10 common mistakes for beginner artists, and how to avoid them

Introduction

When we are still beginning our careers, we make mistakes that may not help us when trying to land a job. These tips are mainly directed towards people who want to be a 3D character artist, but most of these may apply to other areas.

Not gathering enough references

You’ve probably heard this a lot by now, but if you haven’t, here’s the main thing when creating anything: gather many references – they may not be only visual, they can also be based on books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen, but gather them, and check them often. Need to create some leather belt for your character? Check how other artists made similar things, check how leather works in real life and how it reacts to light. References are truly the most important thing. Using a software like Pureref is a huge help when gathering and organizing references for your projects.

Pureref is a great software for organizing references © Pureref

Presenting only incomplete work

I personally didn’t complete many projects when starting back in 2013. I did some Photoshop paintings or Maya models, but never completed anything. I didn’t have any complete projects to show my skills, only a folder of endless works in progress. Some veterans in the industry might also have only incomplete work when coming to personal jobs, while it doesn’t hinder them, since they may have movies and games under their portfolio to prove their skills. Beginners and people who don’t have any big projects under their belt may need to present their best work to be able to compete for a job in the industry.

Acknowledge that presenting sketches or incomplete work once you have many complete projects in your portfolio doesn’t hinder you, it’s all about what will people think when they open up your page. If you have only sketches and WIPs to present, then that means you never complete anything at all. But if you have some complete works and a separate project to show sketches, then they may think that you have some finished projects to prove where you are right now, skill-wise, while also showing some content you don’t mean to work on in the future.

study over the Ludovisi Ares

Personal study over the Ludovisi Ares, posted as a sketch © Tarik Takasu

Rushing too much

Whether you are doing a painting or a 3D character of your own design, sometimes you may be compelled to post, finish, and gather feedback, but since you are not working at your fullest potential, people might glance past your project since it is too similar to others. You always need to have something that’s popping, that’s different or high quality when comparing to other works.

Rushing is also an issue when beginners go straight from a rough blockout into micro details. Mainly on digital sculptures, you need the primary shapes, then working through the secondary shapes, tertiary, and micro details. Projects that go straight from a rushed blockout into microdetails are too hard to give feedback on, and are too crude to establish how skilled the artist is.

Doing separate studies based on specific small parts of a project and working to get those into the highest quality you can is a good exercise, it establishes a rhythm of work, may help you with fundamentals and train your eye. Since you don’t need to worry about too many things at once, you remain focused on getting stuff like a good looking hand, hard surface mechanism, or eye, instead of a complete character or a complete gun or robot. Later on you might be able to gather all these studies and present them in your portfolio as a complete project.

statue hand of Krenko

Hand of Krenko, a statue I did aiming for 3D Printing. Thinking about it as a mini-project made me focus more © Tarik Takasu

A good presentation may save a bad model, but a bad presentation may ruin an excellent model.

Inappropriate presentation

This has a link with the previous entry, rushing too much; sometimes, when you finish a character, you may think that’s enough. Over 2 weeks, 2 months, or maybe 10 months to get it finished, you’ll finally post it. But presentation is everything in this industry. Depending on the quality of your presentation, the work does not get enough visibility, and some people may think that this project does not look good at all. A good presentation may save a bad model, but a bad presentation may ruin an excellent model.

Making a render in Keyshot

Making a good render in Keyshot helped me to sell the idea of a statue for the Krenko project © Tarik Takasu, Karl Kopinski

Presenting novice projects, or presenting projects that are too simple

This one is linked to rushing too much. When first starting out on your first months of artistic creations, you may be thinking that you need to start posting so you can land your dream job ASAP. I’m kind of sorry to give the sad news, but landing your dream job might take a few years, and the quality of your work is going to increase a whole lot over the first months.

