5 Amazing Art Tricks I Wish I Knew Earlier

July 13, 2019 maddoctorartist 0 Comments

So I've been drawing for a number of years, self-taught, and while that does sound impressive to a lot of people, it comes with some drawbacks. Even with the vast resource that is the internet and all the excellent tutorials, hints and tips on various websites (click here to view some of my favourites), there are just certain little things that aren't ever 'taught' per se.

Reflecting on my art journey, I thought it might be helpful to come up with the top five art tricks I wish I'd known earlier. Some of these I've picked up through trial and error, some through online resources, and I hope through sharing them you might pick up something useful!

1. Use references

When I started drawing again in my early teens, I never really got this. I spent most of my time following simple tutorials, drawing shapes and making them vaguely humanoid (proportions and things aside), and not once were references mentioned. I did copy a few screenshots now and then, but was never consistent with it. I was also quite afraid of being accused of plagiarism, as occasionally I would reference poses from other art (you should really use stock photos for this purpose, as I have now learned!).

Copy of a screenshot from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion

However, a few years ago I came across a lovely post on tumblr that outlined how best to use references, along with a Mark Crilley video. Almost instantly I noticed a huge leap in quality- suddenly my faces looked like faces, and currently my birds have never looked better!

A redraw of an old fanart I did of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, the old one with no reference and the new one with!

There is a potential pitfall however, in that (as I am at the moment) you can become overly reliant on references and struggle to draw from imagination. This is something I am working on, but don't let it scare you from using references at all, as they make a huge improvement to your work.

2. Try to break things down into simple shapes

This can be easily forgotten, especially if you use references. It is very tempting to 'free draw' what your brain thinks its sees, and it leads to pictures that while they look close to a copy, small mistakes are easy to make (such as not measuring things so proportions are off, or lines don't follow perspective, etc). This is something I have also focused on while drawing birds, and I am getting better compared to when I started.
One of my earlier birds, a kea, I 'free drew', so you can see things like inconsistent feather sizes and a lack of symmetry

This redraw I did more recently, and you can see how much more even and consistent the feathers are as I broke it down into shapes first!

I remember when first looking up online tutorials I was often met with the 'shaded sphere' and got quite irritated as it didn't really seem to show me what I wanted to learn. However, this fundamental applies to all art, as if you can break something down into geometric shapes, you understand planes, and understanding this lets you know how to shade.

As simple as this looks, using this as a basis really helps make drawings look more realistic!

Doing this also helps to let you rotate images in your head and draw from alternative perspectives (which helps against the over reliance on references). I am not quite able to do this yet but it is something I am working on!

3. Choose your lights source before applying colour

Possibly one of the biggest fundamentals that I (and many others) ignored! It sounds ridiculous I know, but when you're in the element of colouring you do 'what looks nice', not what is physically possible. Another reason for inconsistent light source also shows up in 'detail pride'- if you do extra detail on a part of a picture that's in shadow, in reality that detail won't show so much as there's not enough light to highlight it.

This rather complex fanart of Leliana shows light reflecting off areas that should be in shadow, because chainmail sparkles dammit!

But come on, you spent so long on that armour, it's too good to make it all dark! So you add light where there isn't any, and it leads to the picture just looking 'wrong'. I also have a tendency to use the same light source (top left casting down), so I do need to branch out and try other sources.

So pick a light source at the start- draw it in if need be- and let it guide you. Sycra has some great tutorials for this so I highly recommend taking a look.

4. Make a background BEFORE starting to colour

This is something I've kinda just picked up. It's almost a running joke in the non professional art community about backgrounds being the weakest part of the image, as most of us hate doing backgrounds and just want to focus on the image. Detailed backgrounds can be tedious and take away from the enjoyment, so often it's left by the wayside...to our detriment!

This Indian Robin looks not a part of the background as it is just a blurred photograph and I added it last

Usually, I would draw the lines for a picture, then colour it in, then slap dash a hasty background at the end. This however can make the colours look wrong, as different colours next to each other make the colour look different (check out this video by Marco Bucci who explains in more detail).

This silver pheasant looks much more part of the same image as I painted it first, which let me add some 'tinge' to the feathers to help it blend in

So, what I've now started to do is slap a few colour textures on the background first, usually in contrast to what I'm colouring, and THEN colour the main image. This makes the background and image sync together much better, and you can also choose better colour highlights to match.

5. Don't be afraid to trace to study

Okay, so obviously don't ever trace another's work or a reference and then claim it as your own (because that is plagiarism), but at the same time tracing can be a useful teaching tool. It lets you 'feel' the shape and flow of your subject, and that can be helpful when trying to replicate it on your own. Copying the 'masters' is also a known teaching exercise so you can see how certain effects were achieved.

It also helps to get the '3D' feel, so you can see for example how the brow bone sticks out on the face, or how the eye socket sinks in, so you can replicate the three dimensional planes on a 2D medium. This was something I learned from Istebrak's art channel on youtube.

So there you have five art tips I wish I knew earlier! I'm sure there are many many more- have you got any hints or tricks you wish you'd known sooner? Let me know!

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