How to Paint Something You Suck At

This isn’t going to be a painting tutorial, this is just something I’ve been trying to figure out.

I’ve written on this topic before. This can be attributed to any artist in any medium, but for argument’s sake, I’m going to be talking about painters. Both traditional and digital.

Many artists are good at painting specific subjects. Someone who specializes in painting horses may not paint motorcycles very well. In my case, I’m good at painting people, but I have little talent and interest in painting buildings and environments.

But lately, that’s been changing. Not the talent so much, but the interest in painting environments. In my comic, Dragonrider’s Dance, I want my characters to live in a gorgeous fantasy world filled with scenic little towns, beautiful landscapes, and a truly magical environment.

It was because of this motivation that I’ve been on YouTube tutorials learning how to create environments. I’ve been learning how to photobash, paint landscapes (with both traditional methods and digital), and creating brushes to create beautiful environments.

For next week’s comic, here are a few environment panels I’ve made. This is one of my supporting characters giving the protagonist a tour of the town.

Now, the environments are NOT the quality I want them to be, but that’s just the beauty of it, I’m learning, making mistakes, moving on.

The great thing about working on a comic, is that people will focus on each panel for a couple seconds and move on, they won’t notice the mistakes unless they’re trained to do so. I gave myself a deadline for the comics as well, so I can’t get stuck on one panel when I’ve got more to make.

Usually I hate painting buildings and environments, but thanks to my motivation and desire for my characters to explore a beautiful world, I’m excited by how quickly I’m learning! If you’re generally not good at painting something, but now find yourself in a situation where you’re motivated to paint that thing, your brain is going to learn to do everything it can to make it the best you can.

So, here’s five things I learned since I decided I’m going to learn to paint environments.

“Expanding Your Portfolio” Is Not a Good Enough Reason

If you’re taking art classes and are required to draw and paint things you don’t like otherwise you’ll fail the class, or are getting paid to draw that thing, chances are you’re not going to make a whole lot of artwork depicting subjects outside your comfort zone.

I firmly believe that human beings are bad at doing anything unless there is a deeply personal, border-line selfish motivator for doing so (it’s why we’ll get to work at a job we hate every day).

In my case, having a comic where I want the setting to be beautiful to tell my story motivated me, but other motivators might be you have a friend who loves cars, and you hate drawing cars, but a painting of a car would be a great gift for them. Maybe you hate painting landscapes, but want to create a, art series about places you’ve been that deeply mean something to you.

Simply “just wanting to expand your portfolio” or “improving your skills” or “wanting to get out of your comfort zone” may not be enough. If it is for you, wonderful! What’s your secret? I must know!

Tell a Story

Something I found helps me create things I’m not interested in is having a story behind the subject. This is true when you’re in the animation or illustration industry. Every image has a story behind it- so why not make it a good one?

This is a good way of connecting your subject to something deeply personal to you. You may not be interested in drawing motorcycles, but maybe you love creating and designing characters. Why not make a painting of a motorcycle that is an important part of one your characters’ stories?

Maybe you don’t like drawing animals, but you love fantasy books and stories. This would be a great opportunity to create a fantasy painting depicting the animal. It doesn’t even have to match your reference perfectly. You can turn a horse into a unicorn, or a lion into a griffon.

Quantity over Quality- at least at first

In my research in how to improve my digital art skills, something I’ve been hearing over and over again from people who’ve worked for Disney, Dreamworks, etc, is not to get hung up on one art piece. It’s far better to make a practice piece, take note of your mistakes, and move on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to paint a digital landscape, spend hours on it, and no matter what I did, it wouldn’t look right, when I was better off starting over or making a new piece.

When you’re learning how to create something you’ve never had interest in before, trying to make your first few pieces look perfect is only going to make things worse. It’s going to look bad (because you’re just bad at making those things at this point), and you want it to look good, but it’ll depress you how bad it looks, further contributing to that feedback loop that you hate painting those things.

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