So, as kind of an art sequel to my earlier post, 5 Ways to Boost Your Creative Writing Skill, I decided to bring another “guidebook” to the table! I am an artist myself, self-taught up until my freshman year of high school so I have learned a lot over the years! Much of what I have found was in the trial-and-error process that comes while mastering any skill, and I have compiled it here so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I made! I guarantee if you give these tips a shot, along with a little talent, passion, and a LOT of practice, you can improve your skill by leaps and bounds! Now, I am not a professional. But I have been featured in areas such as coffee shops and actually built a 16k+ follower account on Instagram for my art a few years back, so I hope that will establish some credibility. If that doesn’t do it, feel free to check out my gallery to see a sample of my work!
1. Master anatomy and perspective
The first and most important thing to do when building artistic skill, as well as one of the hardest, is to master anatomy and perspective. This is an extremely difficult thing to learn, and requires long hours of study and practice, but it is absolutely necessary if you are serious about your art. Even if you lean more towards the abstract, the very core of art is based around these two skills. Without being at least familiar with both (and you should strive to become much more than just “familiar”), your art will be stagnant and crippled in its growth. Ever wonder why great artists of the past went through years, decades, focusing simply on a face, body part, type of building or single object? It is to strengthen the foundational skills needed to truly develop a personal art style.
Paired with anatomy and perspective is also the skill of toning. Greyscale, shading, and highlights are all things that are essential to know when you want to grow in your artistic abilities! Again, even the most abstract artists first started with the basics. It may not be the most fun part of the process, but is truly the foundation.
So how to go about learning these skills? One simple word: Practice. I know you knew that was coming 🙂 But here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful in my own practice and skill upkeep!
- Facial anatomy practice: Get out a pencil, notebook, and Google. Then simply type in “faces” and choose a person to sketch! It doesn’t have to be an amazing drawing, just a simple sketch indicating the bone structure and expression of the face you chose. I recommend also getting a book on facial (and full body) anatomy that is specifically geared towards artists. Keep it with you while you sketch; learn the “formulas” to facial anatomy. The nose is usually just slightly longer than the forehead, eyes are always in line with the ears, etc. Sketch from different angles. What does it look like from the side? Underneath? Aerial view? Learning these things can help immensely in sketching faces, and will help you be able to eventually do it without a photo.
- Body anatomy practice: This can be quite difficult to learn. Study it, read up on it, and practice! Much the same way as for learning facial features, set aside time each day to sketch bodies. Have a variety of body types to sketch, and learn what proportions are correct for male/female differences. For example, a woman’s hips are obviously larger than a man’s. But don’t make your sketch have hips as wide as a truck! This is an exaggerated example, but the principle is true. Anatomical differences are typically more subtle than people often portray them to be. Again, these accurate sketches are just to learn. If your style is to enlarge all the eyes of your art subjects, then go for it! But master the foundations first.
- Perspective practice: Perspective can actually be quite fun to practice, but is hard to master. Since it has a lot to do with scale and distance, putting 3D objects onto a 2D piece of paper is difficult! I suggest basing your first sketches off of photos, and then move on to real-life if you want a challenge. Grid paper can also be incredibly useful for this!
- Tone practice: This is my personal favorite. I love playing with light and shadow in my sketching! And it’s quite easy to learn. There are hundreds of videos online that will teach you tonality, or anatomy as well. Again, practice on objects around your house or workplace. Every little bit helps!
That was a mouthful, but this is the heaviest part of becoming an artist. Keep up the practice, and even if you never use anatomy, perspective, and tonality in your art, you still have the foundational skills under your belt!
2. Sketch EVERY day
I talked about this a bit in the last section, so I will keep this concise. Now that you know what to sketch, go out and put it to use! Get creative, have fun. Keep a small sketchbook with you at all times in case of a sudden inspiration for a new project, or if you have some spare time. I love Strathmore sketch, drawing, and watercolor paper. They are a wonderful resource for artists on all levels! My favorite sketch times are when I’m in a coffee shop, observing the people and environment around me. Here are a few photos of what’s in my sketchbook. I show you to demonstrate that your sketchbook can literally have anything in it! Basically none of my sketches reflect my painting style, but often inspire paintings.
These are some “good” ones. But I also have sketches like these…
See? Every sketch doesn’t have to be amazing! Just get your thoughts down and practice. You can’t go anywhere but up 🙂
3. Experiment in different areas of art (find your niche)
There are too many different styles of art to count, and even more that are being created daily. There are basic categories, however, and if you don’t currently have one that you are comfortable in, I encourage you to experiment! Evaluate yourself. Are you a logical thinker? Maybe something with realism is your route. More creative-minded? Perhaps color and the abstract will most fufill you. Don’t enjoy to paint or draw? Try sculpture! Pottery, glassblowing, calligraphy and many other lesser-practiced art styles are ripe for business.
If you do enjoy one of the classic styles, run with it! Is there a certain image you feel a connection to? How would that image look if you did it in pastel? In oil paint? There are countless options just waiting to be explored. So try something new! You might discover a thread of art that you had never even heard of before. Or, who knows! Maybe you will discover a whole new way of doing things. Enjoy the journey, and the result will reflect what you invest yourself in.
4. Don’t copy, stay “in shape”
I used to follow pictures for my drawings. It helped me to practice, and I was very good at making the drawing look like the photo. But I never would go off and do something on my own, it was always, “oh, I finished this drawing! Time to google a new photo to draw!”
I believe that all those reference photos helped bring my technical skill to where it is today. But there was no creativity and no real style in my art at that time. It was beautiful, yes; impressive, yes. It wasn’t truly mine. I never copied other artists, and I truly did everything myself. But by staying glued to my reference photos for all those years, I hindered the growth of my own personal style. And that’s why I don’t draw anymore. Yes, I sketch and do large drawings once in a while. But it’s not my style. And I don’t like to display my drawings as my art, because that’s not who I am! As of today, my paintings are the true reflection of my creative mind. I don’t use reference photos, everything is purely original. And that makes me proud!
Using reference photos is wonderful foundational practice for the beginning artist. It helped my skill be where it is today! But wean yourself off of them! It’s a lot like writing prompts–if you stick with them forever, you won’t grow.
Now, when I say reference photos, I mean just doing a google search and drawing or painting every photo you like, without adding your own creative touch. There is nothing wrong with using a reference photo for an anatomical position, or a commissioned piece, but it’s usually better to either take your own photos, or like me, use a mirror for those sorts of things. Use the photo as a piece in your puzzle, not the finished product. Design your piece and pour out your heart into it! I believe that is the essence of art–a pouring out of oneself. And that leads me into the last point…
5. Don’t be satisfied to stay where you are
GROW! Grow, grow, grow! Never stop learning, and do whatever it takes to push yourself forward! If this means taking a class, then go for it! If it means devoting a time each day to art, then do it! Nothing is worse than to look at an art piece from a year ago, and find it to be on the same level as your current art. If you want to be a successful artist, never be satisfied, never stop learning.
And that’s all I have! I hope this was helpful in pushing you towards your artistic goals. Share what you think, is there a strategy that has helped you that I missed? I’d love to hear it! And make sure to pin this post with your fellow artists so that we can continue the journey together 🙂
If you liked this, be sure to check out my Exclusive Tip to Make Your Art POP for a fun technique you’ve never seen before!