Well, we can't be all born with mad talent. But there are certainly ways to speed up the process for you! In the journal here, I listed some tips and tricks that helped me getting to the point where I am now. I thought I'd share them with you. And maybe you can add to the list. I'm always willing to learn.
Give up on being a mangaka -- or hold more realistic expectations
Admit it. Most of us here started drawing manga because we liked the style at a certain point. How awesome would it be to one day become a pro in that field. A real manga artist (or mangaka, like they say in Japan)! The truth is... becoming a mangaka isn't that easy. It it were, many more people would be one. First of all, mangaka's live in Japan. That's the only country with a manga industry big enough to actually have a job like that. In spite of the fact that there is a lot of manga in America, there aren't many jobs in the field. Most of the manga material is imported from Japan, translated, and then published again.
Becoming a mangaka, would imply you need to move to Japan. Learn Japanese, learn a lot about the culture, connect with people there... and, on top of that, be skilled enough to make it in the industry. A nearly impossible task, if you ask me. And even if you wanted to... would it be worth it? A recent anime I watched, called Bakuman, gave a very realistic impression of 2 artists trying to become professionals. How they work 24/7 to meet deadlines. How they're often disappointed and let down by the industry. How they struggle to make it through. If you're really planning to make it to Japan, give at least that anime a try (they have a manga too, btw) and see if this is still what you really want. Japans culture is very different from what we (USA and Europe) know. It's for a reason that the Japanese have a word like Karoshi, which means 'death by overwork'. Living out there, means working hard! (Still don't believe me? Check out the average schedule of a Japanese mangaka: www.comicsbeat.com/wp-content/… )
I don't say you have to give up on being a professional in art. Hell, I don't even say you have to give up on manga if you like it. I just say you have to got some realistic expectations. If you want to go for a goal that's incredibly hard to reach, you'd better have a backup plan. As for manga, there are many game company's that accept manga-like art nowadays. If you want to do the story-telling aspect, try to join a comic group... as there are a lot of comic groups that actually do have a manga-like style. Or if you want to really make your own thing, try to publish stuff yourself, of start a kickstarter project. There are many ways to get where you want. Don't just focus on one possibility, because you'll end up utterly disappointed when it doesn't work out, or you run out of money.
Aside from the whole manga-thing, it's never bad to broaden your senses a bit more. There are many people out there that do awesome work as concept artists, for magazines and for games. It's not just manga that's art. Take a look at all the awesome game concept art out there! Take a look at artists like Feng Zhu www.fengzhudesign.com/ . They make paintings beyond awesome! Why just aim for manga if you can be so much more? Hell, you can have your work featured in games millions of people play!
Don't limit your yourself to a single style
True... you might like either manga, cartoons, or any other style. It's fine. Even if you never intend to do anything other than that... but don't pass it off as nonsense. Broaden your senses when it comes to style. Look at how other people, and other styles, manage to approach a certain subject, and learn from it.
When we go back to the basics, all styles divert from realism. From the idea that we somehow wanted to depict our daily life. From there on, many people developed symbols to make drawings easier. A circle for the head... a line for the mouth... all of them are symbols. We've learned to draw that way, because many others did so. Remember the stick-man we all learned to draw when we were 3? Symbols! Again! Every single style has it's symbols. Focusing just on one style, makes you learn only the symbols of that style. Why not look beyond that, and see what other styles of art offer?
Make it a challenge to find things that you like in every style. Even though you have your preferences, never cease to learn from other styles.
Have your idols, and learn from them
Every beginning artist has his idols. The reason why they start with art. The artists they look up to, and hope to be just as good as, somewhere in the future. This can be anyone. From a family member, to a friend, to a local artist you know, or a random person on the internet. It doesn't matter who it is, as long as he/she inspires you to draw.
I've had many idols over the years. From that girl in class that could color so nicely, to random people I met on the internet. Their art styles differed a lot, but they had all one thing in common: they inspired me to keep drawing. To become better. To learn more. So that one day, I could be just as good. You will change idols sometimes. You will surpass some of your idols, and it will feel a bit sad if you do so, but realize that it's because you've grown.
