This article has been contributed by Darya Jandossova Troncoso.
Whether you’re a professional illustrator or you do it as a hobby, improving your skills and building up your portfolio go hand in hand.
Being a strong illustrator is a valuable trait to have as a designer. It is perhaps the most effective way to communicate ideas from your imagination to your clients and team members.
If you’re serious about earning money from illustrating professionally, these skills are your bread and butter and they need to be top-notch.
If you illustrate as a hobby and want to make money from it someday, elevating your skills is a must-do.
Illustration and art, in general, are lifelong skills. But it’s not all intuition or raw talent. It takes time, effort, and practice to do it well.
It takes about 10,000 hours to perfect a task. Illustrating and drawing might not take this long to master, but the idea is still valid. Getting good at something requires a lot of time.
There are several ways to improve your skills and become a better artist. From practicing as often as you can to watching tutorials and building upon the feedback you receive is both valuable and essential.
Follow along, and we’ll take you through the five tips we think are most useful for new illustrators working to become the best they can be.
How to Become a Better Illustrator: 5+ Pro Tips
1. Practice Daily
Digital illustration by Darya Jandossova Troncoso
Some artists seem to have the ability to create stunning illustrations without much practice. But this kind of raw talent is rare. Most artists out there, both commercial and those who do it as a hobby, practice. A lot.
You shouldn’t look at it as something burdensome, though. While it might seem like a lot of work, and in most cases it is, it’s also a necessity.
If there are specific techniques or styles you’re struggling with, work on them until you no longer feel a sense of dread.
For example, if you’re bad at drawing hands or faces, draw only hands and or faces for a week or two. In a lot of cases, it’s about pushing yourself and doing something you’re not enjoying.
You might know intuitively what you need to do, or you might know from reading or watching other illustrators online. But your hand-eye coordination hasn’t learned to keep up with your imagination.
That’s one of the main reasons people who have great vision and creativity decide they’re not good illustrators.
There’s a big difference between a practiced hand and an illustrator with big, unique concepts who can’t entirely execute what they can see in their mind’s eye. It mostly depends on the amount of repetitive daily experience you have.
Feeling the way your stylus works on the glass or how your pencil drags across the paper isn’t something you can know by watching – you have to do it. Over and over again.
That daily experience makes it easier to make the concepts in your mind into something tangible using your medium of choice, ultimately to share with other people.
Draw with your fingers and your hands daily. Not only will your coordination improve, but your creativity will sharpen, and ideas become more comfortable with formulating from a blank concept.
With daily practice, you’ll develop your style further and improve upon it. Look at it this way: the more you practice, the easier it will be later on.
- Practice even when you don’t want to.
- Work on your weak spots.
- Try techniques that scare you.
2. Do Both Digital and Paper Illustrations
Pastel drawing by Darya Jandossova Troncoso
Up until fairly recently, all illustration was paper-based. Only in the last 20 years or so, it has changed drastically. Today, illustrative art is both digital and paper-based and comes in various other mediums and forms.
Digital art means there are many more ways to draw and illustrate now than there ever were. There are numerous apps, illustration software, and tablets to practice, create and come up with fantastic-looking illustrations.
While the processes are similar, they’re not the same. Certain aspects of digital illustration are actually vastly different from paper-based illustration. One is not better than the other, but the techniques are quite different.
When you’re doing paper illustrations you need to be more patient and rely more on your skills. You can use an eraser, but it’s not the same as a digital illustration where changing a particular brush stroke is incredibly easy.
If you’re striving to become a better illustrator, using both mediums, digital and non-digital, is the way to go for several reasons:
- You expand your skills when you do both methods. For example, when you’re doing a digital drawing, it’s easy to start over or backtrack.
- You appreciate hand-drawn illustrations more because they’re harder to do. There aren’t hundreds of brushes and colors available at your fingertips.
- If you become proficient at specific techniques while doing paper-based illustrations, it will be easier for you to translate them into a digital drawing.
- The ability to draw well both ways is valuable. Some projects might require one way or the other, and be able to do equally well is worth it.
3. Watch Tutorials Online
This way you’ll gain experience yourself by following along and doing the practice assignments and homework.
Any teacher giving a tutorial might mention previous tutorials or recommendations to watch. Watch those tutorials as well. The more experience you have and different perspectives, the better your work will be.
