The biggest thing any new artist will hear, or anyone else trying to improve their craft, is “you need to practice.” Practice isn’t just plugging away and drawing anything. It should have direction and focus, otherwise, you will lose sight of the end goal and procrastinate. Or worse yet, draw and draw and see little improvement for a lot of work! In my opinion, there are three types of practice: inspirational, intentional, and reflective.
Inspirational practice is the easiest of the three. This is where you look at other people’s art, read books, watch movies, or do anything that gives you an idea for a project. Draw inspiration from everyday life. Look at other people’s sketchbooks, read magazines, check out Art Station or other online galleries, look at comic books, manga, anything to give you ideas! Take the time to research styles and artists. Inspirational practice can take place anytime, anywhere.
The second form of practice is intentional practice. What I mean by this is that instead of just drawing anything, have a plan, an intention. Specifically target areas that you need to work on. For example, I find drawing the male figure infinitely easier than drawing women. Why? It’s difficult for me to make women look muscular but not manly. When I practice, I would draw a preliminary sketch and then look at it. Next, I would examine the areas I need to work on. DON’T CLOBBER YOURSELF! Use constructive criticism when critiquing your work to keep it helpful and positive. Negativity will only make you want to quit.
If you look at the sketches to the right you’ll notice I need to work on my construction and my proportions. Now that I know what to draw, I can do it with direction and purpose. I can draw women’s bodies and concentrate on construction and anatomy. I now have a direction for practicing.
During practice time, I’ll draw just the construction of the form: spheres, cubes, cylinders. I can practice using comparative measurement to check my proportions. I also know that I need to work on my anatomy. Since I have trouble drawing women’s hips I know to practice anatomy specifically concentrating on the torso, legs, and hips. Once I feel comfortable with those elements, I can move on to other elements like arms, hands, foreshortening, etc. My point is, I have a specific intention when I practice. I’m not drawing endlessly with no focus.
The last type of practice is an important one and often times overlooked, or done hastily, and that is reflective practice. That is, after you draw critique your work. Don’t rip it to shreds. Instead, be realistic and practical. Use constructive words to describe your art. For example, don’t say, “My women suck!” That doesn’t help you to improve: too negative and not specific. I like the stance of each character (in the sketches above) and I think that my figures are looking more fluid and less stiff. I do, however, need to get better at basic construction, specifically proportion and foreshortening the arms and legs. Being reflective helps you to pinpoint what you need to improve and not get discouraged. Remember to be constructive in your criticism; stay accurate and objective.
Look at older art you drew and compare it to your newer stuff to see your progression. Look at other people’s art that you admire and compare it to yours: What’s alike? What’s different? How can you adjust your drawing? Always remember to really look at your art after you create it and reflect on the process as well as the end result.