When I came to DA, my main 'idol' used to be the well known yuumei . I found a work of her on a nameless message board. Used the url underneath her drawing, and went to her DeviantArt page, to find a lot more of her art that I liked. I was inspired by her way of using colors, and her way of telling story's through a visual medium. Nowadays, I still like her style. But she's one of the many people that I've learned to know on DA, and that inspire me. I look at how they do things. At how they use lines and how they use color, in order to learn from them. And maybe I will ever be as good as that.
Who didn't do it at some point in their artistic life? Grabbing yourself a pencil and a paper, and trace over some artwork you like. Of course It'll look better than your own artwork, in the beginning. You're tracing the work of someone that has far more skills than you do. But don't keep on tracing. You'll end up seriously disappointed when you have to do without tracing. And believe me, that moment will come eventually. Nobody can trace it's entire artistic career. Not to mention the shame and the copyright claims when people find out you traced your masterpiece.
If you don't believe me, let the whole Nick Simmons case be an example for you. This kid wanted to make a manga. He was even quite successful about it, until people revealed the ugly truth behind his drawings: most of them were direct traces from Tite Kubo's work. Needless to say, the manga got out taken out of order immediately. I don't think he will even get rid of the name as 'tracer' for his entire life.
Haven't got a clue what I'm talking about? Check this out: knowyourmeme.com/memes/incarna… . It's an interesting article.
Let this be an example for you. Don't do tracing! Just don't!
It won't help you. It won't gain you anything and it won't learn you anything. It's okay to look at an artwork and think about how the lines are placed, and why. But just retracing this lines won't make you learn a thing about it.
Learn the basics
So you're willing to learn, but haven't got a clue where to start? Congratulations. We all started there. Let's say you've drawn manga characters for years, but fail to improve... yet you don't know why. It's probably because you lack basic skills. You can easily draw manga from your mind, because you've done so many manga faces you can remember the basic structure. But you're clueless when you have to turn a face or do a different position? Then you really need to work on your basics!
What do I mean with basics? Well... stuff like anatomy, colors and lighting. Might seem extremely boring. And your drawings might end up worse for a while, when you try to master these concepts. It's the right way, however. There isn't a single great artist out there that doesn't at least know his basics in anatomy and coloring... and there's a damn good reason for that. No matter what you draw, all of them rely on the basics of drawing anatomy and lighting. So you better learn about them when you want to be better.
This doesn't mean you have to know every bone and muscle in the human body, or have to be able to mix every color in the universe. It does mean you need to know your way around the basic shapes of the human body. I learned most of my skills from books and using reference photo's. But how you want to learn stuff, comes down to your own preferences. I personally liked the methods of Andrew Loomis and Michael Hampton when it comes to drawing anatomy. Hampton in special, has a very basic method of splitting up the human body in shapes that are easy to remember. If you have the chance, check out his book: www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615… . Haven't got money or a library nearby? Check out Proko: www.youtube.com/user/ProkoTV . This guy did some awesome videos in which he covered the Loomis methods for drawing in a simple and understandable way.
As for colors, I really liked the book of Gurney: www.amazon.com/Color-Light-Gui… . The book is officially meant for traditional painters, but the guy managed to explain color theory in such a way that I was able to understand it quite well. While the internet has many good resources on color theory, I'd certainly recommend the book. I haven't come across any resources as good at that book.
As for perspective and composition... I have read quite some books about it. I haven't got a real favorite, though. I sure liked fox-orian's tutorials about perspective and composition a lot:
There are many books out there about art. What works for one, doesn't work for another. You might be wanting to check out a book's preview before you actually buy something. I'd say, take a look at Parka Blogs: www.parkablogs.com/ . This guy has reviewed many art books, and gives you a look at the content before you buy it. Might be useful when it comes to saving your money for those books that you really like.
DeviantArt also has lots of tutorials on multiple subjects. browse.deviantart.com/resource… . Of course they're made by amateurs and not all of them are of high quality. However, there are many tutorials that provide a good insight in how certain artists do things.
