How do I improve?

Someone recently asked me what I do to get better at art, and I thought I’d share my answer on here.

I’m a self-taught artist, so I’ve never taken any kind of formal schooling or art lessons beyond high school. So how do I learn? What materials and references do I use? To be honest, I don’t use a lot. I should, certainly, but more on that later.

The first thing I do to improve is simply to draw. Or paint, or sketch, or whatever. I am always working on something, and I do some kind of art almost every day. It’s hard to practice something all the time and not improve at it.

That being said, if you’re practicing the same thing over and over again, you’re only going to get better at that thing. So I’m also always trying new things: new media (pastels and coloured pencils are fairly new to me, and I have a ton of markers I have yet to delve into), new styles (I’m currently working on some looser, less realistic paintings), and new subjects (I’m toying with the idea of trying some landscapes soon, which is terrifying, as I’m terrible at them). Participating in Inktober in 2017 gave me a terrific platform to work in a variety of styles on a range of subjects.

Another piece that I feel is very important for me is that I am never quite satisfied with my art. Yes, I feel good (mostly) about each piece I produce, and I’m happy with them, but I always know there are places where I could have done better. In other words, I’m always striving to improve.

I think we all want to get better, but if I ever looked at a work I’d done and thought ‘Wow, that’s perfect!’ — and genuinely believed it — I have a feeling my motivation for continuing to improve would drop quite a lot. Which for me takes a lot of the fun out of art.

Practice and drive isn’t the entire puzzle. I do have some resources that I use to improve my art. Or at the very least, there are some that I know of that I should look at more.

First and foremost is Instagram. I have an account, and follow a lot of other artists on there. There are a number of artists that post amazing work of wildlife and pets, and just looking at the quality of their work has helped me improve my own work. Part of this has to do with striving to get better, and part of it is knowing that getting to that level is possible. Also, many artist share what materials they use, which can be very helpful, especially when I’m starting a new medium and have no clue what to buy or what paper to use.

Secondly, there are various places on the internet that are super helpful, and specifically YouTube. There are lots and lots of amazing tutorial videos on there ranging from something general like ’how to use pastels’ to a bit more specific like ‘how to draw a cat’s eye in coloured pencils’. These are amazing resources, and ones I don’t tend to use as much as I should. Often I’ll watch a video when I’m starting a new medium (especially if I’m struggling) or have a specific question, but otherwise I tend to just try things for myself. Which isn’t a terrible idea, but I think I’d improve a lot faster if I took the time to learn properly.

The various art books I’d like to work through this year

The third resource I use (though not nearly as often as I should) is art books. I’ve bought one or two, and the rest have been given to me as gifts. They are amazing books, and I always plan to go through them one day but… somehow that always gets pushed aside in favour of working on commissions or doing an actual art piece. That’s definitely something I want to change this year though, so look for some posts on that!

Everyone learns differently, and for some people this post might be helpful, and for others not at all. In any case, now you know a bit more about how I progress as an artist, and though I’m closer to where I want to be, I still have a long way to go!

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