My son Daniel playing, from Summer 2008.
From time to time I get requests to look in on people's artwork and give evaluations, which I try to do, although I don't always have as much time or ability to allow toward this as I wish, especially lately. It does tell me however, that there is a healthy appetite for information on drawing and animating, and that the internets can be a handy provider for such, to an extent. Certainly fine people like Mark Kennedy, Mark Mayerson, John K, and Peter Emslie and others devote a lot more generous time and personal talent to these issues than I can, but for my part, here's the first of a few general tips that seem worth offering.
"Draw from life, as often as possible."
This sounds simple and pat, but it can't be stressed enough, even to myself. We all love to draw from imagination, and we also love decoding the established formulas of our heroes, often by copying their work for exercise. Both are fine, but the act of drawing from reality is where you can learn some of the most foundational information about your subjects and yourself.
I confess as kid I never drew from my surroundings. It was only slightly less rare as a young adult and even now I really don't do it as often as I should. It's a common mistake and a tragic one. Here's what Andrew Loomis, one of the premiere commercial artists of the mid-20th century has to say:
"All of us tend to discount our own experience and knowledge-to consider our background dull and commonplace. But that is a serious mistake. No background is barren of artistic material. The artist who grew up in poverty can create just as much beauty in drawing tumble-down sheds as another artist might in drawing ornate and luxurious settings."
Wow. That's for sure. When I was a kid, I was under the impression my surroundings were too boring for words, which may have been true from a certain point of view, but Mr. Loomis is here to suggest that from an art perspective, that is really never the case. Go outside and draw the people around you. If that isn't possible draw your family. Draw your pets, look in the mirror, draw your houseplants and your furniture, take off your shoes and draw them! Look at what a master like Philip Guston could do with shoes, and he could draw as elaborately or as primitively as he chose.
For the sake of learning, you don't even have to worry about making "good" drawings. What you are doing is opening pathways in the brain that will teach you to observe what you actually see, not what you want to see, but what is really there. When you can train yourself how to capture that accurately and with authority, everything you draw from there will get that much more well-informed.
A Ronald Searle sketch done while he was a prisoner of war.
"Technique is not so important as you think - the living, emotional qualities-the idealization you put into your work-are far more important."
I'm not sure about the "idealization" part, but the rest is true. If by "idealization" he means creating solid personal ideals about conveying reality, then all to the good. If he means trying to put your sensibilities into a context of what someone else might consider "ideal", then that's open to conjecture, taste, and the context of your times and social conventions.
In any case, practice makes perfect. A lot of people can talk (or write) about achievement, but being able to achieve something is far more important. There is no substitute for time and experience, and there is no experience more instructive than learning to draw from the immediate surroundings of your own life, time and place.