6 Secrets to Success I Wish I’d Learned on Day 1

This article sums up the the best advice I’ve heard given to illustration and concept art students:

Super Obvious Secrets That I Wish They’d Teach In Art School at Marvelous Mustache Factory.

And here I’ll expand on it:

  1. Carry a sketchbook and one or more sharpened pencils with you at all times.  Many artists prefer Moleskin or a tone-paper sketchbook and two Prismacolor pencil pencils (one white and one dark toned).  Tone paper lets you use the paper itself as a midtone, which means that you’re building up both shadows and highlights with your colored pencils instead of just shadows (as with graphite) or using the lift-off technique (the lift-off technique involves covering white paper with a medium tone of graphite or charcoal and then erasing it where you want the light tones and highlights to be).  It’s much more cost-effective to use tone paper than to use white paper, and you’re less likely to smudge everything if you avoid using graphite pencils.  Prismacolor color pencils have wax in their core which prevents smudging, and designers often use the Color Erase type in the industry because they’re so erasable.
  2. Artists should never be idle and never take the day off.  Waiting for someone?  Sketch.  Standing in line?  Sketch.  Riding the bus?  Sketch.  There are people and objects and environments all around you.  This will teach you to draw quickly.  You can get creative and turn people into characters and simplify enviornments for animation too.
  3. If for some reason you are without a sketchbook, then this is what you do: draw without drawing.  Don’t just look, see!  Then memorize what you see.  Note of the shapes and forms and values, then close your eyes and imagine it.  Open your eyes and compare that mental image to what you see.  Then draw it when you get home.  This is how you build your reference vocabulary so that you can late rearrange these elements when drawing from your imagination.
  4. Set deadlines and goals.  My instructor, Michael Buffington, challenged himself to draw 1,000 heads last year.  The project took him three months, and in that time his skill improved dramatically even though he was already at a professional level.  If you’re weak with drawing hands, then set a goal of drawing 500 hands.  If you’ve got realistic heads down, switch to character heads and draw 500 of those.
  5. Remember to have fun.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or bored by assignments, but find a way to make them fun.  That’s why we’re in the game, after-all, this is part of being creative.  An art director shouldn’t be able to tell which projects you enjoyed and which you didn’t by looking at your portfolio.  Don’t trash talk yourself either.  You are selling yourself and your work, so be mindful of the impression you give.  Just be passionate about what you do and show that you have fun creating.
  6. You’ll probably find that your artistic vision and knowledge improve more quickly than your skill level does.  This can make you feel disappointed in your work.  But if you keep practicing, your skill will catch up and you’ll start to like your drawings more.  It’ll be hit-and-miss in the  beginning, but everyone goes through that.  With pencil-mileage comes consistently good work.

Finally, I’ll leave off with a helpful quote:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
— Ira Glass