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General Art Artsy Tips and Advice - A Basic Art Tutorial


Mrs. Austin
Dec 6, 2009
Throughout my experience with the fanart community, or the artistic community in general, both online and in real life, I’ve noticed a lot of sentiments along the lines of “wow I could never draw like that” or “I so wish I knew how to draw the ideas I have” or “my art sucks”, etc. Well, let me start off by saying this: don’t think “my art sucks”, think “my art may suck now, but it won’t suck later”. What I mean by that is that art is 1% talent and 99% practice, so I’m here to help give some hints and advice that I’ve picked up throughout my artistic journeys. This is probably gonna be a very long post as I’m going to be as detailed as I can and include some diagrams, and probably add more later, so for simplicity, I’mma split it into these bold headings for your searching convenience:


Human Anatomy

One of the biggest issues a lot of people have is with human anatomy, whether it’s body proportion or poses or specific areas like facial expressions or hands. Of course, there is no one way to learn how to draw any of this, and each individual person has differences in their body structure and facial features. But we’re gonna stick to the basics here for now, and the one base advice I can give in this regard is to draw from observation.

Observation means anything from trying to replicate another drawing freehand, or even tracing as a start (though if you trace, don’t try to claim you drew the piece), or drawing from real life observations. You know that amazing little thing called a mirror? What do you see when you look into it? Hopefully a human being, right? Well congratulations, you just learned one of the biggest secrets to drawing anatomy: you can be your own reference! This can be applied to poses, hands, facial expressions, the list goes on and on.

Of course, even having your own reference will only take you so far. Eventually you’ll want to learn how to draw poses freehand, so I’m going to give you a few diagrams here to get you started. The first diagram (1a) shows the basic geometric proportions of the human body, male and female. The second diagram (1b) introduces you to Sausage Buddy, an androgynous tool for figuring out poses; a skeletal rough draft really. If you can learn Sausage Buddy’s proportions, you can draw it first as a basic sketch to figure out the pose of the character you are drawing. The third diagram (1c) is a modified version of Sausage Buddy; it is more of an advanced stick figure. Both 1b and 1c can be used as great pose tools, and it all comes down to preference. Some of you out there may not even like using guide lines, and that’s perfectly okay as well.


Another diagram that may come in handy is this facial features chart (1d), which shows the basic geometric layout of a human face. Keep in mind though, all of these diagrams are just for basic reference and should not be taken as strict artistic law. After all, the best drawings out there tend to break the rules.


I cannot stress how important it is to remember that the above diagrams show only basic generalities. Every person is different, and you do not have to draw according to guidelines. For example, my human figures tend to have legs 1.5x as long as the torso, but that’s my style that I developed for myself after learning the basics that you see in the diagrams.


Another big issue I see people having is with shading, whether it be due to light source placement or picking the right color. The easier one to explain is picking the right color, well, it’s easier in theory, because really it depends on the color scheme you want to go for (dull, saturated, monochrome, abstract, etc… color scheme is really advanced and I won’t touch on it here). Some general rules of thumb: for drawings with a brighter color scheme, pick darker colors that are more saturated; for drawings with a bleaker color scheme, pick darker colors that are less saturated. Saturation is basically how much color there is; in other words, grey-, black-, and white-tinted colors are very unsaturated, but something like crimson is very saturated.

For light source, this is another one of those things where you have to learn from observation. Take an item, place a light source near it, and observed the way that light bounces. Always remember where your light source is, and direct your shading accordingly. Take a look at the following diagram (2a).


Of course, with all art, the exact way the image comes out depends on the style. Cel shading and realism shading are very different. Take a look at this comparison (2b) between cel shading and realistic soft shading.


One thing to remember with shading is that you should not be afraid to be dynamic with it. I used to have the problem where I made the color difference too subtle to the point it was hard to notice. Don’t be afraid to be bold with your colors, and don’t be afraid to try colors you would never think to use. The result may surprise you.

The last thing I am going to note about shading is that shading isn’t just about shadows. There are also highlights to take into account. Notice in (2b) how in both pictures, there were white-tinted highlights in the hair and ribbons and jewel and eyes. Any reflective surface will have light bouncing off and making that sort of effect. Even non reflective surfaces still reflect enough light that they can make that effect. If you look closely, on both pictures in (2b), you will notice the upper breast is a lighter color than the rest of the dress.


Unless you paint lineless, which is very difficult, you probably rely on lineart for all your drawings before you color anything in, which makes lineart a very important part of the drawing process. I will split this section into three parts: general basics, traditional, and digital.

