Over the Christmas break I enrolled in the Watts Atelier online program to put some structure around my art attempts. I did a year of daily drawings (well, about 275 of them) on my own, and I was unimpressed by the results. So, here, we're starting at the very beginning. Forms, contours, line control, smooth tone, pressure sensitivity, negative space, etc. We're going Fundamentals 101 in here.
In rough chronological order.
I had the oddest epiphany here. Watts demonstrated how to draw a circle by drawing two ellipses, one vertical and one horizontal. A pop in my brain, and suddenly I understood that the ellipses were really the contour of the form. Like one of those magic eye pictures where suddenly you see through the picture.
Current work items are to better identify core shadows for rounded forms and improve my control of lines and tone.
Angels, innovations, and the hubris of tiny things: my book now free on Royal Road! Seraphim
Good luck. Are you in a class with feedback? Or self directed?
If you haven't done so already I would try practicing a few value scales and do a few, each with a different pencil. That helped when I first started out to use the whole range of pencil value available instead of limiting myself to maybe 20% at the lightest and 60% at the darkest.
I like what you did with the large sphere on the image with the rectangular cuboid. Its shape is defined by value, and not line. Linework is a good way to build your framework of where the edge of an object or sharp contrast in value is, and then you can "fill in the blank" with what values you see, much like a colouring book. However, linework to define an edge in life drawing takes that depth away. Imagine holding up a ping pong ball against a black tarp. The edge of the ball is defined by the dark contrast of the backdrop. Now imagine holding that up in front of a brightly lit white piece of paper. Now the edge is a lot harder to see since there's no contrast.
Keep up the hard work. You're heading in the right direction.
Straight lines will be the death of me. Drawn this scene four times now, twice ruined because my wrist jerked halfway through a finishing line. The ellipses are pretty weak as well.
Does the watts class have you use those pencils that they razor to a point or whatever?
Still, I can get a little in now and then. I'm taking my art elective, which has little drawing exercises like these.
I thought mine looked terrible until I browsed the rest of the class. By Art 1301 standards, I'm a god! Mwu ha ha.
So here are some warm up pages.
And here's an actual drawing!
Have you tried vanishing points to get your objects on the same plane?
No, though now that you mention it I probably should have. I just eyeballed it. The various angles of a circle into an ellipsis are a pain.
First one was perspective. Not sure what is going on with that distorted box in the bottom center. Its following the perspective lines, but it certainly looks quite off.
I noticed how off the ellipse was at the top of the glass and decided to redraw it using some light box lines.
Correct. You've done correct set up for a 2 point perspective drawing- but it still looks weird, so what gives?
The thing to realize is that linear perspective- that is, the standard 1, 2, 3 point perspective setups, are very useful tools in most drawing scenarios- but that doesn't mean they completely explain every observation we may see in reality.
In most drawings, these linear perspective setups are perfectly adequate for the purposes of the artist, and are very convenient. However, you've already noticed that when you start drawing things too far from a vanishing point, things start to look warped and strange. In that particular drawing, you may get a perfectly satisfactory drawing simply by moving to a 3-point perspective setup, to establish your verticals.
However, the actual reality is a bit more confusing. If you've been on Google Street View or seen any stitched together panorama type pictures, you've probably noticed that lines will eventually curve- after all, if you imagine an infinitely long line receding to a vanishing point in front of you, there must also be another vanishing point where it recedes to behind you. Any line that isn't going directly through your eyeball, then, will appear to follow a curved path if you turn your head to follow it, or have a wide-angle lens with which you can observe it.
This whole phenomena is what's called Curvilinear perspective https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curvilinear_perspective
This means that the straight lines you create for the sake of a linear perspective drawing are only ever an estimation- using linear perspective effectively means choosing set ups where the lines would appear to be straight, so doing the extra work required to do a mathematically correct 4 or 5 point perspective drawing wouldn't be worth it. Luckily, this covers most situations fairly well- the human eyeball's field of vision is narrow enough that in most cases, the distortion that occurs by employing straight lines is not immediately noticeable, so don't throw out your ruler just yet.
If you want to do a lot of wide-angle, fish-eye, or panoramic drawings- (ie: drawings where the field of vision is greater than normal human vision) sticking with purely linear perspective is going to give you some funky results, as you've seen in your drawing.
