. Avoid wasting time on things that don’t serve an obvious purpose. Observe, deconstruct, and recognize the structures and patterns--be it the scientific physical laws of our world (light, shadows, colors, stress and compression points of fabric...etc), or creative approaches that yield the most effective results (utilizing contrast in color, values, and shapes, varying edge qualities…etc).

7)
Have realistic expectations; Rome was not built in a day. It takes years of working hard and working smart to get good. Filling up a sketchbook or two means nothing in the grand scheme of things—it takes so much more. Artists don't just draw a few dozen heads and then get it right--they draw hundreds and thousands over the years, decades, and they don't do it mindlessly--they are studying the underlying bone structure and muscle shapes, the effects of various facial expressions, lighting conditions, age, the idiosyncrasies of race…etc. And that's just the human head. The journey to becoming a good artist is in reality more like a lifelong journey of creative fulfillment.

8)
Learn to take criticism. An artist living among other people will get comments, and if you cannot take criticism you will be miserable. Treat criticism as valuable arsenal for your growth. When you get both negative and positive comments, you should be grateful and behave graciously. A bruised ego is an ego that's being conditioned to be stronger and more open-minded. If you cannot see beyond your bruised ego, you will become crippled by it. As a beginner, you may not get very helpful critique other than “keep learning your foundations,” and this is because at your level, everything you do is wrong. Keep learning the foundations and you’ll automatically improve.

9) Be a well-rounded person. Learn about the world we live in--history, politics, religion, economics, science, literature, music, photography, film...etc. You'd be surprised how the world is interconnected and so many things have direct or indirect relationships with each other beyond your initial understanding. The more insight you have about the world we live in, the better artist you will be. Maintain healthy relationships, since family, friends, and lovers often form the core of our emotional expression as human beings and as artists. An intellectually and emotionally sterile or vacant person will have very little to offer as an artist. Being close-minded, ignorant, and disconnected is nowhere near as fulfilling as being open-minded, knowledgeable, and connected.


10)
You may or may not be suited to become a good artist. There are all kinds of personality types, and not all are suited to become a good artist. If you are impatient, cannot sit still, lose focus quickly, easily frustrated, lack motivation, lack ambition, cannot take negative criticism, wants only instant gratification and not willing to pay your dues...etc, then you probably won't fare well as an artist. This goes the same for many other human endeavors--not only the creative ones.

Human beings are not created equal physically or mentally, and we have different potentials and different degrees of natural inclination for certain endeavors. Whether you have the natural inclination to be good at art may or may not dictate whether you'll become a good artist--it's your willingness to learn and excel and your ability to persevere through hardship that is the most important. More than anything, you must be able to enjoy the process of learning and growing. If you hate every step of the way, then maybe you love the idea of being an artist but your personality dictates you are not suited to actually be an artist. Remember, wanting something and being suited for it is often not the same thing.

It's like how some people watch dancers on stage and wish they can do it, and they love shaking their ass to the beat--they feel good doing it. But once they look into actually becoming a competent or professional dancer, they lose the will to go on because the demanding physical training and the relentless pursuit for perfection that pushes their body and mind to the breaking point is way too exhausting for their personality to deal with. In other words, they have the desire but not the personality for it. It's those that enjoy the demanding training and whose passion extends beyond merely the desire, but also embraces the demanding training and pushes on through pain and exhaustion to triumph over the odds--they are the ones who end up on stage. Becoming a good artist is very much the same. You must embrace the entire journey, through frustration, failures, sore eyes and cramping hands, long periods of no apparent progress, self-doubt and self-loathing, insecurities, overcome envy and jealousy over others' talents and achievements, and so on, to finally emerge as someone that others will look up to and label as a "good artist."

You have to not only have the desire but also the ability to persevere, or else remain a fan, a hobbyist, or pick something else that's more suited to your personality. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because you may actually end up a happier person by remaining a fan of good artists instead of trying to become one yourself, as being a fan does not require you to make sacrifices or go through years of anguish and frustration only to feel like a failure and nowhere near your goal. No one can tell you whether you can stick it out. You won't even know until you have reached your breaking point. Some people get a couple of years under their belt and have started to become competent, but not yet good enough, and then they stop for whatever reason. Some people get a few weeks into it and decide it's not as fun as they thought it would be. Some even get very close at becoming a good artist and then they stop because they feel they've had enough, or they have focused their attention on other endeavors in life (after all, no one ever said art is the most alluring endeavor in life—there are plenty of others like music, filmmaking, writing, cooking, martial arts…etc). There is no right or wrong in any of this--your life's journey is your own, and as long as you feel fulfilled as a human being, you're on the right track (well, unless your fulfillment involves harming others).