I’ll start with general basics, the first of which is that sketching is your friend. Sketches can be really messy, but they help you figure out the layout of your composition or pose before you really get involved, only to find out that you messed something up and can’t fix it without making major alterations. Sketches allow you to really see what you are doing. Another interesting thing to realize is that there is a very easy way to check how accurate your lineart is. Many people may draw something only to realize that something looks off, but they can’t figure out what. What you should do to check is to mirror the image. When drawing digitally, just flip the image horizontally. When drawing traditionally, use a mirror or hold the paper up to the light and look at it from below. Let me show you an example (3a) of a bad image. I will say right now it’s not the best example, but I don’t keep old images prior to 2007 and by that point I had already come into the habit of mirror checking so I’m afraid I don’t have any particularly good examples. Please bear with me :/


By checking the mirror image, you can often catch any places where something has been misplaced or misdrawn and you will know how to fix it. This is because you are looking at it from a new perspective, which lets you catch things you miss otherwise due to being used to how the image looks as you draw it.

Now for some traditional media specific tips. Most of you out there probably draw lineart on paper, and drawing lineart on paper is definitely easier than on a computer, even with the best tablet. However, traditional drawing lacks some of the conveniences of digital art, namely the “undo function”. Many people feel the frustration of trying to erase a bad line only to find the line stubbornly resisting the eraser. This is because a lot of people press down too hard on the paper. When drawing, until you have the image exactly how you want it, draw LIGHTLY. I CANNOT stress this enough. Don’t attack the paper with that pencil, sketch so that you don’t make any physical indentations in the paper. This makes everything so much more cooperative with the eraser. In addition, try to keep your hand off the sketch so you don’t smudge anything, as that blurs the image. If there are those pesky eraser shavings, try blowing them off or shaking the paper, as long as you avoid smudging the lines. You can press down harder for darker crisper lines once you’re sure you know exactly where you want the lines to go.

For digital artists, erasing is not an issue. What IS is making lines straight. I find it helps a lot to use a very large canvas (mine tend to be 2000-3000px). You can sketch while zoomed out, then zoom in to do the lines. When you are zoomed in, even if the lines are uneven and crooked, you can’t tell when you zoom out (3b). Then again, uneven lines are better than perfectly uniform lines as uneven is much more natural. The large canvas also allows you to really get in details. You can always shrink the image when you are done with the lineart to make it more manageable for coloring.


That’s all I have for now. I will add more tips as I think of them, and if anyone has a topic they want me to cover just let me know and I’ll do my best.

Random Person

Just Some Random Person
Feb 6, 2010
Tips on background drawing.

My shading for background seems to not be good unless I use soft shading and even then its difficult to maintain.

See, the background shading is horrible here except where there's a major light source. Yet I'm not sure how to go about that with cel shading. While in this pic
the background shading doesn't seem that bad because the light source is in the center and it uses soft shading, but even still there are some inconsistencies.

Any tips to ensure good shading for backgrounds, especially for cel-shading? Or should you just not cel shade for backgrounds without a major light source


For the Greater Good.
Apr 3, 2011
That place you can never find.
I've never been too great at drawing myself..... I've always stuck to doing pixel art and/or stick figures but I'm sure these will help me next time I decide to take an art class.
Example of my slightly unoriginal pixel art ( Yay reference pictures from google xP)

Herpa derpa derp. (That is the master sword from ALttP incase you were wondering xP
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The Energy Never Dies.
Jun 24, 2011
This is coming from a total noob here. I'm pretty young, and starting to get into art, I know how to use photoshop. Do you guys just draw something, then do all of the shading and such on GIMP or Photoshop?


May 9, 2010
Wow Xinn you just taught me a lesson of art because I do like to draw but I really like to improve
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Luigi Fan
Apr 20, 2010
Hyrule Castle
Thanks for all those helpful tips, Xinny;) The first part of everything is my biggest problem. But thanks to you, I know that I can draw great body structure.
I have been drawing on paper, or well attempting, for only about 3 months now. I tried drwing a running person but I couldn't get it to be just right, but now I can finally draw it half-decent, Thank-you very much for the tips... Would you by chance have any tips for drawing hair?
Apr 26, 2012
Nice tips.
Could you do some for movement.
I could never get my pictures to look like they are moving without this stiffness.
Feb 20, 2013
The lineart section is really helpful to me! Thank you. I've often seen speedpaints of people and I wondered why they did the mirror image thing. When I asked what it was for, I quickly thought "nah, that's stupid! I don't need that." But now, I see, that I really do.

I'm going to keep trying the mirror image thing until it comes to me like eating. Thanks a bunch man.

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