If you’re like me and have asked yourself if it’s possible to become a professional concept artist without attending any school that could teach you all the techniques and what you need to do in that job, the answer is: Yes. And the existence on the market of digital artists who learned basically by self-taught confirms it. Obviously, a school can give you a method, a teacher can report you what you’re doing wrong, so this surely would speed-up your learning process. Although, what makes you good on painting is in all the cases the same process: observing what surrounds you, studying it, and most of all practice.
In this article I’m going to cover the different ways someone can study to become an artist, and how I personally improved my skills.
#1. Study from nature, photos and other artists works
That could sound obvious, but practically there are different ways of doing that. With a single artist’s work you can study a very big amount of things such as:
– Values: bring the saturation to zero. This helps you to understand how the contrast between lights and shadows is built. You can compare then the result with other black and white works, also with yours.
– Colors: use the mosaic filter to pixelate the painting. This will let you have a clear lecture of the color palette. You could also squint your eyes to produce the same result – simply blurring out details and focusing on composition.
– Composition: try to understand where the focal points are, figure out the perspective grid (You can draw it on a top layer as a practice), understand how the artist pointed out what he wanted to.
For the perspective you can check the Evenant’s tutorial about the use of photoshop perspective scripts, which you can download.
I also invite you to analyze every sort of detail: drapery, textures, anatomy… Learn from anything!
Also copying can be useful, if done in the right way: don’t focus on doing it identical, just try to reproduce the same effect/texture.
#2. See time lapse video tutorials from different artists
YouTube is full of these kind of videos, and you can simply check your favourite artists’ profile: most of them do useful videostreams. With them you can try different methodological approaches and learn to use the tools of your programs. All you have to do is to analyze their workflow and repeat it when doing your next painting. Obviously you can also focus on what captures your interest, like how they paint water, rocks, shadows, etc.
#3. Study from books
Reading in general is important to stimulate your creativity, but I’m referring to specific books regarding painting and drawing, such as ones from Andrew Loomis and George Bridgman. They will provide you a precise guide for your artistic path, but I suggest to not spend too much time on them: you can just read only what you need, such as the explanations of the images. The images of those books are the real protagonists: study from them with the help of text, and avoid doing the opposite.
#4. Do focused exercises
A wise thing to do is to alternate complete paintings and single exercises focused on only one part of the entire painting process. You can really do a lot of exercises: sketches, thumbnails, color blocking, rendering, studying and painting specific materials, painting single elements (hands, a crystal, e metal helmet, etc). With these mini-paintings you can focus only on what you actually want to improve, in order to overcome your weaknesses or to develop your strengths.
This is an exercise on rendering I did, copying another artist’s work.
#5. Redraw something again
You don’t like the result? Then try to understand what you missed during the process, and start drawing the same subject again. You can redraw using a different technique too, such as starting from grayscale if you didn’t. Remember that repeating the same exercise is a very important thing. For example, if you want to learn figure drawing, you have to repeat the basic body proportions, or the same pose, again, and again, and again. Like when to learn how to write you had to do pages and pages of every single letter. So you must necessarily go for this dull part during your learning path.
#6. Don’t stop your works before finishing them
I wanted to give up with a painting a lot of times, even when I was just at the beginning of the piece. Don’t do it! You could be impressed by the final result, and best of all you could understand a lot of things by experimenting on what you already did. A trick you could use if you feel stuck is to enlarge the canvas and paint something around what you already did, as I did here:
#7. Ask for help
Evenant’s community is one of the many other groups that you can find on the internet and where you can post your works to receive feedback. If you are not sure of what you did wrong, then ask for the help of other people. I recommend neither to ignore the advices you receive from them, nor to consider them always valid. Analyze every tip and try to understand if it’s correct or not.
Remember that the best way to improve is always the same: drawing and painting. Practice is essential. The first three points can be useful between a work and another, or when you have not enough time to take the pen in your hand and see what happens!