Practice & keep track of your progress
Everybody knows that you're not going to get skills overnight. We all wish it would be so easy, but unfortunately it isn't. In order to learn stuff, you have to repeat an action many times, before it sticks to your minds. There are many methods to learn. Some of them being gesture drawings www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j39Nq… and painting from life. When you ever had art classes in school, you've probably came to know this to. You might've thought they were a bit boring an repetitive. Yet, there's truth in doing those practices.
I did many gesture drawings in order to find the right poses for my drawings. And every time I did it, I became faster and more skilled. And I learned a new method of sketching along the way. A method in which I use a few lines to sketch a gesture -- instead of painting every details and then find out the character isn't going to fit on the paper *sigh*
As for drawing for life. I should do that more often. It's really helpful. The last time I did it, I painted a glass of water. I've seriously never given thought about how the water in a glass refracts light. After I made this drawing damaimikaz.deviantart.com/art/… I learned a lot about it.
Just practicing might be frustrating as hell. As progress is often slow, it's nearly impossible to see that you do become better, especially over a short time. What helped me a lot, was keeping track of that progress. I forced myself to scan my sketches every end of the month, and upload them on DA. When you upload stuff on a regular basis, you'll see the improvement over time. It might take you months, or even years, but you will see it eventually.
The 2 drawings above illustrate very well the start and current state of my art. A lot of things changed... don't you think? For the full progress, see: damaimikaz.deviantart.com/gall…
Having to practice might be boring on the long run. I mean... drawing gestures... or having a sheet full of hands and feet... might be just plain boring. That's why it helps to incorporate the element of challenge and practice in your drawings. Why not go for that pose you didn't think you would never be able to do? Why not draw a character with the hands fully exposed, instead of hidden behind the back? (Yes, many starters do this. Don't think I haven't noticed yet!)
Try to have at least a small challenge in every drawing. Something you've struggled with before, but want to master. When you make it a part of something you'd like, it'll be less frustrating. And if you do well, you can reward yourself by finishing the drawing in a way that you like!
Use reference pictures
I cannot stretch this enough. If you don't know how to draw stuff, then use a reference. Ask your friends to pose for you, or use Google to search for a picture of something similar you want to draw.
I'd advice you to use real pictures, and not other people's artwork. Why? Because imitating somebody's artwork means that you automatically repeat their mistakes. When it comes to learning how to draw, realistic examples are best. DA has many groups and accounts, like Pose-Emporium focused on stock material, that you can use as a reference. Give it a look. And see for yourself what pose you like.
Remember: No matter what people say... drawing with references is not bad. It's necessary to learn from. Even the old masters did it that way!
Also: Don't be afraid of naked people. Because a lot of reference pictures are (partly) naked. This might seem weird at the beginning, but it serves a goal. You need to see the skin in order to place the muscles and see the shapes that are often masked by clothing. Aside from that: we are all naked underneath our clothes. We're born that way. There's nothing weird about that. Yes, women have breasts and guys have penises. So what? If you start to giggle about that, you probably haven't outgrown puberty yet
Drop the excuses
Stop making excuses for why your art isn't perfect yet. I've given so many critiques over the years and pointed out mistakes, which were followed by a reply like "But that is my style! You can't attack my style!"
It's true... there's a certain level of 'mistakes' you can label as style. For example; manga figures that have eyes that are far too large. It's just that too many people use the style-excuse for almost anything anyone points out.
Don't do that. You're limiting yourself when you do that. By saying it's 'your style' you're simply saying "This is how I draw. I don't want it to change. I don't want your critique." You're sealing yourself off from useful feedback. Don't do that to yourself!
What to draw
Maybe you're naturally inspired... maybe you're not. Either way... you have to draw something. I prefer to draw characters and settings from my own novel. Since I have plenty of them, it's not hard to find at least one that I want to draw. But many people don't have such a large scale project, and seek for stuff to draw.
You can draw anything you like. Try making a portrait of your best friend, your dog, your cat. Draw a character from a show your like.
There's however one 'but'. Refrain from grid-drawing a celebrity portrait. I see those a lot... and they're somehow useful to learn from. However... drawing from a grid learns you to look at outlines only, and not at shapes. Unless you have a solid understanding from the anatomy, you won't learn too much from grid drawing. For learning about colors, however, it's great to draw exactly from life. In order to understand color, imitation and try to understand certain color mixes, are the best.
