I get asked by a lot of younger artists (and moms and grandmothers) for advice on getting better and becoming a professional comic artist. Hopefully this will help. Ask me more questions if I'm not clear enough and I'll try to post more about what I think makes a good artist and how to become a professional in the comic industry.
If you're not already aware, I'm a self-taught artist with little to no schooling on the subject. I thought I knew how to draw when I was a kid and I thought that drawing from shapes and building your characters out of forms was stupid. I don't know what the proper term for this is so I'm going to refer to it as construction drawing or under drawing throughout this post. My parents had purchased me some how to draw books, I also went to art class, and both of these tried to get me to use construction drawing techniques. Unfortunately I didn't understand the value of it and thus rejected it. I didn't need to build a tiger out of blocks, circles, and cones, because I could draw a tiger flat out. I thought it was a waste of time and I could draw faster, and end up with a prettier looking drawing, without it.
This was a dumb way of trying to become a skilled artist and I wasted a lot of my life fumbling around.
I did get really good at drawing in general though. I could produce a finished looking piece of art immediately without any construction drawing. What I'm going to refer to as "eyeballing" it. Take a look in my gallery here on Deviantart, go back to my first deviation. Starting with the Scorpion lady through the Elaine pencil pages, all those are before I started using construction drawing. It's embarrassing to admit, and honestly kind of unbelievable that I got through life without it, but it's also before I knew how to use a perspective grid. I didn't have a clue what I was doing, just putting down pencil marks and hoping it would work out, but it doesn't look too bad right?
Before I go on to convince you that using construction drawing and establishing your perspective is in your interest, I'm admitting that you can learn to draw without it. However, it doesn't take a competent artist long to notice the wonky characters and awkward environment. You're limiting yourself and your abilities by eyeballing all your art. It also takes a lot longer to produce something that looks competent.
Producing good art, becoming a good artist takes time and dedication. You'll put down a lot marks building shapes and constructing your under drawing, forming something rough, just so you can use a few deliberate lines to produce the finished drawing in the end.
A pretty drawing if you will.
Oh yeah, one final thing before the advice, something that was really helpful to me. You'll think you're getting WORSE as you begin to get BETTER. You'll get frustrated and begin to think Ben Bates is a liar and a cheat. You'll curse my name and rip drawings up, throw you desk over in rage, lash out at family and friends, sink into despair and self-loathing. There you will believe that I have robbed you of all your talent and ability. But as long as you keep drawing, one day you'll finally realize you are in fact a better artist.
I learned this from an intern at Periscope studio, and she learned it from her music teacher. She thought she was good and suddenly she was worse than before. He explained that her ear was getting better before her playing was, allowing her to hear the flaws and overcome them.
I would apply this to drawing in this way.
You probably think you're good right now, but you're really not.
Here are my two pieces of basic advice to become a better-
1. Learn to use construction drawing to build your characters
2. Learn perspective for environments
Those to me are the fundamentals in becoming a skilled artist.
Characters and Construction drawing- Find tutorials online, probably everything you need to know is only a few keystrokes away, or buy a book about a basic guide to figure drawing. Try looking for anything by Andrew Loomis, especially dealing with figure drawing. His books are apparently out of print but I've come across scans of his stuff online. Everyone seems to swear by the guy.
Also get used to drawing lightly for your construction drawing, or working with blue lead, or inking your final drawing. Or you know, working with layers.
Constructing a figure-
Here's a blog with a post that will be helpful for what I'm talking about-Image 2- This is exactly the method I use to draw Sonic, Mega Man, the Ninja Turtles, Teen Titans, real life people, whatever character I'm going to put down. Discover what basic overall shapes make up the character so you can throw them down fast, giving yourself a base or a framework to build off of, and then use that base to ensure that you have a solid drawing before you go through the hassle of drawing details and "pretty" lines.
So many amateur artists, myself included, have wonky drawings because they didn't first ensure they had a solid base to draw on top of.
Like Mickey, Sonic's head is a circle first and foremost. Take a look at Uekawa's sketches and you'll see the circle and the cross marks to anchor Sonic's face still evident. I'm sure you can find plenty of tutorials for how to draw Sonic that shows you where to go once you've set your circle down. Be aware that you aren't trying to learn "how to draw Sonic standing with legs crossed and waggling a finger", avoid examples where its step by step instructions of "first draw a wavy line, then two dots on top". You want to learn what shapes are used to build off the circle, how and where his ears line up on his head, how big his shoes are compared to his body and all that kind of stuff.
Find all the shapes that make Sonic as a rough frame work, and get used to drawing those shapes in different views for different poses. Build off those rough drawings, adding his details to better understand how to pose and "move" the character in space.
If you can master construction drawing you will master character drawing.
Perspective- Find tutorials/books on learning perspective, establishing vanishing points, and horizon lines.
I haven't read through these carefully, so these might suck, but at first glance they look helpful in teaching the fundamentals for establishing perspective, and most importantly, why and how you would want to use it!
Perspective is necessary for character work too, but for my purposes here I'm saying that perspective is the basis for your background/environment (that you will then place your character into).
My good friend and monstrously talented artist, Dustin Weaver
explained to me when I was first learning how to use perspective grids (only a few years ago!), that he uses a perspective to draw everything. It doesn't matter if its the middle of the jungle.