It might be a bit early for it, but I wanted to take some time to look back on all of the progress I’ve made over 2020 with regard to my art. It wasn’t until I looked back over the whole year that I noticed how much better I’ve gotten. With that, I wanted to do a self indulgent reflection post going over what I’ve done, what I learned, and how I’ve improved.

Let’s dive in.

After trying to do so many Pokémon doodles on top of keeping a strict posting schedule I burned myself out toward the end of 2019, so I wasn’t doing much of anything for the first bit of 2020. It wasn’t until the apocalypse descended upon us that I started getting back into art.

The first completed piece of the year was the Jolteon loosely based on Invader Zim.

This drawing has the honour of being the very last one that I did without a white outline around it. Trolling through artist twitter I saw numerous artists with a cartoon style who used white outlines around their work to make it really pop and thought my work would benefit from following suit. In general I think the addition had the desired effect.

All good things must come to an end though, and I eventually became burned out on making goofy Pokémon. So what do you move on to when you’re bored of drawing Pokémon? You start trying to learn how to draw human characters!

Oh god.

The first piece of human published art that I made was of Valerie from Fantasy Strike. Based on the number of times I’ve featured her in screenshots some of you may have been able to correctly surmise that she is my favourite character. For that reason I wanted to do a really good job, but also I had almost no practice making humans. As a result this very tiny simplistic doodle took several hours of drawing and redrawing to iron out every little detail.

I was, and still am, really proud of this drawing. Compared to my 2019 profile picture this was a vast improvement. Here’s why:

  • She actually has eyes
  • Her head and hair connect in a way that makes sense instead of being disjointed
  • Rounder edge make for a cuter overall design
  • Better shading and highlights
  • I actually drew the boobs on her (boobs are hard)
  • The arms connect to the body instead of floating off canvas

Lots of improvements. Plus, Val turned out so well that it gave me a huge motivational kick in the ass to keep drawing and improving. Where I had become bored of Pokémon I now had a new challenge: to get better at drawing humanoids.

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I realized I had a tool problem. I was experiencing wrist pain while using my mouse to draw and I was also tried of only having access to a single type of brush. Miranda bought me a tablet for my birthday and I bought myself a copy of Krita on Steam. I now had software that supported multiple brush types and a piece of hardware that let me draw as if I was using a pen. This resulted in the largest uptick in quality I experienced all year.

Here’s my profile picture from July of 2019 and here is a redrawn version that made use of the tablet to illustrate the difference.

Yeah. No question there – the mouse had been holding me back.

It was around this time that I also started trying to draw on bigger canvases. The reason being that small canvases like the 500×500 I had been using looked like poo on social media. Thus, I started using a minimum size of 1000×1000 which looked significantly better on social media. For reference, that is about half the width of a 1080p screen.

Larger canvases also had the added benefit of hiding small mistakes because the image was so fucking big that no one would be able to see said mistakes without zooming in and scanning every pixel. This would, eventually, become a huge time saver for me as I no longer had to be as anal retentive about every tiny detail.

Having found my footing with the tablet, I spent the next several weeks getting weird. I tried so many different things examining what worked and what needed improvement. I also did some well received fan art of Later Levels and Adventure Rules, which was part of this experimental learning period. I tweeted not too long ago that sometimes you need to get worse before you can get better. This summer was definitely me getting worse to eventually get better.

Here’s a brief summary of all the things I tried across that time:

  • Drawing glasses as a character’s eyes
  • Not having my expressions run off the character’s face
  • Wider and rounder head sizes
  • White highlights that had almost no opacity (transparency)
  • Shading that was transparent black instead of various shades of blue, purple, black, and green
  • Higher levels of colour contrast
  • Line-art that was altered to match nearby colouring
  • White outlines for darker drawings
  • Heads that were less circular and instead had more of a peanut shape
  • Using a hard layer of solid black for sharper shading
  • Rounder edges
  • Iris that are a single black circle with a section removed for highlighting
  • General improvements to anatomy

Obviously not everything stuck, but this did help me work out what I liked and what I wanted to avoid.

In October everyone was updating their profiles to be more spoopy so I decided to follow suit. Applying an entire summer of learning I redrew my avatar lady and…I was extremely surprised by the results.

I shouldn’t have been surprised because I was sitting there for a couple hours drawing her, but I still can’t get my brain around how much better this drawing from the start of October is when compared against a drawing I did at the beginning of July. In three fucking months I’d improved SO much without realizing it. This was the culmination of months of practice, experimentation, and learning.

Having come to this conclusion I knew I couldn’t go back to the old version of my profile picture at the end of October, so I also had to redraw that too.

Three months. Three months of practice. My god.

The next several weeks were followed by me trying out different face structures and eye shapes trying to nail down something I really liked. The tweaks are minor from doodle to doodle and there is less experimentation as I’ve been more focused on practicing the skills I’ve developed.

One sore spot I did notice was how rigid all my drawings look. Drawing what is ostensibly a t-pose in all my doodles was good for practice, but also made a lot of my finished pieces look the same. So now the challenge was to make the poses more dynamic.

One night I spent the whole evening studying the work of Toronto based cartoon artist Sqetches (note: he is where I originally cribbed the idea for the new irises I’ve been using). I was looking to break down how he did things and why they worked. While I am no where near the same level, my most recent set of drawings put into practice some of what I observed.

I don’t know that I can fully articulate all of what is going on there, but a lot of it relies on following hard lines for the pose and basing the drawings around those lines. I think people who have formally studied art probably have a better idea of why this works, where I’m just imitating what I’ve observed from several artists (not just the aforementioned Sqetches).

Across the whole of 2020 I’ve spent a lot of time improving my art. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s staggering seeing the difference between March and December. My style looks more refined, images pop, and things feel more dynamic. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made and am curious how much things will change over the course of 2021.

For those who read this far, thank you for indulging me. I hope you were able to take something away from this. If nothing else, let it stand as proof that if you focus on something you will eventually get better. It just takes a lot of practice, learning, and revision. As long as you constantly seek to improve you will.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get where you’re going as long as you get there in the end.