So, just to do a really quick, terrible drawover, this is what your boxes might look in a curvilinear setup (I'm not bothering with a technical explanation of this because I don't understand it well enough myself to ensure I'm being totally accurate, so this is an eyeball job. I'm sure math is involved somehow if 100% technical correctness is actually necessary.)
Here I've made some other vanishing points in addition to the 2 you've made- one opposite of your established side vanishing point, one below, and one above (which is off the page here). All of these points are equidistant from the central point- this is a basic 5 point perspective setup. Our left and right points will curve towards each other, out top and bottom points will curve towards each other.
Now, the point to make here is that your initial drawing had its 2 vanishing points quite close to each other to begin with- in most cases, you're going to have some of your VPs well off the page. (A fact that may not come across in a lot of tutorials about perspective- since in trying to explain the principles, the VPs have to get crammed onto a single page so the reader can actually see what the heck is being talked about.)
Now, if you look at the blue box I've drawn, that would be roughly around where a normal field of vision might be, where the curves are straight enough to get away with linear instead of curvilinear perspective without feeling distorted. If that blue box were the edges of your drawing, your initial perspective setup- with one VP now placed off the page- would probably hold up just fine. In fact, if you move that blue box around that drawing, you can get away with a 1, 2, or 3 point perspective setup for almost anywhere that you place it.
Now, this post has been pretty long and involved, but the TL;DR here is basically, "yeah, things do start to look weird at the periphery of the field of vision, most of the time you don't need to worry about it though." But sometimes you might want to do something that needs the whole 9 yards, so my rundown is just more to give you a heads up of what that entails, if you ever need to bother with it.
I grabbed my Perspective Drawing Handbook from D'Amelio and fished through. He does mention in chapter nine that you can correct distortion by moving the vanishing points further apart (stepping back), but this helps me understand what he meant better.
It feels like I'm finally approaching a point where my hand actually draws the line (or close to the line) that I want it to. (Of course, that doesn't fix the issue where I misjudge the lines and end up with tilted boxes) As that improves, I'm trying to build more and more complex shapes, usually bounded by perspective boxes, to work my way up.
Also, I successfully sharpened a Watts pencil without actually sitting there and thinking every bit through. If life had achievements, that would count.
The boxes look like you are starting to feather your strokes less, and the geometric heads actually are starting to look pretty solid, give or take some off angles. Nice improvements, man! Keep at it.
"This is the best picture I've ever drawn!"
"This is the best picture I've ever drawn?!"
Did you like watts experience overall?
The school's grading system hasn't proven very useful, which is part of why I opened a thread here. Something like 2000 people are enrolled at Watts Online right now, which means I'm a drop in the pond.
My internally stated goal with Watts is to get to a point where I can draw a basic human figure, basic composition, and basic scene such that it is clear and recognizable in a realistic sense. I'm not really worried about 'style' or painting yet, and sometimes I roll my eyes at him pretty hard. Mostly I have a lot of things I want to draw (like illustrations for my novel series), and Watts is the train I'm taking to get there. I feel like its working, even if it is a giant grind, so I guess that's "like"?
You could even say I'm headed out
If you look at some of the head blocks in the post above, you can see the general layout Watts directs us to use. That one is based most heavily in Loomis. Feedback has focused on a few main points: proportion of the jaw and chin (a thinner taper to point about as wide as the eyes), line cleanness, and guidelines on the side of the skull and down the front of the plane. I find I have more trouble with the template than with actual skull drawings; they are meant to be very clean, so small mistakes show up very easily.
Here's my two cents about your skull studies. I can't tell for sure because I'm only seeing the finished product, but it seems to me that you're jumping too quickly into drawing tiny details and losing sight of the bigger overall forms of the skull. You'd really benefit from building up a solid, basic scaffolding for your drawing before you jump into adding all the little nooks and crannies and details.
This is pretty much the way that Watts teaches head drawing, just applied to the skull. The basic "Reilly method" head abstraction (look it up on google image search) that Watts teaches can be placed pretty neatly over the skull, though of course you'll need some skull-specific knowledge as well. But basically: start with the most basic forms and use straight lines to establish some solidity. Next, start getting more specific by adding secondary forms like the cheekbones and jaw. Only then should you start adding any real detail.
Here's a quick draw-over to demonstrate, I hope it helps and let me know what further questions you have!
