Don’t reinvent the wheel.

I don’t know how to draw foliage well. What should I do? Hmm maybe I will just go out and draw some foliage from the nearby woods… right?


How about using the wheel instead?

You probably heard this a million times: “If you want to improve, just draw from life”. I have been in the same band as well for a while, until I realized (thanks, Naoki Saito!) there is a much, much more efficient way to improve your art. It’s not even new. In fact, it’s been around for several hundred years, but apparently people don’t like to remember that.

Copy from someone you like.

There, I said it.
Uh… but copying another artist is bad.
No, it’s not.

To rip off someone else’s artwork is bad. To claim something is yours while it’s not is also bad. But to have genuine admiration for someone and try to learn from them, using their insights to build your skill upon, is just what the greatest artists have always been doing.
Centuries ago there was no Art Center, no CalArts, no Feng Zhu Design School. There were no classes, so people went to learn directly from a master. They would copy from him or her, then apply the techniques they had learned directly to their own pieces.

And that is precisely what you have to do.

You do have preferences, don’t you? You like some artists more than others; their style just resonates with you. You would like to draw like them.
Then, do! They already figured out how to simplify an arm in a captivating way, so why not borrow their knowledge and springboard off of that?

Anyone can draw foliage. Literally. Anyone can pick up a pencil or paint, go out in the woods and “copy” from life. Whatever it is, however it looks, it’s still copied from life. But the result is not the same for everyone, is it?
That is because we do not copy from life, ever. Even if you wanted to, you could never copy a leaf 1:1. We always have to abstract the object so that it looks good, so that it is a valid representation of what we see (or imagine) based on our perception and feeling.

You see why using the abstraction of someone you like is so valuable then? Don’t act precious. Don’t think “ohhh but I want to develop my style”. Well, good luck! You might be among  the tiny minority of gifted people who just have a natural inclination to abstract from reality onto a canvas, but for the vast, vast majority of us, it just makes sense to use other people’s discoveries to guide our journey.
Think of another artist’s art as a map you can use to guide your improvement. Later you will start experimenting, but until you get to a point where you are ever so slightly satisfied with the result you get, just keep the artists you love as a reference.

Are you convinced yet? Good! Next week we will see exactly how to go about it.

Want more? Here are some ideas to get you started

Character Design Prompts

– Desert Nomad
– Spirit Shaman
– Shadow Monk

Creature Design Prompts

– Leviathan
– Golden Kyuubi
– Moon Crab

Environment Design Prompts

– Ancient Tech Ruins
– Enchanted Meadow
– Floating Gardens

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Artist of the week

Michal Kus

Michal is mostly known for his Mechs and hardware design. He is a concept artist and instructor at Focal Point School.


Monthly Challenge – Smaugust!

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