As for fanart of cartoons/anime... I told about the issue with tracing, didn't I? Instead of imitating the lines, try to draw the character in your own style.... or in a different pose. Make it a challenge to show the character in a way you didn't know you were capable of.
Working with a familiar character can take the creative burden off your shoulders. You don't need to think about posture, clothing or a color scheme. Try to use that creative energy on pose and composition instead.
Accept that sometimes it just doesn't work
Everybody has them. Those days that nothing works out the way you wanted and every drawing seems to fail at your hands. Don't go forcing yourself. You'll end up utterly frustrated. Just put the pencil away and do something else you enjoy.
Staying away from drawing will relieve you of your frustration for while and will calm your mind. And sometimes that's just what you need in order to regain your skills.
And if that doesn't work... a good night of sleep will most often work. You'll be able to see your drawing with renewed energy the next day.
There's no 'better medium'
Whether it's digital or traditional... there's no such thing as a 'better medium'. I realize that nowadays digital art is hot, and makes it seem like traditional work is under appreciated. But that's not true. It doesn't matter if you like to work with pencils, water colors, or on a computer... just do whatever suits you most.
I, myself, like digital art a lot. Yet nothing can beat the soothing feeling of coloring with pencils for me. My hand rubbing over the paper, and being able to blend stuff with my fingers.
Find whatever suits you best, and stick to it while you're learning. And if you need a new challenge; try using a new medium and see how it works for you.
You don't need expensive equipment to start out
When I started drawing again, after 2 years of inactivity, all I had was a pencil and cheap printing paper. I was, however, able to learn from it very well. You don't need a lot of expensive materials to start drawing. Something as simple as a pencil and a cheap sketchbook will do.
If you don't believe me, take a look at this youtube video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_W9sZ… . This amazing artist uses only limited equipment to make the most impressive drawings.
An expensive drawing tablet won't make you a better artist
If I could only count how many times I've heard: "If I only had that Wacom Cintiq, I would be able to produce the most awesome art ever!".
No... you don't. You just don't. A drawing tablet is just a tool. Just like an expensive pen won't make you write better novels, an expensive tablet won't let you make you more awesome drawings. Sure, it'll make it easier for you. And a good tablet will take the load off your wrist muscles. But in the end, it all comes down to skill.
It's true that a decent tablet speeds up your working process tremendously, which is nice when you want to work in the industry. But it doesn't make you a better artist or whatsoever. When my old tablet (a Wacom Graphire) broke down, I decided on buying a second hand Cintiq. I hoped that drawing on screen directly, would improve my art tremendously. While it did make it easier to draw, and speeded up the drawing process several times, it didn't make me much better than I did on paper. I somehow decided to stick with the Cintiq line, because I have a huge problem with hand-eye coordination (Oh yeah... the horror of having weak/injured muscles >__> ). I thought the device would come in handy for my work as a designer as well, as it speeded up my working process and... time = money in the freelance business.
Anyhow... what I wanted to say is: don't keep yourself down just because you don't have an awesome tablet. Or don't spend money that you don't have on a tablet. You'll only end up disappointed. It's skill that makes you better. Not equipment.
You don't need to go to art school in order to get skills
"You can't be a good artist without going to art school". I've heard that so many times that it makes me sad. It's kinda true that art school learns you the basic principles of art, and provides you a great way of getting feedback from teachers. It is, however, also very expensive. And a lot of people won't be able to afford it.
Don't be sad that you're not able to go to art school. They're only there to help you develop yourself. You can do the same by yourself, if you have some discipline. Just study a lot, and be open for critique. Employers in that world tend to look more for a portfolio than for papers. Papers are great, but a portfolio is the one thing that really says how much skill an artist has.
There's no such thing as talent
Have you ever seen a newborn making an awesome painting? Me neither! Nobody gets born with the skill to make awesome art instantly. There's a certain talent-factor that makes it easier for you to pick up certain skills. But that doesn't set in stone who is capable of being an artist, and who isn't.
