6 Tips on Becoming a Better Artist

If I had a dollar for every time I received an email from someone asking me for tips on how to improve their work, I’d have almost enough to purchase 3ds Max and be out of here for good! (kidding! sort of)

But as repetitive as this question is, and as much as I hate answering it, I understand why people ask it. As with anything, when you’re learning something new, there are multiple routes to “mastery” and some of them are quicker than others. So it makes sense to choose the quickest route.

Now whilst I don’t consider myself an expert, I do have a few tips that I learned through the last 8 years that may save you some time (and pain).

So here we go, 6 tips on becoming a better artist…

1. Do something that scares you

No I’m not talking about asking a girl out to dinner (although that’s probably not a bad idea), I’m talking about starting a project that you know is beyond your capabilities. Does the thought of modelling a human head fill you with fear? Good, then do it! By challenging yourself with new topics, you’ll force yourself to learn. Because believe it or not, learning won’t happen by itself. So make sure you’re proactive about choosing something that you know is over your head.

This scene still remains as one of my best learning experiences

This scene still remains as one of my best learning experiences

I learned more in the 3 months it took to create this scene than I did in the 4 years of fooling around I did previous to it. When you have an end goal in mind, you always find a way to achieve it.

2. Read books like your career depends on it

…because it does. And not just blender books either. If you’re serious about your career as an artist (and I’d like to assume you are), then you need to expand your knowledge to as many avenues of design theory as possible. This is so that you actually understand the “why” behind what you do, as opposed to just getting some inspiration online and copying it.

Some great books to start with are the Universal Principles of DesignDigital Lighting and Rendering and these 5 videos (yeah it’s not a book, but it still contains invaluable knowledge).

3. Don’t depend on tutorials

I bet you never expected to read that on a tutorial website! It sounds counter-intuitive to my business (and it probably is) but tutorials won’t get you far if you don’t know the “why” behind your actions. If I say to place a lamp at a 45 degree angle from the camera, you won’t know why to do that, you’ll just know how to do that. And that’s why limiting yourself to just tutorials is dangerous.

Donuts don't make themselves

These Donuts don’t make themselves

Why is it dangerous? Well let’s say you land a freelance job in the future creating an advertisement for McFlurrys. If you’d been depending on tutorials all the time, you’d be gutted to find out that there are in fact no McFlurry tutorials and you’d have to figure it out for yourself. If you aren’t used to this, then it will surely come as a shock to you. So lose the training wheels every now and then and throw yourself in the deep end. Further reading: Tutorial Culture vs Two Goldfish.

4. Brick walls are gonna happen

If you haven’t experienced it already, there will come a time during your learning process, where you will become absolutely stumped. You’ll hit a snag in your project that stops all productivity and stops you from moving forward. And despite your best efforts, you just can’t figure it out. You’ll feel like throwing in the towel and abandoning the project for something easier.

...and to this day it still remains a mystery.

…and to this day I still haven’t.

But it’s at this point that the men are separated from the boys (or the artists from the hobbyists). You won’t make it into the choice gallery without pushing through a few “brick walls”. And you certainly won’t get a job at Pixar (which seems to be everyone’s dream) without pulling a few all-nighters to finish what you started. So if you want to be a successful artist, don’t give up so easily. To quote Randy Pausch“The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”

5. Figure out who you really want to be

When I landed my first freelance job I was beyond excited. I couldn’t believe I was going to work on a real TV commercial! But I quickly realized that taking orders from a “boss” sucked all the live and joy out of what I previously loved. It was an awful realisation. “What do I do now?” I thought. I’d worked for years, perfecting my portfolio to an acceptable level for freelancing, and when I finally got there I realized I hated it! Thankfully I was able to sit down and work out how to make business out of doing what I love (this site), without sacrificing my standards.

