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How to Improve and Become a Better Artist

Updated on February 28, 2013
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Learn to Become a Better Artist

Whatever your profession one should never stop learning. You can never learn too much. Whether you are a professional artist or an amateur, I can guarantee that there is always something you can improve upon. There is always more you can learn and you can never practice too much. Below are some top tips on how to seriously improve and become a better artist. Specifically, a visual artist in the fine arts.

Sketching is Everything

Leonardo da Vinci, drawings of a bird in flight. Late 15-early 16th century
Leonardo da Vinci, drawings of a bird in flight. Late 15-early 16th century | Source

Start with Sketching

Everything starts with sketching in the visual arts. Get into the habit of sketching every day if possible. It does not have to be a masterpiece. Get yourself a sketch book and take it with you everywhere you go. Get into the habit of doing quick gesture drawings from life and of everything. It does not have to be a person. It could be your pet, or a still life. Being able to capture the gesture of something quickly and accurately is fundamental to being able to draw and paint well. Try and build up the habit of sketching on a daily basis. If you use public transport, this is an excellent opportunity to sketch people from life very quickly in an enclosed space. Representational artist Adebanji Alade is the perfect example of a dedicated artist who sketches every day from life. The work he produces speaks for itself.

Draw as Often as Possible

Again, drawing is important. Take regular time out to practice more detailed drawings, every day if possible. Draw from life, draw from your memory. One excellent tip to help improve your visual memory is to practice memory drawing. Use a photo or do it from life- or mix it up and do both. The point is to really study your subject for a few minutes. Take as much detail as possible into your memory banks then walk away or look away and draw your subject from memory in as much detail as you can remember. At first, this will see difficult, but with practice, your visual memory will improve and so will your memory drawings. Over time, you will find that your memory bank of images will be vastly improved to the point that you can draw anything from memory.

The Ability to Draw Underpins Visual Art

 Study of a Seated Veiled Female Figure (19th Century)
Study of a Seated Veiled Female Figure (19th Century) | Source

Study Perspective

The ability to utilise the rules of perspective in your work will broaden your artistic skill set immensely. Knowing and understanding the rules of perspective also allows you to break the rules of perspective in order to produce so mind bending art which catches peoples attention. Playing with perspective in art adds interest and variety. It can add drama and atmosphere to an otherwise ordinary piece of art. Learn and understand one, two and three point perspective as an absolute minimum and practice using it in different contexts. The more you practice, the more you build up your mental reference library.

Study Perspective

Perspective Drawing for Hunting. Circa 1874. Scanned from "Thomas Eakins:Artist of Philadelphia" by Darrell Sewell, page 26. ISBN 0876330472
Perspective Drawing for Hunting. Circa 1874. Scanned from "Thomas Eakins:Artist of Philadelphia" by Darrell Sewell, page 26. ISBN 0876330472 | Source

Study Colour Theory

Colour theory is fundamental to visual artists who work with colour. If you paint, understanding colour is an absolute necessity if your paintings are to work as a whole and if you are to improve as an artist. With colour theory, the more you learn, the more your art work will improve.

Study Other Mediums

By studying other mediums, you challenge yourself to do things you would not ordinarily have done. For example, if you are a painter working toward your final piece, try recreating it as a sculpture and vice versa if you are a sculptor. By trying other mediums, you challenge yourself to grow and expand in sometimes unexpected ways. Different mediums work in different ways. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. There may be something in a medium you have never tried which resonates with you and could take your work to the next level. It could be that trying sculpture as a painter, allows you to see things in a different way, improving your ability to translate 3D objects onto paper in a more realistic way. Trying different mediums can truly be a transformative process. The results may surprise you and lead you down a different path which will ultimately improve you as an artist.

Get Regular Critiques

Having your work critiqued by other, more senior artists can improve your work drastically. Aside from having more experience, a senior artist has the advantage of some distance from your work. Someone looking from the outside in is much more likely to be able to spot problems and areas for potential improvement than you are. The important thing is not to take critiques to heart. See criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve. Crucially, perception is everything. Change your perception of failure and see all failures as an opportunity to grow and learn what not to do.

Know your Weaknesses

Understanding what you are good at is important, but understanding what you are not good at is even more important. Know and understand your weak points by being honest with yourself and listening earnestly to critiques, then work hard on improving them. Keep practising until they turn into strengths. For example, if you are great at drawing portraits of people, but find placing them in the context of an environment with perspective difficult, then guess what, perspective is your weak point and that is what you have to master. Most people shy away from things that they do not like or are not good at. By facing up to what you are not good at and attacking it daily with dedicated practice, your hand will have no choice but to obey your mind and you will improve in ways beyond your imagination.

Develop your Style

Style comes with experience and practice. Each person is an individual and as such, you will have your own way of doing things. With practice and lots of experimentation, you will come to a point where your confidence improves and your personality shines through the techniques that you have learned. You will be able to manipulate your art in a way which is unique to you and recognisable by others who know your work.


Conclusion

There are no short cuts to improving as an artist. The only way, just like anything else you want to be good at, is dedicated, disciplined practice. Daily practice is ideal. Even if you only spend 10 minutes a day sketching and maybe three hours a week producing a detailed drawing, you will see significant improvements within the space of a month or two. If you follow all of the tips outlined here consistently for a year, you will be a completely different and much improved artist.

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