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I mean you all learned figure drawing, in and out and are now qualified to teach it to someone's chil'ren, but are you still doing all the "steps"?
How do I put this... Were you ever taught how to do something one way, but over time you found better and more efficient ways to do the thing? I'm not ungrateful, everything I've learned now has made things awesome, I just hope that if I keep doing this enough that I can just do it quickly.
The simple answer is yes, the experienced pro still does all the "steps"- yet can also accomplish things quicker.
But the gains in speed are not really a matter of "better techniques" or "learning shortcuts"- it's a matter of gaining the experience to:
- Make fewer mistakes, so there's less rework and rechecking to be done. They've already worked so much that they've made every mistake there is to make 1000 times over, so they're easier to dodge.
- Having a full command of one's dexterity, not having to grapple so much without being able to draw the line you want, or get the line weight variation, or struggling with the medium.
- Knowing the processes backwards and forwards from having done it so much, not having to remember the last tutorial or lesson that they just saw. To bring back the language analogy, it's the difference between someone who speaks a language fluently, and someone having to look up words in their traveler phrasebook every other sentence.
- Having the confidence to depend on those processes to pull one through, rather than spending much of one's mental energy second-guessing everything or trying to figure out how to tackle a problem. The beginner spends an incredible amount of their brainpower when they realize they've made a mistake by agonizing over them, thinking about how far behind they feel in this drawing session or as a artist in general, making excuses for the state of their drawing, etc...the pro just says, "oh, that's off", figures out logically why that is, and fixes it- without needing to invite their emotions over for a debate. They've made mistakes a million times before, they'll make mistakes a million times in the future- nothing to do but to real with it rationally. Saves a lot of time, gets better results, is mentally healthier.
- Being able to do some of the work in one's head, rather than needing to put down measurement lines/construction lines etc. To a beginner it may look like this is someone 'skipping steps' to gain speed- to someone with a little drawing knowledge it may seem like a magic trick, pulling lines out of thin air- but it's not. All that work still needs to be done, but more of it can be done internally, can be done with more confidence. However, this is something that comes from years, if not decades, of experience, and even the best artists will often still need to do this work on the page rather than in their head.
When I see really advanced artists draw in a drawing session, usually what I see is someone where each stroke is laid down quite slowly and deliberately, with every mark put down given a good deal of thought and diligence- they seem to be in no rush.
When I see less experienced people work, they're often scribbling things in, rushing their lines, rushing their measurements, and generally trying to get as much done as possible in the time given. However, this sloppiness generally leads to bad drawings or having to erase so much that it wind up being incomplete, for all their efforts- while the more advanced artists accomplish not just better results, but get more done in the same amount of time, as a result of taking it slow- both in that particular drawing, and their artistic development as a whole.
Ultimately, it takes longer to get a bad drawing by trying to be fast, than it does to get a good drawing by being patient about it.
Be patient and do it right and you'll acquire the ability to work at speed.
Try to acquiring the ability to work at speed as a goal in itself, and you'll ultimately be slow to get the results you want.
It's like Gene Hackman's character says in Unforgiven:
Daggett: Look son, being a good shot, being quick with a pistol, that don't do no harm, but it don't mean much next to being cool-headed. A man who will keep his head and not get rattled under fire, like as not, he'll kill ya.
Beauchamp: But if the other fella is quicker and fires first...
Daggett: Then he'll be hurryin' and he'll miss...That's why there are so few dangerous men around, like Ol' Bob, and like me.
I'd probably suggest How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way. I know the title makes it sound identical to all those other terrible "how to" books out there, but this particular one was drawn by John Buscema, which means it actually has good illustrations and information- it's cut down to be appropriate for a younger audience, but the information about perspective, construction, and gesture is solid. Also it doesn't have nudity, which I'm sure her parents will be happy about.
You may also try Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain- the bulk of the text may be over her head, but the exercises (the actual useful parts) should be easy enough to follow. I think there are version that come with workbooks just going over the exercises, which may be worth looking at. (I've actually soured on the book over the years because it gives the false impression that it's all you need to know, which couldn't be further from the truth- but the exercises themselves remain useful, especially to a beginner.)
Beyond that, there really aren't too many books that of much worth on drawing that don't either contain nudity (life drawing is essential to learning that it's hard to get away from-if their parents want to support her they're going to have to deal with the fact, maybe not right now, but certainly in her teenage years) or would be overwhelming at her age. I mean, Scott Robertson's "How to Draw" book is a fantastic and thorough book for someone wanting to know perspective and industrial design- but would a 9 year old appreciate it, I don't know. Maybe if you think of it less as 'buying it for her now' and more 'making sure she has access to it when she's ready for it', that would be a good buy.
edit: Maybe Glenn Vilppu's Sketching on Location Manual would be good as well. It also helps to imply good practice for getting life drawing experience without access to formal nude posing- get your nieces, give me some sketchbooks and pencils, head down to a park or beach or a mall that has a lot of people walking around, sit down on a bench and draw them people. It's a good habit and a fun activity.
