Being an artist is a wonderful thing. And any artist, or aspiring artist usually wants one main thing– to be the best artist they can be. So how can you be a better artist? Well, that’s a question that has more answers than I can possibly give you, but I’m going to give you five great tips to help you take your art to the next level.
Carry a Sketchbook
This may seem a little too obvious, but carrying a sketchbook around with you wherever you go can be a very powerful tool to improve your art. The reason this tip is so crucial is because of convenience. If you have a sketchbook with you at all times, you’ll always have a canvas to sketch out whatever comes to mind at a moment’s notice. Inspiration can strike at any time, and a great artist should be ready when those moments happen. And don’t think this tip is just for those who draw. Even if you are a sculptor, painter or graphic designer, sketching out your ideas on the fly can really spark your creativity and drum up some new ideas.
Carrying a big sketchbook around with you all the time might not sound like something you want to do everyday, but it is really is a must. Make it easy on yourself by carrying a small portable sketchbook like this one, to encourage you to always keep it by your side.
So, this tip really goes along with the previous one– but in order to get good at ANYTHING, you need to practice. And by practice, I mean hardcore day in, day out practice. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but there is no better way to be a better artist than to practice everyday. Make it a habit. Practicing your art, whether it be a sketch/painting/sculpture/whatever should be a part of who you are.
The wonderful thing about practicing your artwork every single day is that you have a visible record of your progress. Soon you’ll develop a large body of work which is a sort of timeline of all your artistic achievements. After a few months of practice, you can go back through old sketches and paintings and see exactly how far you have come, which can be incredibly motivating.
Find People Who Share Your Passion
We usually view our art as a deeply personal thing, and artists can tend to be a little introverted, focusing large amounts of time on their work. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having a social aspect to your art life can be very fulfilling.
Being part of an art community, or even just having a few friends who are also passionate about art has more benefits than I can even list here. First and foremost, nobody wants to be an island. What I mean by that is nobody wants to feel like they are alone. Having a support group of other people in your life who share your passion and struggle with art can be very motivating. To know that there are other people who are working to be better artists, who also struggle with things like perspective, values, etc. is very important for our own growth. Seeing the growth of these other artists over time, along with our own artistic growth is very encouraging and keeps us motivated to do our best.
There are a dozens of ways to be part of an art community and with the help of the internet, you have more options than ever. Some of the best places to find an art community are:
- Deviantart.com – Probably the largest art site on the web. Very geared toward being social, sharing your artwork with others, and gaining a following.
- Behance.net – Another very large site. Unlike Deviantart, Behance places more focus on creating a portfolio and getting input on your work from the community.
- Facebook Groups – Facebook groups are amazing platforms for building communities based on all interests, and art is no exception. Some of the better groups out there are Urban Sketchers, All Artists Group and Artist Journal Workshop.
- Instagram – Even though Instagram started as a way to share photos, the visual nature of this social network has created a great place for artists alike. Using your Instagram account as a virtual sketchbook or portfolio can be a great tool to connect with other artists and gain valuable input on your artwork.
Whether you use some or all of these places to find an art community, having that strong social outlet to share your work is crucial for your long-term success as an artist.
Okay, so I don’t literally mean steal here, but rather imitate. Imitating the style of other artists is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Every great artist from any period of time has studied and imitated the works of other great artists. By imitating other artists, you expose yourself to a brand new style of art that you might not have tried on your own. This can force you to learn new techniques and see your own artwork in a new light. Plus, emulating artists that you look up to sets a bar for yourself to reach.
Another positive effect of imitation is possibly opening the door to some of these artists becoming your mentor. We have all heard the expression, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and that quote fits art like a glove. By showing these artists some of the work you’ve done trying imitating their style, they will definitely be flattered. This can potentially help you to build a relationship with that artist, and they might even be nice enough to give you a few pointers.
Pick up One or Two Good Reference Books
Call me old-fashioned, but I still love real, actual books. There’s something that feels different about holding a book in your hand compared to reading pixels on a screen. It just feels right. Don’t get me wrong—the internet is one of the best resources to learn art in the history of forever, but don’t count books out just yet.
Why do I still recommend books? As I said, the internet is a great place to learn art, but unless you know exactly what you’re searching for, you might miss out on some useful lessons. Good art reference books are written in a teaching style that you don’t really get online. Good art books compile lots of information in one place, and teach you things that you might not have even thought to search for on the web. They teach in a linear way that builds new skills on top of previous lessons—which is exactly how our brains are wired to learn. Check out a few of my favorite art reference books:
- Art Fundementals – This book has got to be one of my favorites. I’ve read it cover to cover a few times, and the thing I like about it most is that it is really geared toward modern-day art, written by current artists. This book covers a wide spectrum of topics including color theory, perspective, lighting and a whole lot more.
- Manga for the Beginner – This one is for the anime lover in all of us. Christopher Hart takes you step-by-step through the entire process of creating some great manga/anime characters and scenes.
- The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted – Kathleen Lochen Staiger has a really great ability to break down oil painting into very actionable steps. This book is part reference, part course—and is great for artists of all levels. A must have for all oil painters.
- Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil – I can’t stress enough how great this book is for learning how to replicate textures and lighting in your drawings. I’ve owned this book for years and still reference it to this day when I need help. This book isn’t really for beginners, however. This one is more for intermediate artists who need that little extra bit of help taking their drawings to the next level.
These are just a few of the books that I personally own and recommend. There are thousands of art reference books on every topic, and for every skill level. The whole point here is to find a couple really good books that will build on your talents at first, and then continue to reference them whenever you need a little help along the way.
And in wrapping this article up, I’ve got a few more “honorable mention” tips that didn’t quite make my list of 5:
- When drawing, try using mechanical pencils. The graphite always maintains its shape and puts down consistent lines. Personally, I use 3 different pencils with 3 lead types, 2H, HB and 2B.
- Eliminate pure black, and pure white from your artwork. You’d be amazed at how much more depth your art will have if you focus on using real colors to create value instead of jumping to solid black and white.
- Try different textures of paper. You’ll find that different textures and thicknesses of paper work better for different drawings. Test out a few and see which you prefer. Some people prefer paper with more “tooth” to grab onto the graphite, while others (like me) prefer a very smooth paper to draw on.
- Draw/paint from life. There’s a reason so many of the Old Masters painted still lifes. Drawing and painting what you see trains your eyes to see objects as they exist in the real world. And with some practice, you’ll be able to easily correct figures in your drawings when they don’t look quite right.
I could keep going on forever and fill up a whole book of tips to become a better artist. But in the end, it really lies with you. You are the only person who can make yourself a better artist. It takes practice, discipline and a hunger to keep learning.
So practice everyday. Show your artwork to all your family and friends and ask for their honest critique. Read books. Fill up as many sketchbooks as you can. And be part of the art community. I am here if you ever get stuck or need a little help with your artwork. You can always reach me on Facebook, Instagram, or by using the contact form.
Now go do some artwork, and let’s get better together!