I'd like to second this- obviously it's going to seem like more of a leap to us than yourself, since we're effectively leaping through time looking at these, rather than seeing every single step along the way like you have- but nonetheless, that progression is there and tells me that even though you may be frustrated currently, the work is paying off.
In regards to what you were saying in the chat thread- obviously I don't know the exact format of how the classes you are taking work, the relevance/consequences of these tests, etc. My two cents are aligned with with Iruka said- it's strange to me to keep you pinned to a single subject before allowing you to do anything else. At the physical school, you'd more likely be taking a variety of classes, regardless of present skill level, which helps prevent burnout via monotony. When I was signed up for the online school I had done the minimum, "here's all the video lessons, do what you will with them" plan- if you have access to all the video lessons, and there is not some kind of scheduled time limit that you have to meet for some reason, I would suggest you take a shot at some head drawing to mix things up for a bit.
Since people aren't walking around with skeleton faces all the time in your day to day, it can be tricky starting out to have an instinctive feel for how a skull is proportioned, when presented sans flesh. Drawing some heads and applying that abstraction, seeing how having those proportions just that tiny bit off effect how a face will look, may help when you come back and the work on a skull. This isn't to say your teachers' approach of just sticking with it until you've got it down pat is wrong- and certainly having the grit to stick with such a task is probably more valuable than any other quality one could have as an artist- but if you've reached a point where your internal mental focus when drawing has become more about your frustration than what you are actually observing and drawing in the moment, you may benefit from attacking the problem from another angle for a bit, before cycling back around.
Robertson has excellent draftsmanship, and so his advice really pushes one to accuracy. I think "how to draw" is one of the better guide books out there, even if you don't plan to move into the extremely precise sort of drawing he does. Don't draw ellipses and nothing else for days on end, but when you do your warm up ellipses try to really hone it and not make sloppy strokes. Its difficult, but remember that you are trying to master both a concept and a reflex at the same time, it might take a while.
For some elaboration on Lamps advice, Proko:
Watch how slowly he sets up that skull, and really ask yourself "Am I taking my time?" Its really easy to get ahead of yourself and put down detail before structure, but when you are learning fundamentals (and even after, really) actually getting that geometry in there is your primary goal.
Also well explained here:
If you aren't supplementing your classes with outside advice, do! Its always a good idea to hear someone else explain the same thing, sometimes someone else's visuals and wording will click better than trying to absorb the same thing on repeat.
No argument that the physical dexterity underlying art is a difficult (and somewhat invisible) part of it. I usually open my art sessions with one to two pages of dexterity practice: overlaying lines ten times, practicing marked ovals and circles, Vilppu's "smash some random shapes together like putty and then contour across them". There is a form of concentrated, relaxed attention necessary to really feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel the forms which was quite foreign to me when I started out. Makes it easy to understand why most artists don't talk when they work.
When it comes to a really complicated, bumpy form like the skull, I find the hardest part is figuring out what basic shape to represent a particular piece as. For example, the cheek bone: could be a little prism mushed up against the face plane, could be a pair of clasps wrapping around the side, could be two rectangles at angles. The ball with the sides cut off that Watts and Proko use seems most useful in the standard three angles. Some of my assignments right now are doing skulls at odd, extreme angles where that model grows extremely vague. (Like an extreme angle up the jaw, or the skull seen from below and behind). Usually I end up in decision paralysis there, trying to guess what shapes to glue together to form an approximation of the whole.
So, tonight's skull and Asaro practice.
Anyways, I haven't been working on anything particularly noteworthy. I'm bouncing back and forth between head/feature studies and general proportions. A heavy load at work and preparing the release of my second Aether Drive serial have cut down on my drawing time, only getting about 6 hours a week right now.
I would keep mixing your simple shapes into your studies, some of the boxes and ellipses still look a bit rushed.
I've got a long ways to go on the figure. Watts has a tendency to say "copy my mannequins and worry about details" later that really bugs me, so I've been swapping over to Vilppu's anatomy lessons as a way to try and bridge the gap between the two dozen or so images Watts provides and understanding at least a lumpy figure.
Then this week I swapped back over to heads again. I took several shots at the complex Asaro head that came out looking awful, so I demoted myself back to the simple Asaro model to try and get my bearings. This first one shows much better understanding of the plane changes for the lips and nose, but the jaw and cranium are still off.
