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.
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!