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Like others here, I get asked a lot of questions about my art, my process, techniques, and my inspiration. One of the questions I get asked that makes me both smile and laugh is, "How did you get so good?" Half the time it's a rhetorical question, and the other half is people genuinely wanting to know how to get better at art.

The answer is deceptively simple: I challenge myself and maintain a positive attitude.

RISE TO THE CHALLENGE

Now you might say, "Well, everything I do is a challenge, I'm not that good yet." But that's not what I mean. Of course getting better at art is challenging, and even when you're what others might consider a master, art never stops being a challenge.

But what I'm talking about is specifically setting goals for yourself and taking on projects that you KNOW are going to make you struggle. The projects that you KNOW are going to make you want to give up and do something else.

I find that a lot of people sort of stick to a specific niche and never really evolve. Some people are okay with that, and that's cool, but I'm sure many of them would like to get better and move on, but don't really know how, or are afraid of failing.

FAILURE AS A CATALYST TO SUCCESS

Well, reality check, we are all made of fail. That's how anyone grows. You didn't learn to walk with your first steps did you? No. You fell on your face a few times. You didn't learn to color within the lines your first time using crayons did you? No. You scribbled around the page a lot. The trick to growing is the struggle itself.

Failing is just as important as succeeding, if not more so. Failing shows you what you did wrong so you know how to fix it next time. Failing makes you want to try harder. Without failure, you wouldn't know how to succeed. So don't regard it as some scary or embarrassing thing. Do you think Leonardo da Vinci succeeded with all his paintings or inventions? Absolutely not. The guy was a genius, but he went through all the same processes you have to go through to become a better artist.

As Thomas Edison once said,  "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

So, the trick is to challenge yourself. No one gets better without trying things they weren't sure they could do. You struggle through it, but the next time it's easier. And the time after that is even easier, until one day you're breezing through it.

REFERENCE IS A CRUCIAL AID

Before I move on, I want to quickly talk about and encourage that everyone use reference--it doesn't by any means make you a bad artist. I find time and time again that beginning artists feel like using reference is cheating. Well, I'm here to tell you that every professional artist working today uses reference, it's the only way you're going to learn and make things as realistic as possible, even if your work is stylized.

How are you going to understand how the world looks, how color and light behave, and a million other things if you're not observing the real world directly or through reference?

I laugh every time I see a description on someone's work and it says, "No referenced used." Many say in a way that indicates pride or maybe even an inflated ego, but let me tell you a couple things:

Half those people are lying to you, and with the other half it's generally obvious they didn't use reference, and I think to myself, "Yeah, maybe you should have, it could have been much better." Only a very tiny percentage of the people that say that are actually pulling off something remarkable without deceiving you.

EXCUSES

But in addition to that, there's another reason people may use the line that has nothing to do with deception, ego, or pride, and that's when they use it as an excuse for why something doesn't look as good as they'd like.

In my experience, people who use the line in that way are generally in the minority, I tend to sense it being used in the other fashion far more often.

I guess the point here is to hopefully make clear what I meant to anyone I may have unintentionally offended, and also to encourage anyone who may be using the line as an excuse to use more reference in their work so they don't have to be embarrassed!

Reference doesn't always mean you're copying either, it can simply be a jumping off point to get the right idea, mood, pose, colors, or getting details to look right and putting in things you otherwise wouldn't think of.

ATTITUDE IS POWERFUL

Also crucial to your success as an artist is your attitude. Any professional or master will tell you that same thing. So in addition to challenging yourself, doing things beyond what you're used to and pushing outside of your comfort zone, you need to have a positive attitude about your work.

The more you tell yourself you suck, the higher likelihood you have of it becoming true. How are you supposed to get better if you've convinced yourself you're the worst artist in the world?

LOOKS LIKE WE'RE MAKING PROGRESS

A very simple and effective way of maintaining a positive attitude is simply pushing for progress. With each drawing or painting you do, do your absolute best to make it better than your previous one. If you can genuinely tell yourself, "Yes, this is better than the one before it," then that in itself is a real confidence booster.

