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How To Improve Your Digital Art

5 Tips for getting over your Art Plateau!

Character concept art of female figure djinn by Nik Hagialas

With all of the information out there on “how to get better at art” it can be difficult to decipher where to begin. Looking through a website like ArtStation can also sometimes be a daunting task when you are an artist trying to improve. Thankfully I have you covered!

Here are the top 5 things I’ve learned over my professional career, as well as through teaching my mentees to help improve your digital art!

Illustration of woman in fantasy pool of water - by Nik Hagialas

Tip #1 -Start by drawing / painting what you love

The best way to get ahead with your art is to really find what you love to work on! It’s definitely important as you improve to branch out to different subjects, techniques, and mediums (3D is a big one to learn!), but when you’re starting your art improvement journey, it’s extremely important to draw what you love.

A big part of improving is learning how to be patient and accepting the struggle. It will be that much easier to sit there hours on end if you are at least working on something that interests you! A good exercise is to look through previous sketchbooks and artworks, and see what you naturally gravitate towards. Is it a specific subject matter, mood, or genre? Becoming a master in a specific area is a great way to help you stand out!

Tip #2 - Learn the fundamentals

This might sound obvious but mastering your fundamentals are one of the most important aspects of growing as an artist! Once you understand HOW things work, it becomes much easier to pull that knowledge from your imagination, and create really anything you want.

From what I’ve seen from my mentees, as well as my Discord Members who participate in our monthly challenges, the biggest fundamentals that generally need improvement are form and perspective. Both form and perspective have to do with making an image appear 3D, so studying how light wraps around objects to create depth is crucial to helping your images not appear flat.

I recommend the book Color and Light by James Gurney as THE book for every artist to keep in their arsenal. This book does a very good job at explaining very complex lighting and form situations with easy to understand examples, and by really showcasing why light works the way it does in life.

Amazon Affiliate Link to Color and Light by James Gurney:

Tip #3 - Have a consistent drawing schedule

Improving your art isn’t like riding a bike. If there is too long of a break between drawing or painting sessions you can definitely get rusty. The best way to continuously stay on top of your chops is to create a schedule that works for you, that you can integrate EVERY DAY.

My suggestion is to shoot for at least 1 hour of art a day. Doing something for a bit every day is better than doing a week’s worth of work in one day. That’s an easy way to burn out, and to feel like you’re starting over each week. Ideally, drawing or painting sessions should feel natural to begin because you’ve built up a habit of doing it each day.

A fun way to create a consistent habit with your art is to have a specific time slot on a physical calendar for your drawing each day. Once you’ve done some art in that time slot, put an “X” on that day. Once you start creating a streak you won’t want to break it!

Another tip for keeping a consistent schedule and maintaining a good habit is to make drawing or painting easily accessible. This means leaving your sketchbook on your breakfast table, so you can see it and easily open it up when you are up in the morning, or create a designated space for your digital art that you know will always be there and is a place where you won’t be disturbed.

Portrait Study by Nik Hagialas

Tip #4 - Study from photographs and other artists

When I was a student at my university, I was finding myself hitting a plateau with my skill level. What I came to find out was that by doing a study for 30 minutes to an hour each day really helped me understand what I was missing or not seeing with my own work.

Studying from photographs is helpful for analyzing lighting, and understanding the technical side of how fundamentals work. At the end of the day, a photograph (at least an unaltered one) is a picture of something happening in real life, so all the rules of physics must apply. When I study from photographs, the first thing I do is try to understand the type of light source(s), and the direction of the light. If you can see cast shadows in the image you will have an easier time understanding the direction of the lighting. If you have no idea how the lighting is working, then it might be a good idea to find a different reference image!

Studying from other artists is helpful in understanding how you can present information in different ways. For example, do you want to represent hair as individual tiny brush strokes, or be more dramatic and create large shapes that when zoomed out, appear to have detail? Do you want to have lost edges on your image to give more of a light an airy look, or are you going for strict photorealism? Finding artists that either showcase their process or have visible brush strokes are the best to study from in my opinion, because it helps you better analyze how the artist is angling their brush, what brushes they are using, and how they are developing form with their strokes.

I know that style is always a big concern for artists. If you study enough of your favorite artists, and favorite subject matter through photographs, you will start to see a “style” emerge! I tell people not to worry so much about capturing a specific style when they are learning, but rather to just draw and paint in a way that feels natural, and as you improve, you’ll start to find ways to exaggerate which will in turn start showcasing a style!

If you're stumped with study prompts, I have a 100 Study Prompts for Art Improvement workbook available!

Sola character concept art by Nik Hagialas

Tip #5 - Create a personal project

Creating a personal project is not only great for personal development, but also for portfolio building. I think it’s helpful to be able to understand how to create a series of works that all follow one theme or narrative. This will help you focus on either a single type of color palette, mood, or subject matter that you can really push and improve upon.

When starting one of your first personal projects, remember to keep it simple! I’d say for your first project, stick with a series of 5 pieces, and set a deadline for yourself that’s reasonable for your schedule. This way you know you will get the project finished, and you’ll learn a lot about the FINISHING process (which is a skill in itself).

Art Quest: The Creative Seeker Banner

If you are looking for a fun way to improve... try this!

If you are looking for a fun way to build the habits you need for continued success, and a way to guide you along with creating a compelling personal project, check out my Art Quest program!

Art Quest: The Creative Seeker specifically focuses on habit and personal project building. You’ll also get a special role in my Discord where other Art Quest warriors are sharing their work. We also host events and challenges!




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