Thoughts & Process: Reviewing Art Progress in 2020

It’s worth evaluating your artwork every now and then to see what you think needs to change, how you’ve improved, and to generally get new perspectives on what is in your artwork. It’s become a bit of a meme I’ve seen in the 2010s era for artists to hate looking at their old work, and what is “old artwork” can vary from person to person. A piece that is only a few months old might be repulsive to an artist depending on how they value their own self worth and confidence, and this isn’t always a far assessment of progress. Now that most of the dust has settled on 2020 and we have entered 2020.2, I wanted to fairly critique my own artwork and see what are elements I still need to be conscientious of today, and maybe today’s discussion can help other artists reflect on their older artwork in a more resourceful light. Thanks for joining me in my review of my 2020 artwork. 

A couple things before we start: normally I try to write about the choices behind my compositions and the way I draw things. However, this post is going to be more of a general review of what I made and shared in 2020, how my style evolved, and what choices mattered to me more when I created my pieces. I won’t talk about everything I made in 2020, just select work. Also, none of these pieces I actually titled beyond just dating them, so I’ve made up some titles for the sake of this blog post. Finally before we begin: most characters featured in these illustrations are generally just one offs except for Kya, an African American and Bahamian mixed woman with freckles and curly hair. She is an original character of mine to be used in my SS: Outlook story, along with her counterpart Earth, who is basically just her but colored to look like planet Earth. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

An illustration of a woman with bright red hair and a black and white shirt on a paper texture. She looks at the viewer with a creepy stare.

Taunt (January 2020)

Let’s start with this piece above that I’m going to call Taunt. This one isn’t a full blown detailed illustration like my others, but still a piece from January 2020 that I felt worth briefly discussing. Conceptually, this is a rather anime concept: a girl or woman with some darker shadows around her eyes, as she creepily stares at the viewer. This idea is very similar to the whole yandere trope. I would say that if I remade this, I’d try and fix some of the character’s shading on her face, and make her lips and nose a bit wider. Her jawline could also use some work, I’d most likely make it softer and rounder. I’d finally also make the hair strands that rest on her shirt a bit more transparent towards the tips so it looks more natural.

On the positive side, one thing that did carry from this piece into others was the idea of flatter shading on clothing with a more rendered character. I would also like to give out this tip to any artists who want to do something similar to the paper texture I created for the background: it looks nice and textured, but all the extra noise effects make the file size so much larger. It’s worth considering how much the texture matters if you’re looking to post art with it online. Yes, this is something I learned the hard way.

An illustration of a woman sitting on some blue flowers in a white dress and hat.

Soft and Blue (February 2020)

I’d already talked about my patterned woman piece in the very last blog post, which was made in the same month as the art above, so I wanted to highlight another piece I still really like: Soft and Blue. I absolutely love the color palette in this piece, and it was so much fun to work with. I also think the way the bluer flowers recede into the background are effective, the varying contrast of the shadows, lights, and outlines really provide the piece a great field of depth. If I were to make any actual changes upon reflection, I think the dress could use some more gesture and generally just a better silhouette. It’s not very clear that the woman in the illustration is bending forward, and I believe this is due to the solid flat white dress. Maybe I’d also play with the ribbon color on the woman’s hat, but other than that, I’m still happy with this piece! 

A digital painting of two women, one colored like planet Earth in space, and another black woman holding an umbrella looking out to the sea.

SS: Outlook Two Sides (March 2020)

Oof, this piece isn’t going to age well with me at all is it? It doesn’t help that at this point in my story’s development that these two characters come from, that they didn’t have proper character designs yet. So ignoring any criticisms that have to do with the designs themselves, I’ll start with the few positives. The water texture on the right of the illustration I still think is very nice, the space field looks solid, and…this piece is ambitious. Yeah that’s it… as for the things I’d change, I’d definitely want the clouds to looks less cartoony in terms of their shapes and shading. The umbrella that Kya, the character on the right, is holding could use a better transparent design. Kya’s face herself just looks off, mainly because of the way her eye and nose are drawn. The Earth’s character landmasses are also way too green, and could use some browns and peaches towards the land edges. Finally, the color palette is. Too. BLUE! I’m proud I managed to get through this illustration, but it’s definitely going to continue to be a learning lesson for my future.

An illustration of a woman in a floral patterned poncho, standing and staring straight at the viewer.