As long as you can keep making progress, and look back and see a notable difference in the quality of your work over time, you're on the right track. If it's not happening as fast as you might like, then you simply need to put more time and effort into it.

OBSERVE OTHER ART

Another way of maintaining a positive attitude is to look at other art. A problem I find in beginning artists is that they get themselves down by looking at all this fantastic work out there, thinking they'll never achieve that. But that's the wrong way to look at it. You need to see it as a milestone or a goal, not an impossible feat.

In addition to that, another way to feel better about your work, and as harsh as this might sound, is to look at work that isn't as good as yours. If you're serious about being an artist, and have been working hard at it, then you're already more than likely better than most other people in the world and definitely better than you think you are.

This isn't an ego thing, it's just the natural order becoming better and maintaining a good attitude toward your work. It's the same as being in an art class. You might feel 'meh' about your life drawing of the model sitting there and be of the attitude that you're doing a terrible job. But once you get up and walk around and see that half the class is in the same boat as you, or maybe even not as good as the 'crap' you feel you're producing, then you'll automatically feel better about your own work. Believe it or not, those other people in the class might actually be looking up to the work you're doing.

The idea behind this is to realize that you're not as bad as you think, or even close. Everyone is overly critical of their own work, and it can easily get you down, but it's also this same mechanic that will drive you to push yourself further each time.

KNOW YOU CAN DO IT

Continuing on with the attitude idea, I also see a lot of budding artists telling themselves, "I hope I work for that company one day,' or, "I hope I can do this professionally at some point." Hope is good, don't lose that. But take that one step further. Don't just hope you'll be doing it one day, make it a goal for yourself. If you want to work in the game industry, keep telling yourself that you will one day, not that you hope you will. You'll be surprised at how much further thinking like that can get you.

At the end of the day, you're only as good as you allow yourself to be. If you're lazy, or down on your work, if you refuse to rise to a challenge or do something you haven't done before, if you don't at least try to stay upbeat and positive, then you're not doing your job as an artist. Becoming a great artist is going to be an even bigger uphill struggle than it has to be if you don't fix that and you'll always disappoint yourself.

Work hard, put your heart into it, and stay positive. It's a mixture for success, and you'll feel better not only about your work, but yourself. Then one day you could be the person passing on advice that sets others on the right path.

In any case, I hope this has been at the very least helpful or opened up your mind to all the things you can achieve if you're willing to work for them. Good luck and take care!
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:iconflamegod7:
flamegod7 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Student General Artist
It's my 24th birthday today and I am finally ready to take the next step into becoming a professional artist. Thank you for the great advice. It will really help boost my confidence and allow me to achieve the goal I set out for myself years ago.
Reply
:iconantheas:
Antheas Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2013
Thank you so much for posting this!
It really helped me @w@
I have so many friends who are so much better than me, so for you to post this means a lot <3333
You're awesome!
Reply
:icontjwolfcoon:
TJWolfcoon Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
I really needed this because I watch so many great artists, while I felt that I was barely even adequate to even post my work. Even their practice sketches were better than my work that I spent months on. I end up bashing on myself and end up in a slump, but this helped me out a lot. Thanx for the tips and the help.
Reply
:iconteaterh:
TeaterH Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2013
this is really helpful, I've been having alot of trouble drawing recently and this is like the cure to my ailment.
Reply
:iconebony1023:
Ebony1023 Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
really helped me thank you!!
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:icondawnedolittle:
dawnedolittle Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2012
So true. Thank you!
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:iconmasternegi:
masternegi Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2012  Student General Artist
This has really helped me pull myself up from the depths of downatude thanks.
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:iconswings3ttrag3dy:
Swings3tTRag3dy Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
This Is Definitely going into my FAVs so I don't forget the valuable lesson you've taught me today!!!!!
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:iconartistheku:
ArtisTheKu Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2012  Student Artist
Wow this really helped alot and was great motivation for me thanks :D
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:iconkillercanine121:
killercanine121 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
Excellent.
This was really inspiring for me. Being a begining artist a lot of what you said in this will help me.
Reply
:iconfinding-equilibrium:
finding-equilibrium Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Fantastic :clap:
Inspirational and helpful to me, and I'm sure I lot of others! Thanks for posting! :D
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:iconsailormoonxdbzxcats:
SailormoonxDbzxCats Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2011  Student Digital Artist
Thank you so much. I did not have a lot of confidence in my drawings. 5 minutes after reading this, I drew a very good picture, perfect fingers and everything. It was way better than what I have ever drawn before. All because of not being afraid to use a reference, and not afraid of failing.