"Yeah working on Avatar is alright, but my real passion is cleaning toilets"

“Yeah working on Avatar is alright, but my real passion is fixing toilets”

So make sure you’re crystal clear about what is that you love, and then aim for a career that provides that. And how do you know what you’ll love if you’ve never experienced it? Well head over to the General Discussion forum and read stories from industry professionals who’ve worked in the thick of it. A good thread to start with is The Unofficial Truth about Working in the Industry. That’ll give you enough perspective to hone in on your goal and start creating art that will help you get there.

 6. Go easy on the “inspiration”

Ever wonder why so many designers and artists seem to be recycling the same old styles and trends over and over again? The answer may seem obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: They all copied each other. “Well duh, that’s obvious Andrew”. Yeah? Well if copying is frowned up, then why do so many artists seek inspiration online? You may think that inspiration is just “fueling your own creativity”, but whether you realise it or not, the things you look at will influence your artwork. Don’t believe me? In 2009 I created what I thought was a totally original scene:

So original!

“I’m so original!” says Andrew from the past.

I didn’t copy any existing work and I sketched it by hand first. How could I go wrong ? Well several months after I made it, the movie Up came out. And as anyone who’s seen film can recall, there is a scene where the old guy walks to the top of a hill under a tree. “That’s weird” I thought. “I created my artwork before the movie came out, and yet my image looks nearly the same.” But then it dawned on me… several months prior to creating the artwork I stumbled upon this blog post by the storyboard artist who worked on Up, which included this image:

Sorry Pixar! I can assure it was an accident.

Sorry Pixar! It was an honest mistake I promise.

Oops. I thought I was creating something totally original, and without realizing it, I had drawn upon an image I’d seen long ago and didn’t even realize it. Scary.

Now let me add a small disclaimer: Inspiration is not bad. In fact most of the masterpieces around today were inspired by works before it. But the 3d industry is small, and closely knit. If you accidentally copy the look and feel of someone else’s artwork, you stand a good chance at getting called out for it (I’ve seen it happen multiple times and it isn’t pretty). Having to explain why your art looks familiar to the job interviewer is not something you’ll enjoy.

What tips do you have for becoming a better artist? Leave it in the comments below!

About Andrew Price

User of Blender for 9+ years. I've written tutorials for 3d World Magazine and spoken at three Blender conferences. My goal is to help artists get employed in the industry by making training accessible and easy to understand. I'm an Aussie and I live in South Korea ;)
  • Rusty

    Good advice as always Andrew!!!!

  • calloway3

    i am only 13 and i really want to be a artist really bad

    • Meow098

      That’s good, I started when I was 13, don’t try to stride. Now it’s 4 years from now and I’m getting better :l just the way it works.Tips are good just don’t get to distracted.

  • Angel

    THIS IS NOT FOR A BEGINNER!

  • Angel

    THIS IS FOR EXPERT PEOPLE!

    • Merrieah

      true that sister im a beginner and this is not helping. like literally this is the worst advice for a beginner. he/she needs to pay attention to what we are getting at I mean seriously…….. :( :-I

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  • Tak

    Thank you for all the tips. Here’s another good tip. Get your proper rest!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/WwZa7 WwZa7

    I dont know if im using only tutorials, I made City, but i hate cycles, so i stopped on tutorial. I’m also looking for them if I dont know how to create something, like tree or lightning, or some advices in animating, or compositors. I think that its just tutorial help, not tutorial work. But still I am newbe, so i still search for tutorials when i get stuck (and that happens realy often (last time less :D )).