Think about your work and how you would like people to describe it. Sometimes it helps to personify your work and ask questions about it as you would ask about a person.
When you’re searching for tutorials, use personifying words to describe the work you’re searching for. If your work was a person, would they be friendly? What would their sense of humor be like? What kind of clothes would they wear? What type of phone would they own – Android or iPhone?
These questions often are hard to answer about a piece of art but easy to answer about a person.
For example, you can search for hilarious illustration tutorials, wild illustration tutorials, or formal illustration tutorials. You might be surprised to learn that the art that appeals to you fits or doesn’t fit the personified version.
Each tutorial or lesson about illustration can be an exercise in observation. Watch the teacher and try to understand how they feel about the illustrations they’re creating.
Understanding how different illustration techniques can trigger unique emotions in others is one of the most important things you can do.
When you find a great instructor, by all means, watch all of their tutorials, but don’t stop there. Even if you think you’ve learned all of the basics, it’ll always be useful to get different perspectives and even achieve the same tools or techniques.
Some people learn by reading, some by watching, some by listening, and others only by doing. Try to pay attention to what type of learner you are (it can be a combination of many).
It’s good to copy and imitate other artists and their artwork and build on its foundation.
Watching tutorials is both helpful and may inspire to try out different kinds of techniques. And hey, maybe you’ll finally give watercolor a chance.
- Watch a variety of tutorials on various platforms.
- Imitate and build upon the tutorials that you watch.
- Follow your favorite teachers.
- Try out different techniques.
4. Get Inspired
Photograph by Darya Jandossova Troncoso
Inspiration is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always strike when you want it to. It can happen in a variety of ways and a variety of places.
With Dribbble, for example, with its impressive amount of illustrations and artwork, it’s possible to spend several hours immersed in it.
Let this browsing experience serve as a way to see other artists’ work and help you take mental notes of specific styles, techniques, and methods of creating art.
Inspiration can come from movies, music, or nature. Participating in new activities, meeting new people, and even trying novel foods can spur something to get the creative juices flowing when you’re least expecting it.
For example, if you’re traveling or participating in new activities, it might help to document the feelings and ideas that come to you.
Taking photographs, notes, or doing quick sketches will transport you straight back into that experience and help you with either recreating the moment more authentically or drawing further inspiration from it.
Inspiration isn’t necessary to create fantastic work, but it helps.
- Let your surroundings inspire you.
- Take notes on how you feel and capture your experiences to use later on for inspiration when you’re about to draw.
- Browse art portals like Dribbble and Behance for further inspiration.
5. Don’t Go It Alone
Digital illustration by Darya Jandossova Troncoso
Don’t shy away from other artists, particularly those who’ve been doing it for a while. If you’re part of artistic communities, have conversations with them about whatever might be of interest to you and listen to what they have to say.
Those who’ve been illustrating for a while possess a wealth of knowledge that will expand your horizons and could lead to potential collaborations.
The more you interact with other artists, the more chances you have to grow and learn as a person and as an illustrator. Opening up to your peers interested in the same techniques or styles as you are is both inspiring and exciting.
There’s also a little something called feedback. While not everyone welcomes it, feedback can help you get better in more ways than you can imagine, especially constructive feedback and criticism.
- Welcome criticism with open arms and learn from it.
- Collaborate with fellow artists.
- Learn from your peers.
Bonus Tip: Never Stop Learning
Becoming good at something takes time and practice. If you believe you’re a fantastic artist, kudos to you, but don’t stop learning and practicing.
Don’t close yourself off to new experiences and practices just because you’re good at something. There is always room for learning and improvement.
Practice new techniques, teach, and challenge yourself further. The more you create, practice, and share, the better will your work be.
Drawing and illustrating are life-long processes that evolve and grow with you. Your art might be affected by the events in your life, your emotional state, and other more minutiae details.
Your art grows with you, and the main takeaway from this article is that your art needs to grow and change just as you need to grow and change.
Nothing good comes out of stagnancy, and this applies to art and illustration as well.
Be bold, be courageous, and practice daily. With time you will get better, and the daily practice won’t seem such a daunting task, and you’ll grow to love it.
About the author: Darya Jandossova Troncoso is a photographer, artist, and writer working on her first novel and managing a digital marketing blog – MarketSplash. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, creating art, and learning everything there is to know about digital marketing.