How to Become a Master Artist

8 Steps to learning art, music, and pretty much anything else.

If you’re a part of today’s western culture, the odds that you’ve seen a computer generated image or animation without even realizing it is nearly 100%. But how did we get from manipulating a bunch of zeros and ones to creating homeless pancake men?

It seems like sorcery to be able to create something from nothing, and in a few ways it kind of is. Thankfully, it’s a magic that can be learned with a little time and patience.

Here’s my list of eight brutally honest steps to go from beginner to master in pretty much any subject, in the most efficient way possible:

1. Look at the possibilities

It’s important to get inspired before starting something new for the first time. Surround yourself with the top examples in whatever it is that you’d like to learn. For CG, this would be images or animations that really resonate with you and get you excited.

Don’t focus on all the mediocre art out there, but instead be inspired by the best of the best. Otherwise you run the risk of setting the bar low before you even start. Sometimes it’s the feeling of, “Oh man, I SO wish I could create that!” that will be the only thing motivating you along the way.

2. Have a goal

It’s pretty well known by this point that the people without goals are usually the first to quit when the going gets tough. I frequently get emails that say something to the effect of:

“I’d like to make mobile games and become famous”

“I’m new to Blender and want to make an animated short film by myself with no budget”

or

“I’m trying to model Bumblebee from the Transformers movie. What’s the best way to extrude a face?”

Now, as unrealistic as they may sound, each of those goals are actually really great! It shows that those people have found something worth pursuing. It’s clear however that they don’t quite have enough experience to actually accomplish what they are setting out to do. But as long as you have some goal in mind, you’ll be able to complete the next steps.

3. Try it on your own

The problem is (as seen above), those starting out in CG often grossly underestimate the difficulty of what they’re trying to accomplish. However, you’ll never fully understand what it takes until you try doing it all by yourself. You’ll probably fail. Actually, you WILL fail. But, that’s OK! Failure is one of the most efficient ways to learn.

4. Get help

Thanks to the internet, you don’t have to figure this out alone. There are dozens of resources online that will jumpstart your creative career, and help smooth out the steep learning curve that all 3D software has. If you can find a local mentor or teacher, even better!

If you’re just starting out, try downloading The Beginner’s Guide to Blender, or completing a few of the Blender learning flows from CG Cookie. They’ll teach you everything you’ll need to know to get started.

5. Challenge yourself

Once you get a handle on the basics, have another go at completing your original goal. Or, set a more realistic goal and try to achieve that all by yourself. Don’t rely on any one tutorial, but instead look up answers only if you get stuck. You’ll be amazed to see how far you’ve come!

One of the best ways to do this is to enter a competition. Even if you don’t win, you’ll learn way faster than you would without the competitive pressure!

6. Get feedback

Now that you’ve poured your heart and soul into a piece of art, it’s time to show it to the world. You’ll be proud of your accomplishment, and rightly so! Post it on a forum, show it to friends and family, and get all the feedback you can. If I had to gamble, I’d say you might get some of the following responses:

“Wow, that’s so great! You should work at Pixar!” -Your Mom

“Meh” –Brother

“Cool concept, but the composition and textures are terrible.” – Forum member

“                                       “ –Unhelpful forum member

The responses you get may be more or less encouraging than that, but the point is: get feedback! Ask what you can do to improve. The point is not to stroke your ego, but to get better. If you want to be a good artist, you’ll have to develop thick skin. I know plenty of mediocre artists that will never be great because they only look for compliments, or try to justify their mistakes when critiqued. Don’t let that be you!

Remember, the value of you as a person is in no way connected to the quality work you produce. Just because your work sucks doesn’t mean you suck, or just because your work is the cat’s pajamas doesn’t mean you are somehow better than anyone else.

7. Do your homework

Now that you have feedback, find out how you can improve. If someone says your character has a weird face, look up how to make a believable face. If they say your textures are wrong, spend some time with Google and find how to make better textures. If you animation does not have any weight to it, search out how to give visual weight to animations. See a pattern here? It’s really that simple.

8. Repeat until you become a perfect artist

If you’re still not completely happy with your results, it’s a sign that you could make a good artist. The goal is not to make one cool thing and then sit around feeling good about ourselves. It’s to be constantly improving so that we can better help people and become more effective at visual communication.

Now that you know the basics, start the whole process again from step one. Get fresh inspiration, re-evaluate your goals based on what you learned the first time, try to make something on your own, find help, and so on.

Continue this cycle until you create a flawless piece of artwork. And let me know when you do! Because then you’ll be way better than me 😉

Do you have a different process that works for you? Let’s hear it in the comments!

  • Marcos Rogério Fernandes

    thanks for those tips!