I see a lot of people on art groups, tumblr, and a bunch of places elsewhere asking the same question: “I want to improve my art; what do I do?” And regardless of where I see it, the response is always the same: “practice”. In most cases “use reference pictures, draw from life, practice realism.”
As an artist who used to ask this question a lot, and got hella frustrated by that answer, I’m here to throw this into the mix: There’s a lot more to improving your art than just practicing.
If someone comes to me and say “I want to get better at drawing”, the first thing I’m gonna ask them is this:
WHY do you want to draw? What made you pick up the pencil / pen / paints in the first place? Ask yourself this: What do you want to do with your art? Some people want to draw comics. Some people want to draw photorealistic portraits. Some want to do children’s illustration, or perhaps even architecture.
Depending on your answer to that question, I’m gonna give you different advice. If you want to draw comics or illustration, you don’t need to be an incredibly detailed artist, you need to learn how to tell a story and interpret the scenes of that story in pictures. That requires a wholly different skill set than if you want to draw photorealism. There’s nothing at all stopping you from doing both but you don’t need to. A lot of artists I see on here want to draw to be able to express their story ideas, they’re not overly bothered about the technical side of drawing and that is absolutely ok. Some people get arsey about this and think you should focus exclusively on technical skill, but in order to tell a story, you don’t need beautifully detailed pieces of art. Heck, XKCD uses stick figures and that’s one of the most popular comics of all time, and some comics have been beautiful, epic examples of storytelling.
When you’re drawing characters, challenge yourself with your poses. People get stuck in the same pose over and over (I’m guilty of this myself), so find new ways to get new poses. Look at magazines and draw the people in them. Or even better, watch a DVD, pause it every few seconds and draw whatever pose the characters are in, just for practice. If there aren’t any characters then draw the scenery. That way you’re getting random poses instead of sticking to things your comfortable with.
Also, look in the mirror and make a bunch of dumb faces. Take photographs of them and draw them. See if your friends will do the same. In fact, it might even be a good idea to ask your friends if you can draw their Facebook profile pictures, it’s great practice for you in drawing facial varieties and expressions, and they get a fun picture at the end of it.
Lastly, don’t just practice. Don’t wait until you’re “good enough” to make the art you want to make, or the stories you want to tell. Partially because if you wait to make those things until you think you’re good enough, if you’re like most people, you’ll never start. You’ll “practice” constantly and you won’t have anything actually finished to say. You learn something from every art piece you finish, every story you tell, every panel you draw. What better way to practice your art then to work on actually creating the work you want to make? And then, after weeks / months / years, you can look back on that piece and use it as a benchmark to find out how far you’ve come.
Yes, my advice does boil down to “practice” but it’s important to practice in specific ways. There’s no point in practising the same thing over and over and over again because you’ll get good at that thing, but you’ll fall short in the ways you’re not practising. Practice, practice, practice – specific things and you’ll be creating works you’re satisfied with.
The last thing I want to say is, no matter what you’re doing with your art, you’re never going to stop improving. You’ll find that the frustration at not being as good as you want to be, the feeling never goes away. Don’t let that discourage you. The desire to improve is an extremely important quality that makes you constantly develop your skills. That feeling is what will get you better at art, because that is the thing that drives you to practice.
Enjoy arting, folks!