No matter your skill level, you will always face challenges and make mistakes as a digital artist or illustrator. However frustrating it might be, this is a critical part of your development on your journey to becoming a pro. Even when you reach the top, you never truly stop learning!
Like most things in life, if you want to get good at something, you have to put in the work. The obvious way to progress is by seeking to improve your fundamentals and learning new skills. A less obvious way is by avoiding pitfalls.
As much as you should try to get things right, you should also be trying to not get things wrong. There are many amateur mistakes that can hold you and your artwork back. You might not even be aware that you’re making them!
Fast-track your journey to success by following this guide and learn from the people who have “been there, done that”. We asked some of our artists to name common mistakes that they see artists make (or that they once made themselves), and what advice they would give to avoid them. So, let’s take a look at what our team had to say…
Having Unrealistic Expectations
“Often artists set the bar too high for themselves without a solid foundation. Focusing on their favourite artists, they try to get the most out of their drawings on all counts - rich storytelling in the frame, complex composition, unique character design, dynamic pose, variety of textures, complex lighting, complex environments and different FX ... this overloads and confuses the artist.” - Maria Smirnova, Concept Artist & Illustrator
It’s highly likely that if you’re reading this blog, at some point in your life, you saw some incredible artwork that sparked the desire to produce something at a similar level. Unfortunately, it is not a desire that can be satisfied immediately as those highly developed art skills don’t just happen overnight.
When you begin to pursue art, it’s likely that attempts to draw will lead to frustration. Even if you know this path will take a lot of time and effort, you can still feel like a failure. This is why you need to lower your expectations and put less focus on the end goal, and more focus on the process. Put less pressure on yourself, and take it one step at a time.
Avoiding a Challenge
“Don’t try to go the easy way. Sometimes you just need to face the skills you are struggling with and get out of your comfort zone. For example, you may choose to use poses that allow you to hide hands because you struggle to draw them. Stop doing this and don’t be afraid to fail! If you are stuck, practice with a phototrace and put aside any ego.” - Joris Dewolf, Art Director
Ignoring the Basics
“There are many, but I see very often young artists jumping straight to cartoony or stylized art and neglecting real life. Stylization comes from understanding what you need to keep what to discard and what to emphasise, imitating only already stylized art leaves them with half the information this has the danger of only teaching them how to copy others rather than create themselves.” - Alex Alexandrov, Senior Artist
“A common mistake I see artists make is jumping too fast into colouring and rendering before having a good sketch. For example, you like the doodle you made and you want to paint it, but the pose is basic, has no perspective and is flat. This could be avoided by making a second sketch and using the original one as a concept. This time think about the illustration and its composition, maybe putting in some narrative behind it so it's not just a stiff character doing nothing. Doing lineart or cleaning up a sketch is a better idea than letting future you figuring stuff out in the later stages of painting.” - Milica Čeliković, Senior Concept Artist
Not mastering the fundamentals will hold back your art. You might be great at rendering, but it will all be for nothing if it looks like your character has two left legs. So focus on nailing down those basics including anatomy, proportions, lighting and colour theory.
Not Planning Enough
“Don't fall into the trap of speed painting. I think this is an amazing exercise for those who are already well-trained but it is much better to spend your time thinking about every step of your drawing. You'll avoid lots of mistakes and in the end, you'll save time by planning first.” - Mattia Rangoni, Concept Artist
Not everything you draw is supposed to turn into a masterpiece. You don’t need to publish everything, so produce lots of sketches and warm up with some studies. Don’t be afraid to use references, and think about what it is that you want to achieve.
Too Much Planning
“I noticed that some artists overdo looking at inspirations or gathering ideas and start incorporating too much into their work, whether it's design work, illustration, or animation. In some cases, this gets in the way of achieving the goal. Just focus on what's important, remind yourself of the objective, balance the things you should be hitting and try to have a second opinion.” - Rafael De Guzman, Senior Concept Artist
Using Values to the Extreme
“One of the most common mistakes I see beginner artists make is using the whole value range from blackest shadows to whitest highlights all over the image (and we are not even talking about the muddiness those bring!), which results in not having anything up their sleeve to make the focal area stand out. To make things even tougher to salvage, too much overlay is often used. To avoid this and push the quality of your work, it’s important to plan, use the values wisely and keep the darkest and brightest values for the exact areas you want to pop most.” - Ekaterina Shapovalova, Lead Artist
Taking on Too Much Work
“Another mistake I see artists make is taking on too much work. You might have enough work but maybe you get bored and look at taking on additional freelance work to spice it up. Maybe you get an offer from a high-profile client. Or maybe you are tempted by the extra income. Soon after you are panicking because one client is late with feedback which messes up your schedule and now both clients have the same deadline. You work late at night until the morning. Your back pain gets worse and your friends begin to forget what you look like because you are always working. In the end, you are burnt out, the money is not that much because of project delays, and the work is under an NDA so you cannot even put it in your portfolio until next year. Then you realise the summer is gone and so has the nice weather for your seaside vacation.” - Milica Čeliković, Senior Concept Artist
Comparing Yourself to Others
“The most common thing that I see is people feeling overwhelmed by the number of subjects they need to learn and by the number of amazing artists they see on the internet. Take it easy, take each step at a time and be focused on your studies. Try to enjoy the learning process, and think about ways to make the exercises fun to do.” - Alexandre Leoni, Senior Concept Artist
It’s easy to compare yourself to one of the greats and feel pretty terrible about yourself and your work. Not only is this not healthy, but it’s also not realistic! Portfolios and social media don’t show the thousands of hours of hard work and terrible sketches that they went through to get there. The only person you should compare yourself to is your past self when seeing how much progress you have made!
Not Thinking in 3D Space
You can instantly make your form more exciting and readable by placing them in a 3D space, even when drawing in 2D. Flat 2D shapes rarely describe the form well enough to be interesting, and can even be unrecognisable to the viewer. Drawing shapes in 3D space by adding perspective and foreshortening can make even simple shapes look more dynamic. You can increase this effect further by overlapping your shapes. When combined with the other principles, you will have much more appealing and dynamic forms.
As you can see, there are many pitfalls that you can fall into early in your art career. By following the tips in this article, you can set yourself up for success. While this process is not always easy, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you will be rewarded. Nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction when you compare old work with new and see your progress visualised.
Did you find this guide useful? Want to learn more? If the above tips didn’t quite quench your art thirst, you can join our community and continue the discussion over on Discord!
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