The fastest ways to improve drawing skills
Or the best art advice I would give to myself at 15 if I could go back in time
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The people you consider the best are probably looking up to someone else as well and shitting on their own work in their heads. That’s what artists do. You’ll always look back at your drawings from last week, thinking you could’ve done better. We are never satisfied.
I am not the best artist out there, far from it, and I don’t pretend to be. But my skill level - albeit mediocre - has always won me jobs (even if my rates were higher than my competitors), got me followers, engagement, and, most importantly, food on the table.
I think I rarely really practiced art. I always, forever since I have memory, started a drawing to have a finished something at the end. I almost never did studies, and most of the ones I did were for school.
I don’t like to practice. I like to finish things or abandon them if they suck. Of course, the failed drawing is still a learning experience. But as obvious as this is, it’s also evident that without practice - as in experience - there can’t be a real skill.
But when the time came to face the reality that my drawings sucked, I never wanted to go through with the advice found online or taught me by teachers and other artists:
Practice, practice, practice
I didn’t have time for that. Nobody pays you for that, I needed money, and I didn’t want to flip burgers or serve tables. So, I had to get better at drawing while also picking up gigs and clients.
Art school is not for everyone 🤷🏻♂️
If you need guidance and a structured learning environment, there’s nothing wrong with it, and you should pursue classes, grades, teachers, and mentors. The downside is that it takes time. Classes are taught at an average pace to accommodate everyone. More often than not, you are studying materials that are years, and sometimes decades, out of date. I’m not talking about anatomy and composition, of course, but maybe don’t teach digital art on Photoshop 7 when CS6 is out.
As someone that likes to learn by himself and has no problem sticking to a learning schedule or structuring his study time alone, I love the internet. I learned way, way, WAY more by watching YouTube videos and downloading art tutorials from DeviantArt in a year than in six of art school plus all of my previous life experience (my mother is a painter) combined.
I repeat, this is NOT for everyone, and it’s not an encouragement to abandon your studies to start working alone. Be responsible.
Flip the drawings 🪞
I know you’ve heard of this already, but are you doing it? This works only if you are working digitally, but basically, every few minutes, you should flip your drawings horizontally (or vertically if you like a real challenge). You’ll immediately notice mistakes that your brain was getting used to. After a few minutes, flip again! You’ll notice new mistakes, fix a few proportions, re-adjust the composition, and flip again.
Every time you flip the drawing, you are giving yourself a pair of fresh eyes without the need to ask anyone for feedback.
Watch timelapses ⌚
Timelapses and speedpaintings are very fascinating, especially if they are slow enough for you to actually see what the artist is doing while drawing. You don’t need to go to art cons and enroll in artists’ mentorships to see them drawing anymore. You just need YouTube and a few searches to find a master drawing. You don’t need commentary, just watch the videos and let them sink in.
I use such videos as breaks, at lunch, while snacking, in the bathroom, or before going to sleep. I try to absorb the tricks, and the techniques. I discover new tools or new ways to sketch, ink, or color. As a bonus, I always end each watching session inspired and ready to take on more drawing work.
Let feedback pile up 🗣️
Your clients are not the most reliable source of feedback. If you are doing good work and getting paid - getting back to my introduction - it doesn’t mean your skills are exemplary. Most clients never studied art, and they can’t help you there. I know because if I look back at my first, glowing testimonials from ten years ago, I want to throw up and straight out refund the clients for my shitty deliverables. That was just bad.
I always used the subreddit r/learnart to request feedback on finished work. I wouldn’t ask for feedback on the process - I usually already had a customer for that, and I didn’t want to hear more - but I would always read the comments and take notes on what people thought of the drawing while I was working on the next one.
I wouldn’t edit the drawing based on the feedback I got. I noted the most important comments and naturally remembered them for future drawings.
The bottom line is: enjoy the process and don’t try to become an art god in a day, week, month, or even by the end of your course, mentorship, or whatever. Don’t make it the goal, at least. Your objective should be growing and learning, at your own pace, for the rest of your days.
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All the best,