I’ve decided to write about art and illustration for a spell. I hope you don’t mind. I’m going to talk about the discipline behind the discipline mostly. For quick tips & references I have an “Art Better” Pinterest board.
If you want to stick with becoming a better artist over the long haul, though, study, research, and self-assessment are, in my experience, the core of what will support your efforts. Especially, when you are teaching yourself art. These are skills that have helped me develop my craft with efficiency and purpose. Here are some tips to get you started on honing these skills.
Study Your Art with Specificity
Study with specificity, and then expand your skillset. If you think you’ve started specific—say you just want to draw people–and still find yourself drawing torsos too short and feet too tiny, you have what are called skill gaps. You need to be even more specific to fill those gaps. Focus on how to draw feet. Focus on the proportions of the human body. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with that, you can zoom out again and work towards your larger goal of drawing the whole human figure.
Zooming in and out is a necessary skill. When you work to identify and work on a specific skill gap, you more quickly acquire information that can course correct any missteps along your overall learning path. This allows you to develop faster, stronger, and better retain that knowledge.
Research Your Art with Specificity
In order to study with specificity you must find material to study. This material can be books and magazines at the library or on Amazon, videos on YouTube or part of an online course, and articles on small blogs and popular websites. Finding all of this material takes research and finding relevant material takes research with specificity.
“How to draw well” is not as specific a google search as “how to draw a dog” which is still not as specific as “how to draw a cartoon dog”. To know what a real dog looks like, research photos of dogs for reference, zoom in on a specific breed to learn about its distinct features, and if you still end up with a drawing of a dog that looks odd somehow, zoom in again and research the anatomy of a dog, bone and muscle structure until you find what you’re missing.
Research de-mystifies art. It’s not all talent and it’s certainly not magic. Research provides an understanding for what you are doing, and that understanding acts as scaffolding to build your skills higher and higher.
Have Honest Self-Assessments about Your Art
Studying and researching will not help if you aren’t honest with yourself about your current abilities. Because you are only accountable to you, it might be tempting not to look too closely at your shortcomings and become complacent with an approximation of the art you want to create. You must be honest about what you need to master in order to improve, even if it means going all the way back to the basics.
If you are trying to draw in perspective and it takes a lot of guesstimating, you’ve got to be honest that you don’t really know what you are doing. If you’ve read about perspective but still don’t quite get it, you may need the visual aid of video. And if you get it but your work still looks rough, you probably just need more practice before attempting more advanced techniques.
It’s okay to work around a skill gap as long as you acknowledge the gap, write it down somewhere, and plan to address it later. I find it helpful to keep a list of what I’m good at, where I have improved, what needs improvement, and what new skills I will need for a future project.
This kind of self-assessment will help you build your own curriculum. It provides structure for how and when you learn, as well as clarity on why you are learning something. It also gives you some perspective on how much you’ve accomplished and your potential to achieve much more.
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