There isn't a single famous artist that got there by talent alone. They all worked their asses off in order to get that far. Saying "I don't have talent" is just like a bad excuse for you being too lazy to actually take effort to get better.
Interact with other artists and ask for feedback
Interacting with other people is fun, especially when they share common interests. It gets even more fun when those people can help you moving forward in your career. Don't be afraid to ask for critique. Critique (at least, good critique) is nice and will help you point out stuff you didn't notice yourself.
Provide other users in the community with critique as well. A good critique is well phrased and constructive. So don't use a "This girl is drawn ugly", but go for "I think her left eye is a bit too big compared to her right". The first is rather non constructive, while the latter points out exactly what the issue is... so the artists is able to fix it, or at least do a better job in the next drawing.
Realize that DA might not always be the right way to get critique. DA is a website, mainly used by teenagers, who don't draw in order to learn stuff. Even using the critique functionality won't get you much of a useful feedback (my own experience). What might help is joining a group on DA that's specifically aimed towards learning artists and/or improvement. Or search another art forum that is aimed towards such a target group.
Don't be disappointed if a great artist doesn't answer your questions
Great artists on DA get many questions from their watchers, and a whole damn lot of them contain the question: "How do you do art?". Aside from the lack of time for answering when they get thousands of messages a day, they will probably got tired of getting the same questions over and over again.
Some of them might be arrogant. But most of them simply lack time. Imagine yourself getting 2000 messages a day and having to scroll through and answer them all, every day. It would take you more time than a full-time job!
What I learned from experience is that it's helpful to approach artists that are slightly better than you, and ask them how to do specific things you like in their art. They will most likely have respect for an artist that is almost at the same level as they are, and don't get 2000 messages a day. So they will more likely answer your questions.
Don't spam other artists too much, though. Nothing is more annoying than getting 8 private message's a day from the same user that keeps on asking the same question. It could even be enough reason to block somebody.
If you ever get the opportunity to do so; teach other people about art. You don't have to got mad skills. Just teach the neighborhoods kids about drawing manga. Teaching will learn you to look at your own work from the view of an absolute beginner, and will make you go back to the basics. It's a very mind opening experience.
I never thought about teaching, until I met the Dutch mangaschool group. Even when I decided to join them, I was unsure whether teaching was really my thing. I used to be very shy and afraid that people had more skills than I had. The experience was great, though. People are all so enthusiastic. I get asked questions that even made me think, and learned a lot from the experience
For those with original projects
Do you have personal project that you really like to work on? This could be a graphic novel, characters for an RPG, or maybe an art book that you work on. Just do it!
Having a personal project can be quite discouraging on DA, because the site has become big on fanart, and it's hard for an original character to stand out. The reason for this? "Sonic the hedgehog" is much more searched for than "Icequeen Isabelle" (assuming your OC is named like that). And less pageviews = less attention = less feedback.
Know that it works like this. It's much harder to build your own fanbase, than making use of an already existing fanbase. Yet you can still do it. There are many people like yuumei and SerenaVerdeArt that became pretty damn famous with drawing their original characters. It's true that it takes way more effort... but if you really feel like doing your own thing, just do it! And even if it doesn't work out for now, realize that it's not you that fails. You just don't have the statistics on your side.
Connect with other people that draw OC's. Feature each other on journals. Make use of the thumbshare forum and random features to get your art more known. It's not easy, but it will work out eventually. If your skills are great enough, people won't no longer be able to ignore you.
Last but not least; Enjoy the process. Take the advantages of DA being a social website. Connect and interact with some of the thousands of people out here. Help each other to get better. Do what you love, and love what you do. You probably won't be an awesome artist tomorrow, and probably not even the day after that. But at least enjoy what you do, what you make, and who you meet.
It's about the journey. A journey that will go on for the rest of your artistic life, as you will probably never be satisfied with the result. So you'd better enjoy that journey.
And on a sidenote:
Everything here is based on my own opinion and experiences. Yours might be different.
Got something to add to the list? Enlighten me
Oh... and I'm not a native English speaker, so there could be mistakes in this text. Please forgive me for that. I'm trying my best ^^