Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Came across a helpful post by Frank Stockton, replying an email enquiry on how to get better in illustration. Thought it was an interesting post, it reminds me of how us as illustrators focus too much on the end product of a project instead of enjoying the process.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

How to Get Better

Hey Everyone,

I received the following email a while back from a student artist/illustrator. I thought it was a helpful exchange, so I've decided to post it here for anyone to read.

Hello Frank,

I saw this posting of yours on the flight forums:

“Lastly, make sure you really believe that you're a great artist.

This final part is the most important and the most overlooked by people who decide to put in the time to become good at art (or anything, for that matter).

Some folks think they are AWESOME artists, but never put
in time to really improve and move forward. This person will go through life thinking “my stuff is soooo bad-ass!“ but the rest of us all know its not really that good.

The other type of artist, who is in the minority, is a critique junkie that puts in countless hours in drawing workshops and reading books and learning from different teachers but inside doesn't truly believe he or she is a great artist. The irony is that this person believes himself better than the cocky guys mentioned above, but will never really reach full potential because of the refusal to believe that he is truly a great artist. This person's confidence dangles by a thread of compliments picked up here and there from folks going to those same workshops who are working on the same things. “

This comment really struck me because I believe I'm of the latter category, and I know a few other folks who are the same way. I've been told by teachers that being in either of these categories won't allow you to move forward in your work. Have you ever been in the position of not believing you're a great artist? And if so, how did you overcome it and how did it help you?

I spend a lot of time drawing and just practicing with the meager hopes of ever escaping mediocrity. Consequently I belittle my own work often and rarely show it to other people.

I would really be interested to hear your opinions on this, since I really admire your work and you always seem to have sage crits on the forum.


Hi there,

I'm glad you asked me this; I've been thinking about writing down some of my thoughts on this for quite some time since it's an often over-looked and necessary factor in learning any new skill, not just in art.

One of my hobbies for the last year or so has been reading up on how our brains learn things--and have been sort of surprised--but also not surprised--to find that a lot of the ideas I had on my own about learning and improvement are more or less congruent with psychological studies into the process of learning.

Fortunately for me, I grew up with parents who would always tell me that what I was doing was AWESOME, and not only that, but that it was the BEST. And they actually believed it.

Looking back at the art I did as a kid, I've found that a lot of it isn't really that great in my eyes today. However that isn't important. What really was important was that while I was making it, I was continually reinforcing the idea in my mind that I was an awesome artist. Whenever I did a new drawing or painting I would step back and sort of “parent“ myself and go “wow, this is really great! look at what I did!,“ while simultaneously thinking “hmm, if I was to change this part though, it would be a little better..."

Fortunately, you can train yourself to think about your work in ways that will help you to improve by leaps and bounds.

1) Realize that art is a process, not a result. Illustration is a result, because we're talking about business and a product, and different rules apply. But you're going to have to get to a level with your art before you are able to make a product out of it. Are you following?
Whenever you make something, practice letting go of the end result. Allow yourself to LOVE how it feels to put ink on paper. LOVE the attention and detail that go into stretching a canvas, or even sharpening your drawing pencil with an Exacto blade. The details are what create the whole. If you love every moment of the artistic creation, it WILL come through in the final result. Conversely, if you dislike or rush the process it will also come through in the final result.

2) Ask yourself what you LOVE about this thing you've just created. Step back when you finish, and give yourself time to breathe easy and appreciate what you've done. If you have a difficult time enjoying your work, make a list of 10 things that you're happy with about the piece.

3) Ask yourself "what could be better?" about the thing you just created. Be very specific. Try to visualize the same piece with the changes you wish you could make. If you were to go back in time and re-do the entire piece, what would you have done differently? Sometimes this could be a “duh“ kind of thing like gathering better reference, or doing a better starting drawing, or allowing yourself to freestyle somewhere. The point is to be intimately specific about what you would change, and NEVER vague, thinking things like “oh its just terrible.“ Eliminate those useless and detrimental thoughts from your brain circuitry.

Those three things will take you very far with your artistic improvement.

When I was in school, every time I would do a new project or a life painting I would set it out in plain view, both to admire it (because usually I thought it was totally awesome), but also because I needed to see it multiple times to disconnect from how wonderful of an artist I thought I was and actually be able to think of what I could do to make it better.

Some other thoughts:
You mentioned that you belittle your art sometimes, and don't like to show it to people.

1) NEVER belittle your artwork. Only constructive criticism is allowed from here on out, until you die.
2) DO show your work to people. Show it to a mix of laymen, pros who you look up to, and artists in your peer group. Have people tell you what they think. Don't take anything personal. The point is to develop a thick skin to criticism. You'll notice, by the way that when you start to get good, your peers will tend to tear it apart, or say nothing. People are very insecure. If you're really good, you're going to be a threat to the ego of others who think they're good. Get lots of critiques and take everything with a grain of salt. When someone gives you advice or a critique, take some time to think it over, every time. Roll the advice around in your head for a day or two. Ask “do I agree with that?“ and decide, after your emotional response has subsided, whether or not you agree with their advice. I always avoid blindly taking advice.

Also, keep a sketchbook that you don't show to anyone, that's intended solely for playing in. Make it the opposite of anything you do for “practice.“ Work in it an hour a day and focus on letting go and being uninhibited. It's actually a good strategy to TRY and make some UGLY pages in it. The sketchbook is the garden where you plant the seeds that are going to eventually spring up into your unique and original artistic voice--but if you don't take care of them and let them get trampled by other people, they'll never grow big and strong enough to survive on their own.

I hope that was helpful.


Frank Stockton
“I do not get discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward“
--Thomas Edison