So that's pretty much my top 10 tips to becoming a good artist. Just about everything on the list is interchangeable with other endeavors in life. I really believe it to be true because I have gone through the journey to teaching myself to excel at multiple creative endeavors (art, writing, music, photography...etc), and those 10 tips apply to every one of them. Becoming good at something is not the end-all, be-all goal--it merely opens one of the doors to a life of fulfillment, and the journey continues well beyond merely becoming good at something. Once you become good at something, you try to master it, and on the journey to mastering something, you realize it's only a part of your entire life's journey that includes everything else in life--your growth as a human being--emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and the journey goes on until you die. Maybe it continues in the afterlife, but we won't know until we get there.

Last edited by Lunatique : 12 December 2009 at 06:04 AM.
 
Old 06 June 2009   #8
Robert - reading this was like watching "The 25th Hour". You see the character in an imagined world where he avoids going to jail. I read through your 10, and I saw myself in all those stages of just life in general. I'm realizing now, today actually, that this will be a life long journey for me and I may never reach an end. I'm ok with that, because I believe that one should never stop learning in life. There's too much in this world. In his essays, Marcus Aurelius urges his children and their children to refrain from being idle. We don't have the privalege of knowing how long we will be here. Imagine the tragedy it would be to outline the rest of your life. It's useless to think about all that. I'm just going to take it step by step. Yes, while reading your 10, I even saw myself as giving up. It just doesn't fit. I'm not looking for commercial success. She's a fickle mistress right? I just want to express and teach others what has been taught to me one day. Both of these list are a reality check. I hope others on are reading this. I know I'm not the only artist, if I'm even that, on here that is feeling or has felt that anguish and frustration.
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Old 06 June 2009   #9
I'm going to bookmark this thread.

Lets see, I need to do Lunatique's #1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9. I need to do shrunkendesigner's #4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10.

I've got this tunnel vision problem where all I do is creatures, so after my current project I'll do an "artist's reformat", and spend a year doing nothing but drawing, painting, and sculpting.
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Old 06 June 2009   #10
Thumbs up So will I!

Originally Posted by Hauzer: I'm going to bookmark this thread.

Lets see, I need to do Lunatique's #1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9. I need to do shrunkendesigner's #4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10.

I've got this tunnel vision problem where all I do is creatures, so after my current project I'll do an "artist's reformat", and spend a year doing nothing but drawing, painting, and sculpting.


Lunatique's top 10 is amazing. So eloquently written and so well thought out. I too will be book marking this page and dedicating my time to practicing what I preach and all of the other points listed here!
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Old 06 June 2009   #11
Talking You Sunk My Battle Ship!

Originally Posted by Lunatique: My top 10 tips would be:

1) Buckle down and really learn the foundations (composition, perspective, anatomy/figure, color theory, values/lighting...etc)... .


Well Robert, that is an incredible list of tips... I am bookmarking this to refer to this later!
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Old 06 June 2009   #12
This thread is very educational; and I have to say,Lunatique, you have so much knowledge! Every time I read your (inspirational) forum posts,I learn something new.

Cheers!
 
Old 06 June 2009   #13
Originally Posted by SergeantOreo: This thread is very educational; and I have to say,Lunatique, you have so much knowledge! Every time I read your (inspirational) forum posts,I learn something new.

Cheers!


I'm glad you guys are getting something out of my posts. I started this Art Techniques & Theories forum precisely to help out guys like you--people who are passionate and serious about becoming better artists and need some advice and pointers from more experienced artists. I'm still on my own artistic journey and I'm still learning and growing (hell, I'm only 36--so many years more ahead of me to learn and grow), but I think I've at least learned enough to be of help to beginning and intermediate artists.
 
Old 06 June 2009   #14
I have several ideas in my head but when it comes to reproducing it on paper I get jittery (especially while coloring). Most fo my work starts with blazing guns but I never manage to complete my work on time either. My final artwork shifts a great deal from my initial concept. And my weaknesses are the worst Perspective and Composition, which form the base of any artwork.

I will definitely keep in mind the pointers you gave while working on my next. I hope to do much more than portrait drawings.
 
Old 06 June 2009   #15
Originally Posted by Lunatique: .....

So many people have ideas, but only a fraction of those people pay their dues to learn how to execute their ideas. The rest just remain fans of those who have learned how, and every year that goes by they lament the time they've wasted not learning how to do it themselves.


This SO bears repeating!
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