2019 art review

December 26, 2019

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Back in 2018 I made a concerted effort to improve as an artist by drawing something every day and posting the results to Instagram. While both the ability to pump out incredible, fully rendered concept paintings and overwhelming internet fame still elude me, I will say that that year ended up being very important to me for one core reason: it was the year of establishing intentional habit.

I’m happy to say that the habit (sans the posting) stayed pretty strong throughout 2019. That said, my approach to artwork was definitely different this year compared to the last. The both completely self-imposed and unnecessary pressure that I imposed upon myself to post something “good” every day in 2018 ended up limiting my options to say, paintings from photo reference and floating heads with no bodies or context. So while this was great for exercising my skills in painting from reference, I will say that 2018 did not do much for me in terms of exercising my imagination.

So if 2018 was the year of fast paints and fundamentals, 2019 was more the year of experimentation and imaginative work. Relaxing the constraint of posting every day took a load off and really opened up opportunity for exploration—with style, composition, media, what have you. My main learnings this year? Well:

  • Use reference. To create something new is to bash together a lot of different things that already exist. Reference is what augments your imagination and helps your ideas become real! So use it! Also, don’t let “fancy” people tell you that using 2D ref is bad and that life is the only reference you need. It’s not true >:)
  • Illustrations should tell a story. Floating heads can be cool but don’t have staying power. A successful illustration hints at action, relationships, or emotions, so that the audience can relate and hold on to it.
  • Try random stuff. All art is experimentation, and no art has to go on social media. It’s important to take time to just draw whatever you want with no outside pressure—just practice, see what you can create, and keep on learning and improving over time. Don’t let likes rule your life.
  • Seek out constructive feedback. Towards the back half of the year, I learned that if you want to seriously improve at any craft, it’s not enough for just you to like what you’ve created. You need to find mentors or skilled people you trust, drum up the courage to ask, listen, sift through what is constructive vs. what is not, and then decide for yourself how to apply it. It can be hard at first to present something as personal as art to people at large, but the thicker skin and payoff is worth it!

Cool? Cool. I’ve done enough talking! Onto the monthly highlights!


January illustration
Started off the year still hot on that photorealism kick. That sentence, I imagine, will be a doozy for Google Translate.
This paint is based on a photo composed and shot by Agnieszka Osipa.


February illustration
Here is an early attempt at some costume/character design, created for a D&D campaign I play with my friends (Curse of Strahd, anyone?).


March illustration
D&D is a never-ending fountain of ideas for story-heavy illustrations. This was one of my first attempts at a full illustration--my warlock casting Suggestion.


April illustration
Getting back into traditional! Trying to apply what I've learned about color & blending w/ Copic markers.


May illustration
100,000% my first real illustration attempt of the year. Definitely the most complicated piece I had ever done at this point in time.

This one's based off my memories of playing FFXIV with friends, and I looked at a ton of reference (both in-game and photorealistic) to put this together! Still so pleased with this one.


June illustration
Hot off the heels of a coloring challenge I did with a friend, the shame of how bad my coloring job was in the challenge made me take a real hard look at how to digitally paint and color nicely. Much happier with this take. And hey, a floating bust is still better than floating heads! There's even hands in here!!


July illustration
More D&D inspired work! We all love an artist who doesn't quite understand perspective yet ;^) That and I will say, looking back at this I definitely could have spent more time coming up with more doodads and textures to make the ship look more lived-in.


August illustration
My warlock and his patron. It would not be unfair to say that this is my favorite illustration of the year. Still so completely and unabashedly happy with the colors, costume design, and composition of this one.


September illustration
I feel like this was my first illustration to really demonstrate emotion well. Most of my paints in the past have had people just looking "mysterious" or "pensive" or whatever, but I feel that the body language and facial expression in this one really hit the nail on the head.


October illustration
This is a 3-years-later re-draw of one of my first D&D characters! Always fun to do one of these to measure progress. I'm also pretty pleased with the expression in this one, too.


November illustration
At this point I'm kind of like maybe we should just assume these illustrations are all D&D related unless otherwise mentioned... in any case, this bad boy is another attempt at creating an illustration that encompasses story-telling elements.


December illustration
NOT D&D RELATED!! ;^) This is an illustration I created for a small competition hosted by Ross Tran. I spent a GOOD long time working through the composition, lineart, and coloring of this one. I'm still riding the high of having just finished this, and overall I'm happy with how it came out!

Final thoughts

And there are the highlights! I’m happy with what I’ve done in 2019 and am looking forward to what 2020 brings. More tactically speaking, here are some goals I’ve put together for my 2020 art:

  • Work on composition.
  • Emphasize shapes rather than lines.
  • Actually… learn… perspective…
  • Attempt to evoke feeling in all serious illustrations!
  • Make a short comic … ???

What about you? What goals have you set for 2020, and how do you plan on gettin’ to them? If you’re not sure yet, it always helps to write them down!


I’d like to finish this post up by saying thanks to my friends and fam who have followed along, gave feedback, and supported me this year. I’d also like to thank you—specifically!—for reading this!

I hope y’all have a great holiday, and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2020 brings for us. Keep on creating on, and I’ll talk to you again soon!

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Hi all! I'm Pattra, an artist & engineer. This blog is under construction for the time being, but stay tuned for updates!