I’ve spent a lot of time compiling this list. When I really think about it, I have to admit that — like the best common sense — I’ve been compiling this list all my life. Today was about editing. About stripping away the non-essentials and getting down to the 10 things that really belong here.
It should be noted that while I’m talking about art specifically here, it wouldn’t take a clever person more than a few minutes to find a way to apply these principles to any area of work (or play).
10 Things That Will Immediately Improve Your Art
10. Get off Facebook. Seriously. This is the biggest time suck in the universe. Nothing improves art faster than actually… you know… doing art. And you’re not doing art if you’re sharing the latest meme or hitting the refresh button in the vain hopes that somebody — anybody — will say something worth reading.
9. Look at other people’s art. If you absolutely must surf the web, the head over to DeviantArt and prepare to be inundated with more talent than you ever knew existed. Amateurs and pros alike show up here to share their stuff, from WIPs (works in progress) to mind-blowing masterpieces. Go get inspired.
8. For Zod’s sake, stop looking at other people’s art! Are you nuts?! Are you a masochist? There’s no faster way to make yourself feel bad about your current skill level than to intentionally intimidate yourself with a site like DeviantArt! At least if you had looked at books of the old masters you could console yourself with the knowledge that they were at least dead and wouldn’t be assaulting you with new work almost daily.
7. Do the stuff you suck at. You know that eye you’re really good at drawing? The one that’s in the corner of every page? Yeah. Stop that. You’re already good at that. You’ve turned that skill into pure muscle memory. It doesn’t need the help. Instead, be honest with yourself about where you’re weakest and spend some time getting less sucky.
6. Try a new medium. Working in watercolor is something I really enjoy, but I found that I was approaching my paintings differently once I’d done a few charcoal drawings on toned paper. It trained my eye to see the highlights and shadows in a different way and, as a result, all my other work got better.
5. Ape someone else’s work. (As in “monkey see, monkey do.”) This is already one of the most common paths of amateur artists, and you’ve probably already done it yourself. The simple fact is that you can learn a lot by duplicating the work of artists you admire. You’ll start to see patterns in their work; how they draw hair or the way they use perspective or color to make their work pop. Just don’t spend too much time on any one artist. Don’t be a copycat. Pick up a little bit from a lot of different artists and you’ll find that parts of their style will merge into a style that is uniquely yours.
4. Join a community of artists. There are a ton of websites and local meetup groups for just this kind of thing. Post your work and get feedback from people who can speak to you in your language. You’re going to be the new kid on the block for a little while, so try not to get too defensive when they offer suggestions on your work. Now’s the time to thicken up that skin. Art that nobody sees isn’t doing anybody any good, so get used to getting feedback from people who aren’t genetically obligated to lie to you.
3. Get out of the bloody house! After I’d been drawing and painting for a while, nothing surprised me more than stepping out of the house and seeing the world as one giant art gallery. Everything mattered. You start to understand color theory better when you see nature doing it so effortlessly. You appreciate the way a woman’s skirt moves when it’s moving through a wind, or how reflective surfaces bend light. The world is a wondrous place. Go be in it and draw what you see.
2. Go shopping! I’ve got friends who will disagree with me on this, but I do believe that the right tools can make good art easier to achieve. I know some artists who can make you cry by what they can do with a toothpick and a cup of coffee on a napkin, but as a watercolorist, I was never so happy as the day I plunked down the cash for a size 18 squirrel hair round brush. I had another round at that size, but it was synthetic and it simply didn’t hold water or pigment as well. It also didn’t release that color as well onto the paper. The whole process went much smoother when I had the proper tools. I’m now slowly replacing the synthetic brushes in my collection with the real thing.
1. Stop thinking you can’t do it. We’re all our own worst enemies, aren’t we? Well, when fantasy art legend Frank Frazetta had a stroke and lost the fine motor skills in his right hand, you know what he did? That crazy bastard starting painting left-handed. And he rocked it. Now, there is some argument to be made for the fact that this was Frank Frazetta we’re talking about here, but Frazetta was no different than DaVinci and he was no different than Michaelangelo. None of them started off being amazing painters. At one point, I promise you, they all sucked. They got better. So will you.
So get to it.