Why can't I improve my drawing skills?
Five ways to draw better
I will first explain how to prepare before work and composition training. You can create brilliant illustrations and avoid the blank page fear by following these crucial steps. I then describe general drawing methods and demonstrate a simple perspective exercise to familiarize you with the principles. I will conclude with rendering tips and key points for motivation.
First of all, there are the customers who come with a brief description of their request. Their ideas can be very vague (e.g. a knight) or very precise (e.g. a dark knight with green eyes wearing gold armor and holding a fearsome sword). Both situations have their advantages and disadvantages. In any case, once you've reached a professional level, blank sheet fear is not an option. It's your job, after all, to turn words and ideas into an illustration. To get creative at this stage, there is a great process in place: brainstorming.
Write down the keyword in the middle of a sheet of paper and draw a circle around it to identify it as an essential element. Then focus on the most relevant ideas related to that topic. If you write them down on paper, you will definitely not forget them. It is also a great way to make a plan for what you want to draw. For this lesson I have chosen the topic “Deer Wizard” and broken it down into all of the information mentioned during the briefing. Each of these words is an inspiration in itself and by connecting them you build a story and develop the topic. As soon as I have enough elements in my plan, I start sketching.
I recommend using a sketchbook as your personal "art experiment". Enjoyable, chaotic and lively, that is the first advice I give to all my students for their sketchbook. Just draw anything you want. It can be a familiar street or a couple sitting two tables in front of you in a restaurant, everyday objects and of course sketches of your ongoing projects. In our case, it would be various sketches that support the composition of this deer wizard.
Preparation also means gathering documents that you can refer to. Search online for images that suit your needs to improve the quality of your work. The aim of this search is not to copy, but to be inspired! For example, I didn't copy the deer from a photo or picture, but instead used lots of real druid and deer images to enhance my character composition. In general, I avoid using drawings as a base so as not to be influenced by them. I use photos instead.
The composition hangs on a series of threads that you pull to direct the viewer's gaze and evoke emotions. The two-thirds rule is generally also taught to schoolchildren and students in class or in courses. There are also numerous online tutorials on the subject. In general, I warn my students about this rough rule, which tends to make you think too much in schemes. Instead, I teach the three crucial fundamentals of a composition: contrast, details, and lines of escape.
Lines of flight
Different contrasts are used to highlight differences between elements. The greater these differences, the more fascinating it becomes for the viewer. For example, a white point on a black background immediately catches the eye, just as light would in a dark environment. When the brightness predominates, we instinctively look at the dark elements. This point also applies to people; the only child in a scene full of adults would catch our eye as much as we would if we noticed a grandpa in a kindergarten. Here the illustration is dark, so the eye will respond to bright, glowing areas.
Details are also suitable for directing the viewer's gaze. Here, too, it is still about contrast - between areas with many and few details. The characters' gaze needs to be handled carefully if you want to make their faces stand out. Too many details make a work seem too crowded, so keep the environment simple if you want to draw attention to something in particular.
And then there are the lines to mark the movement that need to be considered. When the lines and thus the course of all movements converge towards a central point, it inevitably attracts the eye. For example, note in my illustration how the clouds and the direction of view lead to the source of magic.
These concepts are easy to learn by looking at works (illustrations, comics, movie storyboards, etc.) that you like and answering the following questions:
Which areas are in contrast to each other and how?
Where are the details concentrated?
In which direction are the elements moving?
By studying the techniques of your favorite artists, you can improve the expressiveness of your compositions. Get in the habit of asking yourself questions like the above when you're working on a project. Try to look at your work from the perspective of the beholder. Find out how far the viewer is from the center of the scene.
It also helps if you create small sections of the composition that are 5 cm in size, so that you can concentrate on the essentials. If a tiny version of your entire composition clearly expresses what you are trying to depict, it will work on a larger scale too.
I decided to use the composition closer to the wizard to feel the intensity of the source of magic with him. There are no bad or good ideas. Just ask yourself if the composition meets the needs expressed during the briefing and apply your aesthetic sense.
