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7 Simple, Practical Tips to Becoming a Better Artist

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Instead of another tutorial I’m dedicating this week’s post to improving skills as an artist. Quite often we get caught up in the technicalities of 3d that we forget what creating art is all about.

I often think back to when I first started Blender and how differently I would approach it now.

Here are some tips to fast track your success as an artist:

1. Produce one finished render each week

If I could jump back in time machine to my skinny-framed 14-year old self, I would give him this one tip: create one finished render each week.

Why? Because when you come at blender with the flipent approach of ‘There’s no rush, I can stop whenever I like’, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Think about it: If your school teacher told you that you could hand in your assignment “whenever”, do you honestly think you ever would? Chances are you just wouldn’t get around to it. Why would you go through the pain of completing that boring assignment when Call of Duty provides instant gratification? When you have no deadline you become lazy.

Deadlines are what drives society to finish projects.

Did you know that when tradesmen are hired to construct a building they have strict deadlines for which the project needs to be finished by? I once heard of an insulation company having to pay fines of $80,000 per day until they could finish the skyscaper they were working on. They overshot their deadline and had to pay the (very hefty) price.

I know that you’re probably just using Blender as late night hobby, but it’s worth at least entertaining the idea of setting yourself a goal. My recommendation would be to set yourself the goal of creating one finished render in 7 days. This imaginary deadline ensures that you stay on track and don’t get distracted by Facebook or other time wasters. The rule is that on day 7 you must stop working on it, regardless of how bad it is and upload it to a forum and start another project. Repeat this process every week and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you grow as an artist.

Funnily enough, I recently discovered that director Sam Raimi has the exact same advice to aspiring film makers.

2. Recreate photographs

Photo I found on Flickr.com

My recreation of that photo – Used in the tutorial ‘Introduction to Texture Nodes’

One of the biggest questions a lot of 3d artists have is, “Why does my scene look so fake?” Well if you create a scene based entirely off a photograph then you won’t have this problem, as you can compare your scene with the reference photograph.

When you set out to replicate a photograph you start to notice new details in the photo that you had never seen before. The bounce lighting, the glare, the depth of field, the subtle reflections, all of these things are essential to making the scene believable, but you wouldn’t have noticed them without carefully studying the photo.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Replicating photos are boring! I’m an artist, I have a right to be creative!” Well that’s true, and I’m not suggesting that you recreate photos forever, but if you’re just starting out it’s essential to understand the fundamentals before moving onto more complicated things. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of time to create wacky sci-fi scenes in the future, but for now it’s more important to understand the fundamentals of how to create a real world scene.

3. Ask for honest critiques

Photo by Kim Bentley

Lately I have noticed a disturbing trend in the online art community: users are no longer looking for critiques, they are looking for compliments.

I know why this is happening but it doesn’t make it any less stupid. People that do this are putting their fragile emotions before your long term success.

Be a man. Post your artwork with the phrase, “I want to improve my skills as an artist so please give your honest feedback! Don’t worry about hurting my feelings :)”

This encourages people to open up and tell you what they really think. Which is a good thing. Instead of the same old “Well done, looks great” response you’ll get real feedback on how you can improve for next time. This is invaluable if you want to improve as an artist.

4. Surround yourself with better artists

‘Forest Refuge’ by Alex Roman

There’s an old saying, “If you want to soar like an eagle, don’t run with the turkeys.”

It’s almost scary how much of an effect our peers have on our life. Studies have shown that if you take the income of your five best friends, average it out, it will be the same or close to yours. The same goes for your weight, spending habits and oh yeah, artist talent.

Now I’m not just talking about the friends you hang out with on the weekend. I’m talking about the online art communities you associate yourself with.

For example, if you post your artwork on BlenderArtist.org you will get a lot more positive comments than if you posted it on CGSociety.org. Why? Because CGSociety is a community of industry professionals that has a lot higher standards than say, BlenderArtists which is a community of mostly inexperienced or new artists (you know it’s true).

Now I’m not here to bag on BlenderArtists.org, as they provide an invaluable service to the community. But I do want to highlight the importance of surrounding yourself with artists who are more talented then you are. If you constantly surround yourself with mediocre art then you’ll feel accomplished and more likely to slack off. However if you surround yourself with awesome art, then you you’ll realize how lacking you are.

Personally I make it a habit to watch The Third and The Seventh on a regular basis. It reminds me how much further I have to go ;)

5. Actually ‘do’ tutorials, don’t just watch

Photo by John Norton

If you only watch a tutorial, you may remember about half of it by the time it’s finished, but it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have forgetten most of it by the end of the next day. However if you actually do the tutorial, you will not only retain the information longer but you will also discover new tips and realize that somethings don’t pan out as you thought they would in your head.

Don’t get into the habit of thinking that by simply watching tutorials you are improving your artistic talent. It’s only by doing it that you actually start learning.

6. Decorate your workspace

A ‘cubicle’ at Pixar Studios

One thing that Pixar, Google and Facebook share in common is that they all give free reign to their employees to decorate their workplace as much as they want. Why? It’s simple: Studies have shown that decorated workspaces increase creativity and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

It makes sense really. If you put one person in an empty white room and another person in a colorful decorated room, chances are the second person will think of more creative ideas.

Printouts, magazine clippings, posters, anything! Provided it’s inspirational to you, go ahead and stick it to your wall. The next time you’re struggling to think of an idea, your wall will no longer be blank ;)

7. Become an information junkie

I once heard a speaker say that if you can read three books on one topic then you will become an expert of that field. Why? Because nobody else can be bothered doing this.

There is a plethora of information regarding art, and most of it is free. You just need to tap into it and start absorbing it.

There’s magazines, interviews, DVD commentary, tutorials, making-ofs, breakdowns and more.

Sure you may read some stuff that you already know, but I can guarantee that there will be at least one nugget of invaluable information you can learn from every book or interview out there. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins got to where he is today by attending hundreds of seminars as a kid. He came at it with the approach of ‘If I learn just one tip from this seminar then it has been worth my while’. He became a sponge for new information and as a result is one of the highest paid public speakers today.

What simple, practical tips can you offer new artists? Post your comment below.

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