Originally from tumblr, I thought it'd be worth sharing here too. This is really just an internal monologue of things I've learned recently and wish had occurred to me sooner. I'm by no means an expert, and following this advice is easier said than done, but even trying will put you on the right track.
Also... Words! Lots of words. But my writing is dense, don't worry.
- Draw every day. I can’t stress this enough-- the best way to slip and lose ground is to let recent learning fade away. The “use it or lose it” description of neural pathways applies here. Keep strengthening what you know, pushing familiar reflexes to the forefront of your mind, and there will be less struggle over simple tasks every time you start. If you feel too busy, remember you can always make time-- even carving ten minutes out of tv-show watching is enough.
- Erase less. I wouldn’t go as far as to say “don’t erase” or “draw only in pen” because that can be nerve-wracking for people like me who hate messing up. But it’s also extremely beneficial to ditch the idea of do-overs, because it forces you to think more about what you’re doing. The result? More confident lines and effortless accuracy. You can start weaning yourself by using a pencil with no eraser, or a capped one. Leave your big eraser somewhere hard to reach, and focus on the familiar tactile feeling of pencil. Permanent media can layer on top.
- Which leads me to another good habit: work general to specific. This also helps the transition from erasing; the idea is to sketch in huge general strokes the bare elements/gesture of what you’re trying to capture. From there you can keep layering in more and more detail, or go straight for the pen. This gives tremendous room for mistakes and makes it much harder to run into that "I drew a perfect hand, but it's too small!" problem.
- Draw from life. I know, I know, the tired refrain of art professors everywhere. I personally had a hard time beginning observational drawings because "nothing in my surroundings will make a pretty picture!” You also may be intimidated by the task of getting every detail. I’m here to tell you neither of those things matter-- the one and only goal of life drawing is to translate 3D information (AKA two separate images, one from each eye) into 2D information. It’s surprisingly hard. Good news is, you get to see your style emerge from it! What features of a subject stand out to you, and how you choose to represent them, are some of the highest-level problems an artist faces.
- Quantity over quality. Also a tough lesson. Of course, I don’t mean this absolutely, you can still spend time on serious pieces. But as far as practice is concerned, be willing to draw and draw and draw. Spend less time perfecting. Fill sketchbooks just to fill them. Clock in those ten thousand hours.
- But I do know what we all want to hear: Draw what you like! Seriously. This is extremely important for maintaining intrinsic motivation. I mean, there’s no use struggling to draw things that aren't enjoyable. This isn’t to say it's okay to lock down and only draw 3/4 portraits facing left because that’s what’s immediately rewarding, though. Stay open minded about different subjects, and take note of anything that catches interest-- You may be surprised!
- You may have noticed I refer frequently to drawing traditionally. There aren’t really hard-and-fast rules about the applications of digital vs traditional, but it is important to recognize their differences. Digital art can give toooons of leeway in photoshop’s powerful editing tools, and I’ve often ended up being lax about color picking and proportions because of them. Be wary of any dependence developing.
- And lastly-- Invite criticism. If you think about it, it is in nobody’s best interest to say so if your art is lacking. Friends and family don’t want to upset you, private teachers want to continue receiving your money, public school teachers are too polite. So seek out anyone willing to break the mold, establish your desire for honesty if necessary. As for taking the pointers, keep in mind that you are not what you make. Any artistic shortcoming or failure does not reflect on you as a person.
Again, not the be-all-end-all, as I missed a ton of stuff, but I have noticed a lot of wildly specific tutorials around (some of which cost money!) Nobody needs those. Just listen to peers and anyone giving advice, sometimes general tips can save tons of trouble. I've come to learn all I have not only in the process, but from years of art classes, interaction with artist friends, sketch blogs, and poking around the art forums on Gaia Online way back in the day.
And most importantly, being good at art is hard work. I've been doing it for nineteen years and still only very rarely feel "good" about it. Most likely you never will, depending on what your goals are, but either way you're gonna have to work your ass off to improve. There's no way out of it. But remember-- the drive to make art in itself is awesome! Keep at it.