Oh My Red (May 2020)

This piece was made when I finally realized what kinds of color palettes I wanted to work with on a consistent basis. This Youtuber, Ethan Becker, put together a good “Develop Your Style” video, in which I had fun putting together my inspirations. In that exercise, I realized how much I admired Satoshi Kon’s colors in his movies such as Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers, the latter was used for color inspiration for this piece Oh My Red. This drawing was mainly a practice in utilizing these colors, and God did I just go with it from there. I drew the flower pattern based off of a place-mat I have in my apartment, in order to mentally take this exercise easier on myself. While I ultimately believe the top of the woman’s head and pants were rendered too plainly and boringly, and that her face is a little too large for her head, I was ecstatic with the color palette and made a conscious choice to continue with palettes like this for the future.

Oh and the shawl string technique I used in the past Patterned Lady illustration? …it’s back!

An illustration of a woman wrapped in a large yellow blanket, with queztal birds flying around her.

Queztal (June 2020)

Right after the last illustration, I had broken up with Adobe Photoshop and moved to Medibang, so I was learning new software and had to use new tools. A few pieces later, and I have Queztal here. This is one illustration I could see myself redoing eventually when it’s less fresh in my career. It was originally inspired by a similar piece that artist Loish also made in 2020. I’m still rather happy with it, especially with elements such as the skin tones, all the hues in Kya’s hair, the quetzal bird on the left, and the overall palette. What I reflect on with this piece is how this illustration could have been pushed into something more extravagant and exciting to look at, how the drapery could have had multiple bold colors, and how the background could have used something less flat, maybe even more drapery?

This was one of those pieces that ultimately got some shaft from me because I had spent so much energy on it, I got to the point where I just wanted it done. In this piece, I learned that I have a horrible habit: if I do not draw a background or pattern in the sketch, or I at the very least do not have a solid idea for either in the sketching stage, I do not follow through on making an engaging environment or pattern. Because of this, this piece got less than it deserved, and I feel guilty about that even now.

A black, white, and red drawing of a child sitting on the ground looking at car keys besides her.

Time To Go? (August 2020)

My illustration here is more of a simpler one, it’s just a younger girl looking at a pair of car keys down beside her. This is more of a concept sketch for another story I eventually want to do, where a character who’s been living in their home town their whole life one day decides to go drive and explore the world around them. I got the idea that the character should wear something comfortable and have some sportier fashion, since in my story’s concept, they would be driving often. I don’t see too much issue with the illustration itself, however, I made a fatal error with this character concept: the character is way too young to legally drive! This is definitely one of those cases where I got stuck in my head and ran right into a brick wall with the idea. This character still doesn’t have an official design yet, but I promise they will be older than this!

Reflecting on this drawing now, I like the idea of the limited color palette and shades in this piece for when I eventually make their story in my chosen medium. The limited colors and lines makes it more suitable for energetic movements and action scenes. I’ll probably stick to a similar drawing method for this character in the future.

An illustration of a woman in a black dress with sparse tan beaded patterns. She's stretching her left arm and torso out.

MV Fashion (September 2020)

I would consider this piece to be an evolution of a couple pieces from earlier in the same year. The flat colored fashion with the detailed rendering of the character makes a return from the piece Taunt, while the color palette methodology from Oh My Red appears to blend into this drawing, MV Fashion. This piece was a mixture of me not wanting to spend too long on a full color illustration because of my other projects, while still making something a bit more stylized than my normal full color pieces. The actual dress was inspired by an article of clothing from an issue of Midnight Velvet I’d been mailed.

There really isn’t much of anything I’d change about this piece at all. I’m happy with the varying tones in Kya’s hair, I think the anatomy and shape of her figure is good and solid, the colors all complement each other, and the entire body silhouette is engaging. If I ever revisit this piece, I could see myself making a more complex pattern for the clothing and background, but that would be about it.

Other pieces I wanted to highlight are Patterned Lady, Holly, and Mermay 2020, which will receive its own discussion post in May 2021.

Conclusion

The things I got the most out of my 2020 art were:

  • Consistent color values and color palettes
  • Better anatomy practice
  • Experimenting with my characters and fashion

These are things I need to be more aware of as I continue my artwork into 2021:

  • Jawlines
  • Proper facial structure on a character’s head
  • Making sure I don’t run too long with a bad idea/fleshing my compositions more outside of just characters

So as you can see, it’s not helpful for me to just look at an old piece of art and say “yeesh.” I can only benefit from proper constructive criticism so I know what to do in the future. I hope other artists, both new and old, can see what I did here so they can look at their old art objectively, and become prouder of their progress. Do you think my criticism was fair? Did I miss something in my art analysis that you had noticed? I’d love to hear what you’d have to say. I wish you the best, until we meet again.

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