Do artists use other artist's work as reference? Sure, all the time. If a great artist does something that one wants to capture, it can be a great revelation to do a straight master study of their work and try to replicate their working methods, or to try to emulate their palette, or their composition, or some other aspect if the work. Someone who has the experience and knowledge to analyze other's work fruitfully can gain a great deal by doing so.
Does that mean you should go out and copy the work of all these names you keep dropping right now? I would say, "absolutely not". If you simply must copy someone, go copy the life drawings of old masters- Raphael, Reubens, Caravaggio, Bargue, Prud'hon.
Why? Because you're at a point as an artist where you are clearly simply enamored with novelty- those little things that make a "unique style"- while the foundation skills you need to work on- construction, perspective, light and shade, proportions, etc. - are not about novelty. Novelty is the single least important aspect contributing to a drawing's quality. To someone without a lot of experience, these surface novelties seem like they mean everything, they are the be all end all of what makes a drawing great; an experienced artist looks past that surface, and sees primarily how the foundation serves to make the work great.
The reason the novelties of the styles you keep bringing up actually work, is not because of their differences so much as all these foundational things- the things they all have in common. Without that core foundational skill, all your heroes would draw no better than any other person on the street.
Like I just said in the Questions thread, even the most disparate styles truly have only maybe around 5% of relevant difference to each other when being drawn, while they share 95% in common. They all need mastery of gesture, of proportion, of lighting, of anatomy, of perspective, of construction, of staging. Right now you need to work on that 95% if you want to make any meaningful headway towards being where you want to be.
Searching high and low for some cool style or novelty that will make work built on a flimsy foundation suddenly come good is an utter waste of time, and is a trap that happens to far too many young artists that never come in contact with- or don't listen to- the words of established artists that have been there before and got past it. I've been there myself- I used to draw anime DBZ looking junk in high school, until I started looking up how to become an animator; and every source- every book, every teacher, every article- I ran into on the subject told the same story- "Stop dicking around trying to find or emulate a style; learn to draw from life first and foremost."*
A novel style that works is a cool costume being worn by someone- the person it is designed to fit around is the foundation. Without that foundation to rely on, you end up sewing a costume that wouldn't fit anyone- so it falls down to the floor unworn, and all you are left with is a useless, loose clump of clothes laid in a disheveled pile.
Lots of people never get this, and never attack the problem where it lies- even having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on art schooling, many stagnate immediately and forever, maintaining their baseless faith that some gimmick of style will yield their salvation; only to find it never comes. There are people that draw every day and their work looks identical to that they did decades ago; then there are people that grit their teeth and do the hard work that qualify as an 'amazing true story of inspiration', with only a year or two of dedicated, well-guided practice. (A saying I heard in school that comes to mind is, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." If you practice poorly, or haphazardly, or without solid logic or guidance, it is absolutely possible to gain nothing from the experience- save perhaps further ingraining bad habits. )
I would urge you not to fall prey to that trap. Take a break from cribbing from anime and DeviantArt idols for a few years and just really learn the fundamentals. Only then will you be able to study from them effectively.
And the style is 'like what you see in your head?' Of course that's what you see in your in your head; how could you possibly imagine anything else, if these images are all you choose to feed your head with? For someone who so values originality and uniqueness, that's a surefire strategy to ensure your work will have neither.
Besides, having an image in your head? My experience has shown me that those are usually worthless. Get it on paper and it's never as good as you thought- invariably, it turns out you never know quite as much about that image as your brain told you you did, so you have to change and fix a ton of things to make it work anyway. That's why in production work I always do a ton of variations in sketch form to see if what I thought was going to be cool actually pans out in reality. Cool image in my head doesn't pay my bills- cool (but entirely different from what I was thinking originally) image I manage to wrestle onto the page, on the other hand, does. Don't get hung up on that stuff- more often than not, your mental images prove to be merely mirages. Approach them with skepticism.
*Richard Williams (the director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit) puts this across excellently in his book, "The Animator's Survival Guide". I've highlighted his points here (NSFW because of life drawings), because it's probably some of the most to the direct and to the point articulation on this point I've seen. I read this as a teenager, and I know that I probably wouldn't be where I am today had I not let it sink in. http://bacon.iseenothing.com/info/AnimSurvGuideExcerpt.gif