This one looks much better. Too much on the back of the skull, but the face plane has improved.
Somewhere in August, I think, I gave up on copying the Watts mannequins. The shapes made no sense, and I couldn't interpret why they'd use this bump over that. So I went through the entire body and cataloged muscle groups, building an anatomical mental map. That took about a month and a half. In the last couple weeks, I've circled back to the mannequins, trying to understand them afresh. That's definitely going off the beaten path; all the teachers recommend doing mannequins first. Still, I'm an engineer, and I work best when I understand underlying principles.
We'll have to see whether that divergence works out. Also, here's tonight's largest effort.
Part of why I'm following the beat on the Watts program is that I'm really not sure how to make the jump from "Copy this figure or skull as best you can" to finding my own appealing sense of style. Its not a matter of dexterity or technical knowledge (though those help!), but more of a vague gestalt of a dozen different little things.
Well, it's like anything else- you want to do a thing, you figure out (or seek out someone who knows) how to practice towards that end, and you practice it. I know at Watts there are certain classes (the physical school, not sure about the online one) that have as at least part of their objective is developing style- Master Copies to reverse engineer the decisions made by other artists, Painterly Drawing to give teach different ways to draw with the charcoal and what different effects you can achieve, Gesture Painting to teach confidence in putting down those bold, virtuoso brush strokes Jeff is so good at, etc. So there are ways to practice style development- if none of the styles being taught in those classes appeal to you, go find a way to practice towards styles you like- and you will of course have to experiment a lot with trying to emulate a lot of different artists and trying out different ideas before you can get to a point where you can make consistent decisions about what you actually want, at which point you've got a style of your own.
Now, the practice you're doing? That practice is not about practicing those things, so it's true that you might not be able to see an obvious A to B path from one to another.
Right now you're practicing 'can I observe correctly, and can I replicate that accurately on my page'- which is going to be crucial to making sure that any style you incorporate in the future holds together. Just being able to put a simple stroke down in the right place, with the right pressure, the right value, the right edge, etc. is a necessary skill to have in order to be able to put down a stroke that does all those things AND is a stylish virtuouso move on top of everything else. Having a true observation is necessary to knowing when and where you can get away with deviating from that observation in execution.
So I wouldn't get too upset that you feel you're not succeeding at something you haven't practiced yet- if you were training to be a quarterback, having done a lot of arm strengthening exercises may be a necessary part of being able to throw a ball far with power and accuracy, but you still need to then practice throwing the ball to acquire that skill itself.
What I've sort of gotten from you is that you want to sit down and just crank at something until you're super super good at it before moving on to anything else (or maybe this is the curriculum you are working under, I don't know). And in a world of pure logic it may make sense, "do this first, then do this, then do this, THEN you can do what you're talking about."
And while there is merit to that logic, I think taking an 'oh no you can't do THAT, the art clerics say it is FORBIDDEN' attitude may be counter productive. (Especially if you're working on your own and not in a class group, where the social aspect helps keep everyone motivated towards these immediate goals). Don't be too afraid to try new things- it's just marks on pieces of paper, it's not like if you do something wrong there will be dire consequences like your hands falling off or something. You just say, "well THAT didn't go so good" and try try again.
It's true that a lot of people starting out get wrapped up in style early on and then struggle to get out of the rut they've dug themselves into by doing so, and that's certainly a danger starting out with your eyes fixated on developing a 'cool style', rather than practicing the simple, meat and potatoes fundamentals.
However, if you're being taught by and are surrounded by good, experienced people and you've developed a decent self-awareness and ability to self-evaluate, and you've gotten accustomed to the long fundamental practice, I would say that danger is limited; people that go from their 101 basics class straight into one of those other style-developing classes I mentioned, generally come to the conclusion pretty quickly that sure they might have learned some neat tricks, but it's all the fundamental classes that make those tricks work, and then they sign up for some more fundamental classes next term.
And you might say, "well if I know that's going to be the case, shouldn't I just not try to do these style things yet, save them for years down the road? Why should I waste my time and money to just fail at them?" Sure, that's logical. But there is valuable learning to be had by throwing yourself so far in the deep end, because when you go back to the fundamentals you can understand everything that you're doing is not just rote, 'draw a line, draw a line, draw a line, yawn', but a necessary step to getting you where you want to be- it gives the routine a necessary purpose. If you're going through a prescribed routine- and it may be the best, most efficient, most logical routine possible- but your motivation wanes because that sense of purpose isn't there- that routine may still do you good, but perhaps not the amount of good it could be doing.
