Find what you need to improve. Increase your satisfaction with your work. Listen to your dissatisfaction to improve your art skills.
I had a problem. When drawing portraits or people's faces, my work looked harsh. I made people look older.
Frustrated, I asked professors and other artists what they thought I might do to fix this. Surprisingly, none seemed to know what might be the cause or a possible solution.
Some suggested I embrace my style. I don't want a lack of skill to be my style, so I decided to listen to my dissatisfaction. I set out to find a solution.
If you find yourself unhappy with your art, I suggest you listen to your dissatisfaction. Your dissatisfaction can tell you what you need to improve. Here's how to figure out what your dissatisfaction is telling you.
Listen closely to your own words.
When I described what made me unhappy with my artwork, it wasn't easy to put into words. I said my work looked harsh. I said I make people look older than they are. I said I make my subjects look sad or full of sorrow.
Analyzing my words helped me to find solutions on how to improve my art skills. I had to flip what I was saying about my work. I had to listen to the specific words that were coming to mind.
I flipped "my work looks harsh" to "what might make a drawing look harsh?".
I flipped "I make people look older" to "what makes people look older?".
I flipped "I make people look sad" to "what facial features are responsible for expressing our emotions?" and "what exactly makes a face look sad?".
Listen to your own words as you describe your work.
Reframe your statements into questions. Come up with as many questions as you can. A solid set of questions makes it easier to seek out possible solutions.
Often, we sense something is off with our work. We want to improve our art skills but don't know what we're doing wrong.
Your list of questions can provide insights. These insights let you look at the problem differently. Analyzing your own words can lead to solutions.
Look to other industries or topics to find solutions.
As artists, we often look to art resources to answer our questions or solve our problems. Sometimes the best answers are somewhere else entirely. Once you have your list of questions, consider what other industries or topics might provide information or solutions.
Because I had a problem making subjects look older, I started researching aging. Once I began to focus on aging, it wasn't much of a leap to look at plastic surgery.
Plastic surgery websites quickly provided insights. Eyelids droop as we age, eyebrows drop lower on the face. Lips become thinner. Creases become deeper.
Deeper creases catch more light and shadow. Therefore, if you make the darks too dark and the lights too light when drawing a portrait, your subject may look older. Watch out for too much contrast between light and dark. Harshly shaded facial creases may make your model look older.
If the eyebrows are too low, your subject may look older. If the lips are drawn too thin, your art subject may appear to be older.
As I contemplated what might make a person look sad, I began to think about illustration. Illustrators create a wide range of emotions within the face of a character. Differences between facial expressions can rely on a few simple lines.
Which facial features move as we express different emotions? A few quick web searches led me to https://artnatomia.net/. Artnatomia is a cool tool designed to help learn the anatomy of facial expressions.
By studying different facial expressions using Arnatomia, I picked out a key feature that might make a person look sad. I assumed emotion probably was in the eyes or mouth. I was wrong. The outer edge of the eyebrow drops lower when we make a sad face. When happy, I found the outer edge of the eyebrow to lift higher on the brow bone. The importance of eyebrow position is a factor in expressing emotions and age when drawing or painting a portrait.
Get very clear about where you need to improve. Set small clear goals.
Too much contrast between the lights and darks appeared to be aging my subjects. I am a heavy-handed artist. I often draw too dark. Drawing too dark is a habit.
How do you replace a poor drawing habit with a better drawing habit?
Using slow and deliberate practice can override poor drawing habits. For example, if you're like me, maybe you draw too dark.
Sometimes, we are unable to see our own mistakes. You might not view contrast, colors, or values accurately. Visual illusions may trick the brain. Mixing paint on a white pallet can throw off your sense of art values or color.
Use a mirror or a camera to override any illusions which may be distorting your visual perception.
It's amazing how different your work will appear when viewed in a mirror. Learn to analyze artwork by using a mirror. The mirror will flip the image. Once the image is flipped, distortions will become visible. You can see things you can't perceive when looking directly at the portrait, painting, or drawing. I assume it's because our brain has slowly grown accustomed to the work as we created it. Therefore, errors aren't standing out. Our brain has accepted the image to be correct, even when it's not accurate. Checking your artwork in a mirror is also a great way to check drawing facial proportions.
When you look at a photo of the work, you'll see it differently. Doing so works the same as viewing your artwork in a mirror.
"Why do I hate my art so much?". If you are unhappy with your art, try listening to your own words. Listening to your dissatisfaction may help identify problem areas. If you can identify a problem, you can work to overcome it. Describe your artwork. Attempt to put into words what you dislike about your art. Take note of the exact words that come to mind. "I am never satisfied with my art because _____________." Fill in the blank. Look up the definition of the adjectives describing your work. Look up synonyms for these words. What characteristics or design flaws might make a drawing or painting look this way? By reframing the way you talk about your work, you may be able to identify solutions. You may be able to identify specific things to work on if wanting to improve your art skills. You don't have to settle if not satisfied with your skill level. You have it within yourself to improve. Find the edges of your abilities, challenge yourself, push the boundaries a little further each day. You can do it! I'm cheering for you.
Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones