The Struggle To Become A Better Artist

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batman better artist

By Anders Stjerne Nielsen, aspiring illustrator/animator. On why it’s hard to start out.

If you ask my mom what my earliest dream job was, she’ll answer: Disney. There was no doubt about it, that’s where I wanted to work. At that time I had no idea of the process that went into creating an animated film, I only knew I wanted to be a part of it. That’s one the greatest parts of being a child, you rarely set limits for yourself, perhaps through ignorance or perhaps because that’s when you can dare to dream big without thinking about how to get there.

The dream of working at Disney dwindled as the years went on, but I always continued drawing. I traced a lot of artwork that I found impressive and that I wanted to imitate and I also copied them in freehand. What I was never good at, was to let go of the safety I found in copying someone else’s work, because whenever I did, the result would often be disappointing. What I should have done, that I realize now, is power through it and learn from my mistakes, but it was too easy to go back into the old routine. When I was in my early teens, I was introduced to comics which opened up a whole new world to me. Capturing so much action and movement in an image and not animation, I thought it was just amazing. One of my biggest inspirations at that time was John Romita Jr.’s work on The Amazing Spider-Man, the gritty and realistic feel he could bring to the page was exactly how I wanted to draw. I must have copied hundreds of his drawings from my Spider-Man magazines.

Later, Batman became my favorite comic, especially the issues drawn by Jim Lee, and reading The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, I was turned on to Sin City and from there the Hellboy series, drawn by the magnificent Mike Mignola, which to this day is one of my favorite things to read.

Finding inspiration

I think that a big misconception about inspiration is that once you are a skilled artist, you have everything you need. Seeking inspiration is always a crucial part of creating something. Whether it’s a conversation that gives you an idea for a story or a piece of artwork that catches your attention — make sure to write it down or sketch it out, even though it’s a only a fledgeling of an idea.

I often have a lot of ideas floating around, eager to make all of them real. This takes time and effort, but don’t be afraid to quickly make some notes if you have a good idea. Saving everything in an organized manner can prove fruitful when returning to an idea at a later time.

A few times I’ve helped out a friend with a logo or a concept sketch, and getting ‘commissioned’ work like this can also boost your work drive. Someone else comes with the idea, the inspiration and you work from that.

Getting out of your comfort zone

When I draw, I tend to draw the same things over and over. That’s because there are a few things I’m good at drawing, so it’s very awarding to draw them. It’s not difficult to see why this is a bad idea. You only get better at something by practicing. Start finding poses and styles you are unfamiliar with and don’t hesitate to trace them in the beginning. Notice the forms and details and then after a while you can start drawing from memory, comparing every now and then. I’ve always struggled with drawing feet and hands, something I have in common with a lot of people I think. So when I was younger, if a drew a person, they had clenched fists and either stood in water, behind a rock or was cut off before the feet. Silly, I know.

Now I use references when drawing hands and feet, and try to remember as much of the outline and form as I can. I think it’s fair to say that most people don’t find it fun doing something they are bad at — which leads me to the next point.

Keep working, even when it’s not fun

This might be the hardest part and certainly the one I’m struggling with most of the time. To clarify, you should of course enjoy the time you spend drawing, but there also comes a time when it goes from fun, to work.

I give myself very few tries to get something the way I want before discarding it and getting deterred. It’s only in the last few years I’ve allowed myself to draw something ‘ugly’ and learn from it. I think it’s very important to embrace this, let it guide your work. Nothing comes out perfect on the first try. Reiterate until you are satisfied, but do not get bogged down in small details either, especially if you are just sketching.

Why is it so hard to work hard?

Now I can only speak for myself on this , but I find it very hard to sit down and draw for an hour or two. I think this is because I’m still not as good as I want to be, which is paradoxical. I know that it takes hard work and dedication to become good at something and I still want to improve my drawing skills and make something of all the ideas I have, then why can’t I convince myself to give it time and investment. For me, it’s about goals and outcome. I’ve always had trouble with long-term projects, where results aren’t visible until you are a long way into the process. Not a very impressive attribute, I admit that, and something I am working on changing.

Something I’ve found can give me a drive to work on something, is sharing the idea with others. Getting feedback is very importantthough it can be difficult, especially if you don’t think your work is good and you are afraid of getting critique. It can be nerve-wracking to share your art, but finding the right people to give you feedback can be very awarding.

So in short, seek inspiration wherever you can, draw stuff you aren’t good at drawing, keep drawing even when nothing is working and get feedback. All this requires a fair bit of self-discipline and setting up some ground rules for yourself can be a good idea, such as predetermining how long a drawing session is going to last and not stopping before that. Most important thing though is to just draw — a lot. Even if it’s scribbles, you never know when a simple line can turn into some else.

If you have any tips on what works for you when struggling, drop a comment below