Maybe holding out to get a big project going after 6 to 8 months of study is better than posting everything you do over the first days of ZBrush or Photoshop painting. At the end of the day, your work needs to show your abilities, and choosing to show stuff that doesn’t present your abilities properly will have a negative affect.

presenting projects that are too simple

Study made in 2016, 6 hours of work, compared to a sketch done in 2019 in 2 hours. Neither of them made it into portfolio © Tarik Takasu, Anastasios Gionis

Lacking the fundamentals

The basics, composition, anatomy, perspective, value, form, and notions of design are the most valuable tools an artist has. This is what makes someone create good high quality art, and are tools that are an endless source of study. There is no such thing as “I know all about anatomy”, or “I know everything there is about composition.” Fundamentals may be studied through your main medium, be it 2D or 3D, but can also be studied through photography, traditional drawing, painting, or sculpture. Learning notions of design help on reading concepts for future models, and composition and lighting are crucial for presentation. And as said before, studying the fundamentals is never ending – top artists in the industry still study the fundamentals, because there is always something to learn.

composition and lighting of sword

This sword I made with the sole purpose of studying fundamentals and presentation, composition, lighting, color, and shapes © Tarik Takasu

Inconsistency

Whenever you finish a project, be it personal or professional, you need to think if it’s worth it to be added to your portfolio. Does it have the same quality as the rest of my portfolio? Maybe you are mainly an environment artist and needed to create a character; you may need to ask, is this the kind of work I want to create professionally in the future?

Maybe presenting some of the pixel art, traditional painting, drawing, 3D modeling, realistic props, cartoon 3D characters and logo design together in your portfolio may indicate a lack of focus. Try to establish a direction, and work towards that direction, if you ever need to show if you know how to create pixel art, show that project in the interview or send via email so the person knows that you can do it, but don’t show that in your portfolio, since the lack of consistency really sends off an awkward image of yourself.

miniature render of bird

Project by fellow artist Gustavo Zampieri. His focus in the miniatures industry is made solid through this project – the size of the details and render quality are consistent throughout his work © Gustavo Zampieri

Presenting everything you do, or nothing at all

You may see through portfolio glancing that there are people who post the work they do on a daily basis, be it a bad project or a good one. Presenting everything you have ever done isn’t going to help your portfolio, since the portfolio caters to the top notch of your best work. Doing dailies is great, but maybe gathering them into a single project over a few weeks may be a lot better than presenting them separately.

On the same topic, thinking that the project you just finished is not worthy of your portfolio is not going to help either. You have to work with what you have; post the project, gather feedback, and move on to the next one. In the future, when your skill is far above the said project, you may remove that from your portfolio since it’s obsolete to work with the next level, and move on.

animal skulls

Another image by Gustavo Zampieri, presenting all of his animal skull studies in one project gave them a whole new value and showed his effort © Gustavo Zampieri

There is no such thing as “I know all about anatomy”, or “I know everything there is about composition.” Fundamentals may be studied through your main medium, be it 2D or 3D, but can also be studied through photography, traditional drawing, painting, or sculpture

Working with projects that do not value your skills

Maybe your anatomy is still not on a good level and you know that. Maybe you have some great skill at modeling hard surface, but for some reason, you are working to create a completely anatomical structure with no hard surface whatsoever.

On your first big projects, working with your strengths is really important, while also studying to get your weaknesses on a new level. Don’t try to model a Tarzan if your anatomy isn’t as good as it needs to be, and don’t try to model a gun if your hard surface skills are not as good.

To show texturing and lighting at first, a model with many shadow catching surfaces and different materials is best. A bust with an armor, belt, gold trims, and damage is a lot better than just showing a simple head. Unless you are showing your absolute best on head texturing and shading and that’s your main focus.

templar clothing

When creating the templar, I wanted to find a character with many different surfaces to work with in Substance Painter, to show my skills in the software © Tarik Takasu

Not acknowledging your capabilities

Everyone needs to start from the bottom so they can reach the top. Back when I was teaching CG to people new to the concepts behind 2D and 3D design, I noticed that many of them compared themselves to the top of the industry and just thought that their work would never reach that level. Sometimes it’s hard to think that you may be able to create assets for something as complex as a big budget movie or a AAA game, but it’s all about patience. The people you see doing those characters, props, and environments one day were also students struggling with the basics. It’s all about working hard, connecting with people, and slowly grabbing the attention with the work you do. Someday, someone might notice your progress and think that you would be a good addition to their team. Just work for it.