I'm looking at these skulls and your previous work, and obviously seeing that you're making a lot of progress- the accuracy, observation, and dexterity has come a long way, so the practice is paying off- so on one hand I encourage you to keep going. On the other hand, if you want help with style or your direction as an artist, there's not a lot here to tell me what you ultimately want to be doing, what goal you're trying to get towards, so it's difficult to suggest anything on that front specifically, if that's what you want. If you've got some artists in mind that you'd really like to emulate aspects of, we (or you) could probably figure out some way of practicing that thing of their that you'd like to incorporate into your own work (given, any one of those things may be only of 0.01% importance vs the 99.99% importance of fundamentals practice- the point is more about to get across, 'we can crack this particular nut if we put out minds to it' if desired, rather than being content with leaving it a mystery.)
I like Trigger for their sense of motion (Yoh Yoshinari can draw an explosion that seems ready to move even in his artbook!), Artgerm for the sense of form, Omar-Dogan's pin-up styling. When I look at artists, I tend to prize a sense of place, solidity, well defined character features, and color harmony. Let's see, I'll dig out a few examples of what I consider A+ work.
http://conceptartworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Joon_Ahn-_Concept_Art_Illustration_01.jpg (Joon Ahn I think?)
http://orig10.deviantart.net/fffe/f/2007/162/9/b/valkyrie_by_omen2501.jpg (Marek Okon - Valkyrie)
https://s3.amazonaws.com/ksr/projects/488416/posts/504212/image-270840-full.jpg?1370697105 (Exalted 3rd Edition, not sure who)
https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-idGLqfPxyoI/VuK-WcH2BvI/AAAAAAADnJI/goqoejfStKw/w1600-h900/0311.jpg (Some kind of MMO? ロードス島戦記)
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ucsME-AsFQU/S_B8SGQJwEI/AAAAAAAAXdY/y4UxzNw7OkM/s1600/jeffrey+r.+watts+(3).jpg (Obviously. I wouldn't study Watts' method if I didn't think he was excellent)
(Side note: If you asked me how long I thought these pictures took before I started drawing, I'd shrug and figure maybe a couple hours. You know, three or four...)
I get a bit bothered with anime styles for the same-face problem. There's so little facial structure information that its very hard to accurately distinguish characters that share a similar age/gender category. It seems most artists get around it by using cartooning methods - trademark accessories, hair colors, or eye shapes. That's fine to view, but in my own drawing I hunger for a level of specificity where you can look at a character and identify them, even if everyone wears the same line up.
As for the grinding on a single area, that's following the Watts program. Head 1 and Head 2 assignments include dozens of drawings; the skull pictures I posted above are all a single submission. I was trying to do some portraiture from imagination for a friend's roleplaying game and having a hell of a time crafting faces that didn't look half melted, so I figured I'd best review the real thing more. One flaw I keenly feel with regards to more detailed methods of drawing is that how much less leeway you get in terms of the uncanny valley.
It is intimidating the scale of skills necessary to complete the kind of art I'm talking about. I'm two years into this and still can't seem to draw a solid human figure, and I think a part of my brain expects that I should have a "style" by now. Unfortunately, none of my friends (online or physical) do art at all, so I don't have benchmarks to compare against. Should it take two years to get basic control of the pencil and building forms? I dunno. It took two years for me. One of my friends has asked me if I wanted to draw some art for a card game, and I declined in a panic.
I probably compare myself against industry professionals far too much. On the other hand, there's very little to compare to at my level. I'm not on the same track as the "cute anime-ish style" deviantArt types; I'm somewhere in the middle of a mostly realism track that is dominated by professionals with 15 years experience.
Certainly confusing art you enjoy with style you want is going to be an issue for anyone, and I think nobody arrives at an answer of what they can use and what they can't from other styles without a lot of trying and experimenting first.
Just going by your stated values, I'm going to try to give a brief, not-at-all complete run-down of things you can do to practice them.
Some of these are almost certainly redundant with your Watts work, in which case I'm just reinforcing the importance.
