Hey there. Today I want to talk to work on and improve your design skills. I will try to cover base drawing skills and creative part of design.
If you never tried to draw something in pixelart style, I would highly recommend you to give it a try. It'll teach you to love details and show you how every pixel is important in your works. To make your first steps in pixel-art, check gas13's tutorials, for inspiration I would recommed you to look at works of guys from Megapoint and pixelart community called Pixel Joint.
I practice drawing with simple pencil on paper and with hard round brush in Photoshop. For example, I've been drawing fruits and vegetables for few weeks already. I place photo reference to one half of a Photoshop document and try to redraw it on the other half of it. First, I draw a silhouette with the most dark color of the object, then I lock transparency and start adding a volume with bright colors. As a result, I get something like this. Usually it takes about 30-40 minutes for one image. Besides improving useful hand drawing skill, you start to understand how light and color works on different materials. There's nice resource with video tutorials for beginners in digital painting, called Ctrl Paint. Be sure to check it out.
You don't have to become a professional photographer, but shooting sometimes things around you can be very helpful. Photography will train your feel of composition, help you see the beauty in ordinary things and it'll give your friends another reason to call you a hipster :D
Write down every idea that comes into your mind. No matter how trite or bad it is. Just add it to the special notebook. And do it every time, when you have some idea. This great tip was given to me by russian designer and coach Vadim Pajasu. He calls these notebooks “A Personal Bank of Ideas”. It'll help you with your creative blocks (aka “I don't know what to design”). Keep your notebook with you everywhere. It's not necessary to use a paper moleskine or something, you can use your iPhone or iPad or any other device for it too.
In addition to your “Bank of Ideas” you'll need a bank of visual inspiration. Create a folder on your computer and save to it every image you've liked. Illustrations, web-designs, icons — everything that inspires you. You can also use special services for it, like Image Spark, Piccsy, Pinterest, or (my recommendation) mac app called LittleSnapper, which helps you keep your library organized by tags and collections.
Join the community
It's really important to be in the community. Surely some of your colleagues are better than you in some area, and in some you better than them. Be a mentor for each other and share your experience with each other. It's really useful. Show your works to your mates, ask for tips, discuss other works, consult and communicate. It's fun at least :) Even if you're a freelancer and there is no co-workers near you — use the internet. There's a big amount of nice communities that you can join.
Just do it
I guess it's the most important advice in this article. Don't keep a big library of theoretical knowledge in your head. Use it right away, keep going, do not sit still. Don't procrastinate. If you stuck with a project — switch to something else. When I have some creative blocks in my current work I just create a new Photoshop document and start making something for myself. Usually after 15 minutes or so, some idea comes to my head and I switch back to my work. People suffering insomnia are advised not to think about sleeping while they are in bed and then sleep will come to them. I guess this tip works in design field too.
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