4 Tips: How to Use Tutorials to Improve Your Artwork

by Wendi OBrien

In today’s post I will be sharing with you my 4 tips for using tutorials to quickly improve your art.

I have avoided creating color portraits of people because I couldn’t “see” the colors within the skin and figure out how to layer them without them looking flat or like plastic.

As you can see in the photo above, left portrait, while artwork did capture a likeness, it wasn’t at a level I was happy with.  So, I took on the challenge to really learn what to look for and how to layer skin tones.

I have come up with 4 tips on how to use tutorials to quickly improve your artwork.

Similar Work Flow and Techniques

First, find someone that works in a similar manner as you.  Everyone has their own techniques for working with various mediums.

It doesn’t matter how much you like an artist’s work, if you don’t work in a similar manner, you will struggle and, more than likely, be unhappy with the results.  

Finding that right person may take some time, but you will grow exponentially once you do.

Talks Your Language

Find someone that talks your language.  Now, I am not speaking of native tongue (though that is helpful) or dialect, but instead, someone that explains things in a manner that you understand.

Have you ever listened to various artists explain the same thing and while there are similarities to what each says, one makes more sense to you than the other?  This is because of the manner in which they explained it.

This is important so you not only have  demonstration in front of you but, also, the verbal instruction this is easy for you to follow and understand.

Set 1 to 2 Goals

Identify 1 or 2 goals for each tutorial you follow to concentrate on. 

While the finished artwork may draw you in, what is it about that artwork that makes you want to follow that tutorial?  

What is it that you want to learn the most from that particular tutorial?

Is it learning texture, fur, transparency?  The list can go on, but by identifying those goals before hand, you can focus on those elements the most to gain the highest level of knowledge that lesson provides.

I am not saying the other things don’t matter, but if you focus on too much in one lesson it came become overwhelming.

By breaking it down in this manner you have a great chance of success because you are more focused.

My goals for this Will Smith tutorial was to learn to see the skin colors and proper layering techniques to avoid that plastic look. (I will go more into how I did this in tip 4)

Use as a Guide

Step-by-Step tutorials are a great resource.  If you are completely new to a medium, then by all means follow each step in the tutorial until you get the basic knowledge of how a medium works.  

Once you have a few under your belt and/or have the basic knowledge to how a medium works, the best way to improve your are quickly is use it as a guide instead of following each step-by-step.

Until you start making the decisions on your own, you will continue to rely on someone telling you what to do next or what color to lay down and in what order.

How I Use Tutorials to Improve Quickly

I really think the Will Smith colored pencil piece I completed using one of Kirsty Partridge’s step-by-step tutorials was a huge turning point in seeing skin undertones. (Scroll down to watch the video below)

While was was confident in the eyes themselves, the skin around them was an entire different story.  I followed her video for the surround skin of the eyes.  Once I past that area I paused the video and began working on my own.

Focus on Layering

I took the knowledge I learned from the skin around the eyes and started working the next area which was the nose.  If I wasn’t sure of something then I had the option of scrubbing through her video to see how she accomplished or layered something.

Essentially, practicing the layering technique and started making my own decisions on how to layer.  The colors where already chosen…it was just the matter of applying them to the paper.

As I progressed, I tried to work in the same order she did in her videos so if I got lost, I would be able to easily find where I may have had a question to guide me through that area.

Moving around the face, I again did not watch the video as I was confident in my layering process, but now I needed to learn how to see the colors within the skin.

Focus on Undertones

I started focusing on what the underlayers in each area were.  Then I continued on to the middle and top layers.  Essentially, training myself to see the colors within the colors.  I really focused on this area and the order to achieve the realism I was going for. 

Scrub Though Video

Once I got to his beard, I then wanted to see how she tacked that.  So I watched a bit and scrubbed through to different parts to get a general idea of how she created it.  I really focused on the highlighted area under the chin to see what methods were used to achieve that bright white.

I then when back work on my piece and used what I had learned and applied to the piece.  Recalling from memory, not while watching.  This is key.

Once I was happy with all of that I then moved to the hair…now this is something that I also struggle with.  I did watch most of this area on the tutorial and found that she changed her technique not too far in. 

I decided to pause the video and continue with the original technique to see how it looked.  I only resumed after I was satisfied with my current layering to see how she layered the colors to create the rest of the hair texture. 

The Outcome

Overall, I used the tutorial about 20-30% of the time as a guide to get me started and through some of the areas that I had questions or wanted to see her technique and approach.

Because I made many of the decision on my own AND had just 2 goals to focus on with this piece, I feel both were successful and I am much more confident with portraits now that I was before going through the tutorial.

I was skeptical at first, but comparing the before and after the tutorial portraits, the results are clear.  By using these techniques, after just one tutorial, the results were amazing.

I am now more confident know that I can achieve realism in color portraits and do not have to rely on someone telling me the choices I should make.  I can make them on my own.

Everyone Learns Differently

I realized everyone is different and learns differently, but I also know that if you don’t start making decisions on your own for your art pieces, and blindly follow tutorials over and over, your improvement and confidence building will be at a much slower rate.  You will also miss out on developing your own techniques and strategies working through a piece.

Share Your Tips

Do you have additional tips for following tutorials?  Let me know in the comments. 

Until next time….keep on arting!

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