Also, last I checked signing up for Watts lets you have access to all the videos and resources on there, right? If so, and if you haven't done so already, I'd go through everything that's on there at least once- even stuff that's way beyond you- and suck up all the information you can even if you can't act on it quite yet. I know I talk a better game than I can actually deliver on art-wise most days, and that's because I take in all the information I can, whenever and wherever I can- so even if I suck at something, I usually have a good idea of what I should do about it, or at least where to start looking for an answer. This laundry list of stuff I'm about to go through is the same way- you may not be able to get to these things now (it'd certainly be impossible to attempt to do them all right away in any effective fashion), you might not be able to get to them for weeks or months or years and other things may take a higher priority- these are just here for when you need them, so you know what you can try doing at that point.
(Also, when I say, "note" something, I mean write literal notes, arrows, diagrams, whatever- don't just leave it up in your noggin. Forcing yourself to articulate concepts will help them sink in faster.)
(Also also I know I'm throwing out a lot of books here to buy- don't feel like you have to go take out a loan to buy them all right this second, I know they get expensive so take your time.)
Sense of motion:
-Consecutive frames- working from a pose ref, first draw the pose as you see it, then draw what you would imagine the pose that would precede the action of the initial pose, then the pose after the initial pose, much like keyframes in animation. The initial pose should provide you with structure and perspective to be able to manipulate the pose in space. (I know this is an exercise done in Watts' Figure Invention classes.)
-Pushing the pose- first draw the pose accurately, then choose an aspect of the pose to exaggerate and make a new drawing with that idea in mind- not caricature, but trying to manipulate a pose to a purpose. (EX: If a pose has the weight on one leg more than another, emphasize that idea, and see how that would effect the rest of the body as a result. If the torso is twisted a little, see what happens if you twist it more. This is to help you to learn how to design a figure and pose, rather than simply copy the figure. (Force: Dynamic Life Drawing For Animators and Drawn To Life Vol.1 + 2 are good resources for these concepts.)
-Action analysis- A lot of 'fine arts' kind of poses are great for studying structure, form, and lighting, but the nature of having to hold a pose for a lengthy period of time means you may not get a sense of natural bodily movement. Try drawing from videos that you can flip through frame by frame, and take notes on what is happening in terms of weight and force, what is changing from pose to pose.
Sense of Form/Solidity:
-Construction exercises- I recall you saying you had some issues with Watts' mannequins- being able to break down a figure into simple shapes is important, but you should be aware that there's more than one way to skin that cat. There's the Loomis version of it, the Reilly method of it, there's the How To Draw The Marvel Way version, there's the Bridgman version, there's the Cambiaso box-people version: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/01/8f/87/018f87fb3c53016ff3ef0e69ef362687.jpg
If one type here is giving you issues, I'd suggest trying the others- it's all the same basic principles, but one may 'click' for you easier than the others (I know the Loomis double-disc pelvis seems like a confusing pain to deal with for little benefit, imo), so it's worth giving each one a shot.
-Cross-contour exercises- drawing across the forms of an object to create a kind of 'wireframe' rendering of it is a helpful exercise to ensure you're understanding every part of the form, not just the outlines or broad volumes.
-Lighting exercises- I expect you're already familiar with drawing and shading simple volumes (spheres, cylinders, boxes) using real-world reference, but this is also something to suggest practicing from your imagination to internalize the information. I put together a lighting practice demo awhile back that you may find it useful to practice with.
For each example I chose a lighting concept I wanted to practice (direct light originating from a point, diffuse top down lighting, sunset lighting, reflected lighting, etc. My examples represent just a simple couple of practice scenarios, and since the .psd is designed to have all the surfaces broken up into transparency-locked layers, you should be able to practice the principles pretty quickly using only a big soft brush and maybe the lasso tool for hard cast shadows. This would also be a useful setup to practice rendering different materials.
