When I was younger I made a habit out of eye-balling and tracing images from series I loved, like Sailor Moon and Pokemon. Doing that helped my mind, eyes and hand to get used to the shapes and the movements needed to recreate that peculiar style I was drawing. After quite some time my mind and my hands were able to remember what my eyes couldn’t see, and I started drawing fan arts without relying on pre-existing images. Still, my drawings were less than average, the anatomy was far too awkward and I barely had a few crayons to paint my “masterpieces”. I was happy with my art, I won’t lie, but I wanted more.
Some people suggest that we should pick an anatomy book and learn from it. It’s a very good piece of advice but how does an 8-year-old get a hold of an anatomy book? My parents considered that drawing was just a game for me, they didn’t know that such an uncontrollable passion was slowly growing inside of me, so they never really tried to nurture my artistic side nor provide me with any resources to help me along the way, but considering we had just about enough to pay for the bills and the food, I don’t blame them for not helping me develop my skills. Truth be told, even if I had been given a book I highly doubt I would have been able to learn anything, not sure about yours but my brain wasn’t ready for the world back then.
Due to the lack of resources and the slow pace at which my skills were developing, I stopped drawing on a daily basis for a couple of years. When I was old enough I stumbled upon deviantART and the vast amount of possibilities it offered painted my world a different colour. I picked the drawing habit back up and started browsing through the galleries and reading all the tutorials I found. In the beginning I felt everything was going just about fine, tutorials were helping me a lot especially while learning how to use certain art programs like Photoshop (and Paint Tool SAI later on) or learning the very basic aspects of drawing in manga style. But after a while I started feeling as though the tutorials weren’t helping me as much anymore, I could easily draw this and that but whenever I tried something different I’d find myself struggling hard and eventually failing.
Finding these hard-to-surpass obstacles in the way made me feel like I did when I was 8 years old, like I was back at the start. It was frustrating. However, my brain was a bit more prepared for the world now, and it managed to do what I couldn’t: find learning opportunities.
One of the things that I consider to be one of the first learning opportunities I encountered on deviantART were the critiques I received from different deviants in my works. Some were soft some were harsh and I didn’t want to take any. Who were they to say my work wasn’t good enough or that it had flaws? That’s a very common response to criticism and everyone who genuinely wants to keep learning should stop taking it personally. I subconsciously applied their critiques into my work and, what do you know? They were right. My work looked better even though my ego was hurt.
Accepting critiques on your work allows you to see what your eyes don’t recognize as a flaw. It’s important to get help from other people to see what your weak points are and how you can overcome them! It might hurt to think you didn’t do it perfectly but in the end it will be worth it. If people don’t critique your work and you’d like to have someone tell you what you could have done better, join one of the many Critique Night events hosted in the chats!
A similar version of critiques is asking a knowledgeable friend to help you out with your pieces. You could consider it to be like a version of a beta-reader but for drawings. It’s very common to show your piece to a friend of yours that is more experienced in art and ask them to point any flaws out and draw over your work with a red line to show you how you ought to fix said issue. Comparing both works will let you see why your version didn’t work and it will give an insight on how it should be done next time. Since you’re talking with a friend, you’ll feel more comfortable knowing that they’re not trying to make you feel bad.
This can also be done with someone who is not a friend, during one of those critique night events I asked Rahll to help me out with a drawing I was struggling with, and he was kind enough to help me with all the flaws in my work and shared some valuable tips and tricks with me. We became friends after that and I consider him to be one of my biggest inspirations in art. Don’t be afraid to ask other people for help, you already have the no, so you don’t lose anything by asking! Don’t miss out on any chance to learn!
Now that I’ve been on deviantART for so long being permanently surrounded by art, my brain has yet again started doing something I wasn’t conscious of: analyzing art. From a couple of years ago I stopped just appreciating art to also learn from it. When you find an incredible work that baffles you, take the time to actually look at the piece beyond its appeal, analyze each stroke, each detail, notice how the artist made something and ask yourself “How did the artist do that?” Furthermore, ask yourself “Why did the artist do that?” Try to figure out the answer to those questions by just looking at their art and you’ll be able to step forward at a faster pace!
Not only can you learn from looking at other people’s art, but you can and definitely should learn from looking at reality. Look around you, but look beyond what you see! Notice how the branches of the trees are placed in the tree, how the leaves are attached to them, how foliage casts a shadow over other leaves, how light passes through it creating dappled light on the ground…etc. There’s just so much you can learn if only you take the time to observe and understand nature!
Observe your body, observe other people’s bodies, notice how shadows are cast due to the different shapes of the body. Figure out why your character’s arm looks awkward by looking at yourself in the mirror doing the same pose. Look at the bones and the muscles, see how they move, where they are placed, what shapes they create underneath the skin or how their visibility is altered if your character puts on or loses weight. Understand the body in order to draw the body!
You can do this by looking at your surroundings, like anatomy, buildings’ perspective and landscapes, but you can also help yourself understand them better by reading books about those topics. Books are a major source of knowledge and you ought to make good use of them! I’m no longer 8 years old, I can find anatomy books in the library or the store, my brain is now capable of reading through them and understanding what is written in the book and my hands are desperate to put all this knowledge to practice!!
Remember, seize all the learning opportunities you come across, it will benefit your skills and your capacity to spot and fix mistakes and flaws in your art.
Do your best!!