The shaping of a drawing is an essential part of the creation process. Depending on your composition, you have to build the scene on the basis of the lines that mark the movement and the weighting of the various elements. Practice with perspective is necessary to achieve this step. It cannot be summed up in one paragraph. I strongly encourage you to try this out in your sketchbook. Just take an everyday object like a chair, mug, or piece of furniture; preferably something close to you. Once you get used to simple objects, you can try again with something complex like a street lamp or video game controller. The aim of this exercise is to break down the object into basic geometric shapes. Try to represent it from different angles. Simplifying an object may require special attention in some cases. Make it easy for yourself by using cubes, cuboids, pyramids, cylinders and spheres.
If you challenge yourself daily, perspective and composition will soon no longer be a mystery to you!
4. Understand anatomy
Once your shapes are right, you can start drawing. Good knowledge of anatomy and design will help you here. By design I mean the understanding of how things are structured and how they interact with each other. For example, if you know how a door is attached to something, you can avoid mistakes in drawing about the opening process, scale, and proportions. Anatomy is probably one of the most important and interesting topics during drawing studies. Mastery of human anatomy ultimately leads to zoomorphism, anthropomorphism, and design of creatures.
Anatomy of the figure
I propose to start by analyzing the proportions and mechanics of the human skeleton. Look at every single bone and the way they move, starting with the skull and lower jaw. If you can manage to draw a human head with the correct proportions from different perspectives, drawing the rest of the bones should be a breeze. However, you shouldn't underestimate the peculiar shape of the pelvis, as this can be one of the main indicators of the differences between the sexes. Besides the genitals, the main difference between men and women is the ratio of their bones. In any case, I recommend learning how to draw bones accurately. Once you have this knowledge, studying muscles becomes not only easier, but also more enjoyable. Imagine strings being pulled to activate the mechanics of the bones. This in turn makes it clear why the individual muscles are where they are. Really go to great lengths to find the correct proportions when drawing the anatomy or character design. If they are correct, your character will be believable.
One question should be asked before starting coloring: Where will the light source be? It's a universal question, and it's even turned into internet hype.
I therefore suggest that you complete the previously mentioned exercise on perspective with your smartphone or a real flashlight as the light source. Place them near the subject and watch the light. Note that the luminosity of a motif varies depending on the orientation. For example, the light spreads evenly on a flat surface, but inclined on round elements.
A good understanding of color theory is also a must. When you compare two drawings, the colored one usually stands out. There are so many things that can be explained with colors that you can fill almost an entire library with them. So I'll leave the topic out of the way for this lesson. However, the steps in my illustration will help you better understand the drawing process: I logically started by filling all shapes with dark tones to represent the night. Then I painted intense light (layer blending mode: normal) and shadows (layer blending mode: multiply). You have to meet two goals in adding light and shadow. First, decide what kind of atmosphere and mood you want your work to have. My illustration is mystical. Second, express the volume of the elements in your scene. For a beginner, this step can feel like a pure puzzle. I advise you to practice in small independent objects rather than creating complete scenes to move forward faster. After a few exercises, this step can easily become your favorite, as it does for many skilled artists.
Rich in information, I would like to conclude with a summary of the exercise suggested and recommended in this lesson:
- Don't ‘grab your pencil right away! If you take some time to brainstorm, you may find even more exciting ideas to develop. Don't forget to collect references for your project.
- Get a sketchbook and draw in it regularly. It's practical, fun, and you will quickly improve your drawing skills!
- Look at your favorite works and break them down into simple forms to train your compositional sense. You can learn a lot through replicas!
- Reproduce simplified objects from different angles to practice perspective representation. Once you are more familiar with this concept, you can focus more on detailed objects and start adding shading.
- Understand anatomy; start with skeletal studies before drawing muscles.
Drawing and art in general open the door to a lifelong, endless and fascinating journey. Be patient and humble; try to improve gradually every day. My final basic advice is that you show your work to people and collect as much criticism as you can to help you move forward. Do not fear public opinion; even if it can be tough at times, it does help you become a better artist.
I wish you the best of luck in your artistic odyssey!
About the author
My name is Mehdi Abdi and I am a freelance game illustrator. I offer drawing, anatomy and character design courses at the Brassart Aries School in Annecy. You can see my work in my portfolio (http://www.mehdiabdi.fr/) and on my social media pages.
Instagram: https: //www.instagram.com/mehdiabdiart
Artstation: https: //www.artstation.com/mehdiabdi
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