Other lighting exercises to try would be copying a Bargue plate such as (http://www.artofkevinoneill.com/webfiles/Info/BargueFace.jpg http://www.artofkevinoneill.com/webfiles/Info/bargueHand.jpg) or similar cast drawing, to practice going from a simple light/dark breakdown into subtle shading, by focusing mostly on the edge quality between the light and dark, rather than getting too caught up with midtones. I tried to do a semi-goofy tutorial on the idea using a Pokemon as a model that may be useful: http://www.artofkevinoneill.com/webfiles/Info/maleba_pokemon.jpg and I'll chuck in my other dumb tutorial just in case it's helpful http://www.artofkevinoneill.com/webfiles/Info/marshtomp_rimlights.jpg )
Other resources you may want to try is Scott Robertson's How To Render book, and I believe there is a Sam Nielson Lighting course that was recommended by Ikage/Eyecager that covers this kind of material. I expect the Watts material should cover many of these same concepts as the relate to the figure, but it can be helpful exercising the concepts without the pressure of also having to worry about anatomy.
-Since you brough up Artgerm, some of the things that I would point out that he does consistently (and is evident in some of your other examples as well) is that he employs a soft rendering using diffused/semi-diffused light, and design-wise he often simplifies the structure of the face to get a kind of over smooth, almost toy-like effect, saving detail for the features and hair- so if that's something you want to emulate, keep in mind you're going to want to work from reference that doesn't have harsh, hard shadows/very direct light sources, and you'll probably end up needing to play down/simplify/use subtle indications of certain anatomical landmarks- you might have a model with a very proncounced masseter muscle, but powering that in as seen in your drawing as is may not yield the effect you want.
-Simplification and smoothness- like with talk about Artgerm, rendering a pin-up can be a tricky business because of how much information you have to leave on the cutting room floor compared to a real life model. I have book of Gil Elvgen pinups (he's kind of the king of the classic 40's-60's pinup painting) and it helpfully has a few examples of the pinup next to the reference photo, which makes it clear how much exaggeration and simplification happens to achieve that final look.
-Posing- Pin-up posing can be kind of weird- it's not quite like a static art pose, nor is terribly naturalistic. So my suggestion would be to study from the poses of good pin-ups- just simplified figures, noting things like weight distribution, twist of torso/hips, etc., to try to suss out the logic of what makes for a good pin-up pose.
Sense of Place:
-Perspective exercises- you're already at least somewhat familar with these, but further perspective info can be found in Scott Robertson's How to Draw (I'm trying to recall if you were the person that said they already had this, or if it was someone else). The hope is to learn and practice perspective so thoroughly that you can use it in a quick, natural manner rather than having to set up a full grid every time you do a quick sketch.
-Composition- a tricky thing to study, but Framed Ink does a good job of running down various composition tools/concepts you can employ.
-Landscape/building study- if you want to get a sense of place...well, you need to practice drawing places. I've seen people practice this by just hitting random spots of Google Street View and painting them, or doing small paintings like Nathan Fowkes does on his land sketch blog.
-Lighting design- though I said a lot about the techincal aspects of lighting above, lighting design is a litte different; lighting design is all about trying to use light to create a mood. The easiest thing to think of in this is a movie set, where a ton of effort is put in placing lights on every shot, to ensure that the mood and read is coming across, even if it runs counter to how actual lights in that scenario would be placed.
As far as drawing/painting goes, a decent way to practice this is to start with an initial setup drawing, and make several copies of it. Then create a different mood or read of the scene by depicting different light setups. How does the mood change when someone who was lit from the front is now cast into shadow with a light from behind? How does the lighting change from day to night, from sunny to cloudy, from summer to winter, from comedy to drama to horror, etc.
Defined Character Features:
-I don't necessarily have a ton of expertise here, but I would look up books on caricature (I have a Steven Silver book that's supposed to arrive soon that I Kickstartered, that might be good, there was a book about MAD Magazine caricatures that I saw recommended on James Gurney's blog that might be helpful). If I had to invent an exercise for you it would be to take an initial facial model, then do several versions of that model exaggerating certain features and proportions and broad shapes, seeing how far you can push it and seeing what helps emphasize the unique characteristics of that person.
-Color comps- like with the lighting design exercise, it's useful to make several copies of a drawing and paint in several different color schemes in broad strokes, experimenting with what helps get across the desired mood. If you don't have James Gurney's Color and Light, it's worth checking out, and I would guess you have a decent familiarity with the color wheel, complimentary/analogous colors and the like.
-Duotone exercises- this is something I don't see talked about too much or when I do it's talked about by people that don't get the point, which is doing paintings in black and white plus a single additional color. The point of this exercise is to teach you about the importance of color saturation- so many people get caught up in the hues (complimentary orange vs blue, for example), that they never realize that what makes very saturated colors pop out, is having it be contrasted against less saturated colors surrounding it. By doing a painting where grey acts as the complimentary color to the addition color (ie: if your color is red, which is warm, then gray becomes the cool compliment. If the color is blue, the gray becomes the warm compliment.