Thank you so much.
Reply
:iconalfredoava:
AlfredoAVA Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2011  Student General Artist
Fantastically written, I think many of us (myself included) can relate to many of these issues, and you've accurately given the most logical solutions for each of them. I will admit that I have fallen under the topic of looking down upon/not appreciating my work in the past, and maybe even feel that way sometimes now. Thankfully, school has pushed me to try many new things, and just as you've pointed out, I have grown beyond what I ever imagined to be.
One rut I find myself stuck in now, however, is that since I have grown as an artist, and since I am constantly challenging myself to try new things, many people who have appreciated my earlier work no longer find any interest in my current work, which is no doubt more triumphant. Many of them ask me to make more of / redo my earlier works, but I just can't due to my pursuit of knowledge. So even though I am growing and improving as an artist year by year, I still feel as though I am anguishing in obscurity. Perhaps I am just catering to the wrong audience... but regardless, I now love all of my work, whether others do or not, and I feel that is most important; to not only excel at improving yourself and your skill, but to also appreciate your work for what it is, and to acknowledge that it is a part of you.
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:iconadanflores:
AdanFlores Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Hey thanks!! i gona post a journal and put this link, great thoughts!
I hope that this doesn't bother you :D
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:iconenemynext:
EnemyNext Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2011   General Artist
Just what I needed! Thanks.
Reply
:iconbluestreakfus:
BluestreakFUS Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This was so helpful it's touching.
I'm not only faving it, I'm printing this out and posting it on my wall, along with other things you've written.

With this and the other things you've written, you bring up every point that I was seeking answers to. Selfconfidence, starting small, not jumping into art without a solid base to stand on, failing as a good thing etc.
It feels really good knowing that I shouldn't be afraid of doing things I'm unsure of how to do, even tho it's easier said than done.
Reply
:iconharuhi-chan58:
Haruhi-Chan58 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2010  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you so much for this. This article is just what I needed.
Reply
:icondoozigitis:
Doozigitis Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2010
Glad to see this information out there. Too bad I had to learn most of these lessons the hard way! Thanks for sharing.
Reply
:iconmira-silver:
Mira-Silver Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:) I wanna give you a hug.

:hug:
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:iconpaperanddust:
PaperandDust Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2010  Student Traditional Artist
I'd write a large column describing my thanks, but others here have already done that... this is truly wonderful,and an inspiration.
Thanks =)
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:iconsnusmc:
snusmc Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2010  Professional General Artist
Thank you for this article!
Reply
:icononlythirteen13:
OnlyThirteen13 Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2010  Student General Artist
oh my this is very inspiring :boogie:

im always in the stage doubt. :D
Reply
:iconyaminotora:
YamiNoTora Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2010  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thank you for writing this.:heart:
It really helped me out of my little art block I've been having ("I'm soo bad at art,I can't draw ...") . I think I know what I'm going to do next :D
Reply
:icongroundshock:
Groundshock Featured By Owner May 31, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Good Points, it makes more sense coming from someone else, instead of me just telling myself I have to work hard on this! If it's just me saying it to myself, there's room for self-doubt to creep in.
Reply
:iconlord-squish:
Lord-Squish Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2010
Well, 19 weeks and 3 days ago, I was not a very good artist. Then I saw this article and it got me going, gave me the drive to improve. I spent hours drawing every day of those 19 weeks, constantly finding things to hate about everything I did. I don't mind saying that was pretty hard for me, but now I've finally drawn something in my sketchbook that I am completely, 100% happy with. I'm still not a very good artist, but I'm definitely better than I was and definitely a lot happier with myself.