    Also i got 2 advices to all artist:

    1. Create from time to time big project (that scares you) without tutorials, that will test your knowledge.

    2. Try do make something that you think is not so special, but make it awesome, (minecraft wonderfull views, Epic Lego gladiator battle)

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  • http://www.farzadmir.com farzad mir

    Hi
    Thank you mr.andrew
    about your article
    I think your point of view about become better artist is true
    goodluck

  • http://convert-to-3d.com peterkay

    Check out my 3D blog: http://convert-to-3d.com/blog.html

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  • http://nonasyet Alex G Taylor

    Thanks Andrew, that has just made me stop and think. I like animation, but I am at times frightened to try something new, big baby me. But I can see now that that is the only way to move forward.
    I have done six animations in the three years I have been using Blender, I should not give them house room, but four of my neighbours children loved half of them , so something I do is right.
    Some forty years ago when my children were small (6 and 4), I used to tell them stories from my magic book, I would just make them upon the spot, these now I am calling back to mind and writing them up to use as animation stories.
    I have been stuck with Blender 2.47 and 2.49, now I am shaking them off and going for 2.6+.
    It may take me about a year to write the better stories out that I remember, (my kids reminded me of some others), now retired from work and at 75 I have time, so set myself some tasks.
    Make some 3D objects, build a scene using Blender with the objects, and try as many features as I can.
    Thanks for your very brilliant tips
    the-salamanda (my internet name)

    • http://twitter.com/_PortraitArtist The Portrait Artist

      Haha, I laughed a little bit when I read the way you signed your comment. :)

      Cheers,
      The-Black-Mamba (my internet name)

    • shadow

      75 and making 3d objects?! ^_^ always nice to hear that not all of the older generations think computers are nothing but a waste of time. u cool man!

  • Jacob Holt

    Thanks, Andrew, for that advise. I had experience with your first piece of advise, “do something that scares you.” Over the past year, I’ve learned quite a bit by trying to achieve something I knew I couldn’t. Did I get there? No, but I did learn a lot, I guess that’s what matters. Recently, I participated in you “Saying Goodbye” competition. I was able to make a human with accurate porportions without makehuman for the first time! Thanks again for the advice!

  • An

    I wish I can be good at Blender one day. :)
    Tip #1 seems helpful, maybe biting off more than I can chew isn’t such a bad idea.

  • Richard

    I love blender, but it is impossible for me to do any serious projects because my pc is a dinosaur.
    If i do anything over 90,000 verts my computer will crash, I can’t do anything advanced like texture painting and it took me over 15 hours to render an 8 second animation; yes i had AO turned on but 15 hours?
    On a positive note, I love your tuts and log on every day to check for more.
    Keep up the great work!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Richard

      The 15 hours was with BI.
      And forget about even atempting Cycles

    • Guest

      you should really try renderfarm.fi out, I think this would be really helping you!

  • http://logicalmess.deviantart.com Caroline

    Andrew,

    I wish I’d known all this when I first started, would’ve saved a lot of heartache and temporary loss of sanity.

    I’d like to add one thing: don’t stick to what you know and love; if you’re a 3D artist, try digital painting, photography and photo manipulation as well … you’ll be amazed at what you learn. Even if it’s not you cuppa, dive in and see what wisdom you gain from other disciplines!

    • Reece

      I totally agree with this.

      I took foundational art, drawing, digital painting, photography and film making courses as well as the Nature Academy and it had a huge positive impact on my ability to see the “why” you do things in modelling work and not just the “how”.

      If art is your thing then variety is your friend!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan0728 Jonatha Stewart Bartolome

    Years ago, the first tutorial I learned from blender (2004) was from Jonathan Harris. I was trying to make a “scenery” for X-Plane. Moving on to FS2004 and now FSX, I was stuck with GMAX. But It didn’t end there. When I tried Blender 2.5xx from 2.49b I was lost. Yeah! I tried something that scares me. Now, I’m so at home with 2.62. Still the love of blending never left me. I have learned so much from you than I had in the last 7 years. Maybe I might not be able to use it at work, but it gives me so much fulfillment in life. Thank you so much for the tutorials. You see, when we learn from you, then you have left us something to remember of you. Again, thank you so much. Most of the renders in my facebook are from what you have thought us. God Bless You Andrew Price!

  • AndyCalauor

    Great tips!