What Are The Most Important Skills An Artist Can Learn?

2014 Artwork five basic skills sketch

First of all, this is another article for absolute beginners. So, if you’ve been making art for a while – then you’ll probably know all of this stuff already and it’s probably not worth reading this article.

Still, if you’re new to making art (and, like me, are self-taught)- then there are a few basic skills which you should try to practice as much as possible because they will come in handy throughout your artistic career.

I should also probably point out that different artists think that different skills are more important than others, so this is only really my personal opinion about which skills are the most important to learn. Plus, since I started out by making drawings, most of these skills will be drawing-related and may or may not be applicable if you’re planning to work in other art mediums.

Anyway, let’s get started 🙂

1) Copying by sight: Whilst it’s ok to start out by learning how to draw things by tracing them, it’s very important that you learn (through practice) how to copy things just by looking at them.

The best way to learn how to do this is to start out by copying photographs rather than painting or drawing from life because a photo is a single static image which can be studied closely and will not change depending on which angle you view it from. Plus, the hard work of transforming a 3D object and/or 3D scene into a two-dimensional image has already been done for you if you look at a photo.

The important thing to remember when copying a photo is that, because it is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional scene, the exact shapes and outlines of things will probably look very slightly different to what you might expect them to look like. So, pay very close attention to the photo you’re copying and remember that it is, essentially, a 2D image like the drawing and/or painting that you are making.

2) 3D Shapes and perspective: I wrote a much more detailed instructional article about this a while ago, but it’s very important to learn how to draw basic 3D shapes and to have a very basic understanding of how to use perspective if you want to draw anything even vaguely realistically.

This isn’t really as daunting as it sounds – I mean, I mostly learnt how to draw basic 3D shapes and objects from just doodling randomly over the years. Plus, you can create good perspective in your pictures by just drawing an “X”-shaped guideline on your page (before you start drawing) and making sure that all lines in your drawing run parallel with the nearest line of the “X”.

3) Mixing colours: Whilst I only have a very basic understanding of colour theory and I only really started to learn how to mix colours late last year (when I finally started using watercolours), it’s a very useful skill for any artist to learn.

If you know how to mix or blend colours even vaguely well, then the number of colours available for you to use will be almost infinite. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with different colour combinations until you find the ones which are perfect for your next picture.

4) Basic light and shadows: Although I only have a fairly basic understanding of this and only remember to use it in my art some of the time, knowing the basics of how (and where) to add shadows to your picture will automatically give your art a sense of depth and realism. Not only that, it also makes your work look slightly more “professional” too.

Basic shadows are fairly easy to add – all you need to do is to be aware of where any light sources (eg: the sun, lightbulbs windows etc…) in your picture are and make sure that your shadows are on the side of anything that is facing away from the light source.

5) Trickery: There are loads of ways you can fool your audience into thinking that they’re looking at something that is more detailed (or even just technically better) than it actually is. Most of these are things that you’ll either learn just from looking at comics or through practice and experimentation.

But, the most important thing to remember is never to underestimate your audience’s ability to “fill in the gaps” when they’re faced with just a few essential details of something (eg: you can create the illusion of detail using a few basic rectangles that represent a city in the distance, or a few squiggly lines to represent trees).

Not only that, it’s also important to learn what the “focal points” of a picture are because you can either focus most of your energy on just making these few parts of your picture look good or you can use them to distract from badly-drawn parts of your picture.


Sorry that this article was very basic and didn’t really say anything new, but I hope it was useful 🙂

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