Thanks Rahll. I know I'll never be successful, but if that weren't true, I'd always give the name Reid Southen as the reason I was. You're a truly inspirational person. Just thought you ought to know.
Reply
:icondead-adventure:
dead-adventure Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:thanks: you just gave me that big piece of confident
Reply
:icongunrave71:
GunRave71 Featured By Owner Mar 4, 2010  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks dude I really needed this.
:meow:
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:iconsnowpeace19:
snowpeace19 Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2010
It is one of the best articles i have read on DA..
Thanks for sharing it...
Reply
:iconalicesacco:
AliceSacco Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2010
About references: Images need to be close with image that you have in mind, or it is just necessary for a better realism? i ask this because i can't find everytime a photo that is close with image that i have in mind
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:iconpoetryman1:
PoetryMan1 Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2010  Student Filmographer
"At the end of the day, you're only as good as you allow yourself to be. If you're lazy, or down on your work, if you refuse to rise to a challenge or do something you haven't done before, if you don't at least try to stay upbeat and positive, then you're not doing your job as an artist."

This is probably the summary of this whole article. Good tips!
Reply
:iconwhitekimahri:
WhiteKimahri Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2010
...
Wonderful words, really.
I am really needing this, right now.
I'm trying with all of myself to pay care to these advices.

Thank you, really.
Reply
:icontron96:
Tron96 Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2010
Thanks very much for this post :).
Reply
:iconph3nf1x:
PH3NF1X Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This was an inspiration
Reply
:iconnyahkitty:
NyahKitty Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
I like the entire article.

Many of the things you've pointed out, I've noticed.
But one part I especially wanted to highlight was the use of reference and being inspired or motivated by the work of others.

The bit about reference really speaks for itself, although if I tried to work without reference, my work becomes less real, more cartoony.

With regards to being motivated by other artists, sites like DeviantArt provide an amazing location which collects pictures of varying skill levels. After I came to DA, I finally got to see what was really possible on my end, thus how much more I could push myself to improve.

A really good article!
Keep up the good work.
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:iconquentina-psychi:
Quentina-Psychi Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2009
thank you so much for puttin up this~ I feeling better after read through the whole article... sob ....sob.....XD
at least one thing for sure, I'm on my right track now~
Reply
:iconcheoriginal:
cheoriginal Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
Very nice article....The world looks and feels differant when you consider yourself an "Artist"...The appreciation for other artists and art grows beyond expectations....I have changed...

Thank you to all artists!

Chuck
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:iconblack-a:
Black-A Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2009  Hobbyist Interface Designer
thanks again, great tutorial)
Reply
:iconnaomihansen:
NaomiHansen Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2009  Student Digital Artist
Ja! Failing makes me more patient with my art skills. People should know that! It too me about FOUR YEARS just to get to where I'm at today. (Which isn't too far for my liking but it's somewhere!) :trophy: :XD:
Reply
:iconarunarao:
ArunaRao Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2009
Thank you. :)
This really lifted me up and encouraged me. Of late, I feel the drive to become better. This was a good poke of encouragement and I'll be striving for the struggle. Thanks a lot! Your genuine words got through to my heart.
Reply
:iconstrawberristars:
strawberristars Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2009
all i have to say, is that i maybe
i should stop saying i suck D:

awesome news entry, i do love it and
it has inspired me as it most likely
has for others
Reply
:iconnikknikk:
NikkNikk Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2009
Wow this really has given me inspiration! It is true what you think is what your art will become. ^__^ I am so faving this and going to share it with others!
Reply
:iconellabella1102:
Ellabella1102 Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2009
True! Art is a challenge, and i find it so, even after 2 years of digital artwork under my belt, i try to fix something every time i draw.
One thing this didnt mention that i find helpful is to clean out your old art from this website from time to time to avoid bad crituqe on something that dosent reflect your actuall ability as an artist. It happened to me all the time and was quite annoying... but im not saying like every week or anything, i did it after 2 years.
Reply
:iconsecondchancenow:
secondchancenow Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2009
long and awesome!
Reply
:iconfarm-fresh:
Farm-Fresh Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you very much man. I needed the boost right now. I've finally gotten up the courage to go for my dreams and really working on my writing and artwork. I've made progress and I believe I'm still improving with each piece I make.

It's just lately I've had people on my back on here that have been trying to put me and my work in the trash heap. One of the prize winners was telling me that since I'm getting into this at an older age, I'm 23 by the way, that I'll never be good and that I should have been doing this from a very young age if I had any hope of ever making it. That I should quit because I'll never be good.

I don't hold to that, I think you can start at any point and give in your best shot and do well. I'm doing the best I can and always looking to improve my work. In the past 10 months I've improved so much that I look back at my older work and wonder what I was thinking.

Thank you man, I needed a boost right now and this gave it to me. I'll keep working and striving to improve. If a few people keep trying to put me down, all I have to say to that is I'm still trying. It’s all a learning process right?
Reply
:iconflitter-flutter:
Flitter-Flutter Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2009
:boogie: Thank you for writing this. I've had the same exact thoughts in my head for some time now. I keep telling people not to say their artwork sucks! Acknowledging flaws in your art is fine, but never EVER say your art is terrible. Half the time the people I see who say so really have halfway decent, if not downright good, art. Uh oh, your article has inspired a little speech from me; do you mind? ^^

As for attitude? That's definitely necessary. Also, a willingness to continue. I notice my artwork does better if I keep pushing it forward, instead of saying, "Okay, I'm done," I have to go back through and make sure I really am done. I have one commenter who keeps giving me constructive criticism and I pay attention to it as much as possible, and if I don't go back and fix the artwork I try to carry the advice forward to my next piece.

I have also found that people are generally appreciative when I give them constructive criticism. Don't be afraid to tell someone their art could stand improvement (but don't say their art sucks; then they will get upset and not listen to any good advice you have). If they made an arm too long, tell them. If the light source is confused, speak up. If something other than the center of interest stands out, they need to know. Even if they are a better artist than you, you are still qualified to let them know. Give them a challenge. Your own art will improve from it as well.

References are necessary, at the very least as a learning device. I don't use them a lot myself (I acknowledge when I do), but using a reference does not equal cheating, and I used to use them all the time when I was younger. I always drew stuff from references from when I was ten or so through high school. I paused Disney movies, or anime, or even live action movies and drew the scene I'd paused. That sort of thing. It helped immensely. ^^ If you have something that gives you grief, then draw it over and over till you're comfortable with it. (I should be doing that with feet...^^; feet show up so rarely in my gallery XD)

Again, great article, and sorry I had to launch into a speech like that XD
Reply
:iconmaestro77:
Maestro77 Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2009
This is the most cheerful and positive article I had read in a long while. Greatly insightful and helpful, never seen it this way before. Big Kudos to you, for sharing this with everyone! :D
Reply
:iconsilver-wolf900:
Silver-wolf900 Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2009
Thanks for sharing. This is really motivating and inspirational for me. Actually recently i've been thinking about fiddling around with some different styles
Reply
:iconparady:
Parady Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2009
really nice , that article is the pillar of art :)
Reply
:icondans-magic:
Dans-Magic Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2009
Im showing this article to a certain someone right now. They have been depressed and very aggravated for months. Due to not having time for art. they recently got a full time job that they do not like and it took all their art time away. they are bitter because they were starting to get into commercial art and then it tanked due to the fact that she cannot produce art or practice with no time.. with the time she does have shes been getting frustrated and quits and goes to bed to get up for work in the morning. Im hoping this will help her...
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:icontwisted-critters:
twisted-critters Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2009
Thanks for sharing!Very inspirating,that sure will drive me to learn and practice more.
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