For what it's worth, most professional illustrators aiming for a 'realistic' finish don't just manufacture a figure out of their head wholesale- they'll go shoot or find reference. See: http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2014/01/artist-selfies-everybodys-doing-it.html
Norman Rockwell shot ref, the people at Watts shoot ref, every shot of every classic Disney movie was acted out by professional actors first to get ref, animators look at and analyze ref for figuring out animal gaits, how weight is shifting, how much a joint can bend, etc. I know when I'm designing anything I dedicate an entire monitor to a big 6000px wide ref sheet with anything I feel could be useful- poses I've shot or found, costuming bits, other paintings with a mood or idea or color scheme I like, etc. There might be 6 images on this sheet, there might be 50. Yes, there will be a lot that changed between the ref and the final piece- costume's not quite right, gotta change to whole body shape or proportions or skin tone or this limb needs to be over here instead of there to make the composition work, or my ref is a human and I'm drawing Judy Hopps from Zooptopia, etc. The changes may be minimal, they may be extreme, it may only serve as a vague idea that I can use to springboard towards a finalized idea.
So don't feel too bad that you're struggling with a feat so difficult that when it comes to making finished pieces and not just sketchbook sketches, few professionals actually rely on. That isn't to say that drawing from imagination is not useful or is not something to practice, because it is- it's just not the be-all end-all ideal that beginners/the layman make it out to be. The pro relies on not just their drawing skill, but ample preparation- thumbnails, getting as much information out of the client as possible, pitching ideas back and forth, ref gathering, etc. etc. The pro spends a lot of time with the unsexy stuff first, so when they go to paint the thing they've already set themselves up for success as much as possible.
As to whether or not 2 years is a lot of time to get to point X, I'd say that depends on a lot of factors that I simply have no idea about. If you were at a top-tier school surrounded by top-tier peers getting constant, discrete personal feedback from the best teachers in the world, working 9 hours a day every day, then yeah maybe that'd be a long time- and you'd probably be talking to the people there about it instead of us yahoos.
But from what I gather, you're not attending an art school, and I don't know how much time you have to spend (and likely for good reasons! Work/school/personal commitments are not something everyone can just decide to not do at the drop of a hat), you don't have a supporting personal community, and while you have Watts for instruction, it sounds like the online program is so overloaded with students that personal and consistent feedback is probably not happening with any regularity. I also don't have any idea of your financial situation, so I don't know what other resources are out of your reach (books, tutorials, workshops, etc.) Without having a genuine grasp on your personal situation I can't give you any definite say of whether or not 2 years is too long- for all I know, 2 years could be impressively short.
As for how long you should have a 'style' by now, I'd say the answer to that is definitely not. I doubt there are many authors possessing a distinctive voice that came out of their first two years of elementary English grammar schooling with their writing style fully honed and defined, I don't know why it should be different for art. Hell, I've had 5 years of art school and 4 years of taking art very seriously in high school and 10 years of working as a professional and if you asked me to define what my style was I'd still be like, "I dunno, I just try to make decisions that make sense for what I'm try to accomplish at the time." Whether that is a good or bad thing is I guess a matter of opinion, I suppose.
The prevailing opinion I've seen from professionals is not to worry about it too much at the outset- I'd look at exploring styles as a matter of personal curiosity and experimentation, rather than demanding I HAVE TO HAVE A COOL STYLE RIGHT NOW OR I'M NO GOOD. The latter mode of thinking will probably just yield something stilted and joyless, rather than something you genuinely enjoy producing.
The initial talk about 'style' I was interested in talking about is less about emphasizing the importance of 'having a style', and more trying to make sure you feel you're actually working a way that you feel is moving you in a direction you value, rather than blindly going through the motions of some routine. You may look at all this junk I wrote above, consider each and every one, and then come to the conclusion that what you were doing before if probably still the most efficient path to getting towards where you want to be- and that's great! It's having the confidence that that is the case, that makes the difference on an art development and mental health level.
Here's the redraw from the one I missed.
Feedback has focused on proportions, something I agree is an issue for me to work on. Go slower, check measurements more.