What I’ve Learned From Two Years Of Painting!

So here’s to another year of drawing and painting! The end of August marks two years since I sat down and decided to start painting and drawing on a regular basis to level up my artistic skills. It has been a bumpy road so far, and I’m very happy and thankful to be able to add yet another year to my project (and life, hehe)!

Last year I wrote a post titled “What Painting For 365 Days Taught Me (So Far)“. I tried to summarize what I’ve learned (so far), and include some of the images I had made that meant a lot to me or symbolized some kind of epiphany. Many of the things I listed last year still holds true one year later. I still subscribe to the idea that you essentially are the sum of your habits. Life is 10% about what happens to you, and 90% about how you deal with it!

Inspiration come and go (and it’s super awesome when you have it), but you can’t trust inspiration to be there all the time (or at least I can’t). Some creators run on a mix of coffee and inspiration, but I need some nice habits in place to keep on creating. I then try to use those skills I’ve honored by practicing whenever inspiration strikes and I feel like painting and drawing something cool! That’s how I work, whatever floats the boat, right?

So first, let’s see where we left of last year. Here’s a comparison of what one year of practice did to my skills between August 2012 and August 2013:


Left: a study of a girl done in 2012 (I cringe so much when watching this, but hey, everybody start somewhere). Right; a study of a frame from the movie “Pacific Rim” done one year later.

I’m now going to list some areas where I feel like I learned a lot this past year, between August of 2013 and August of 2014. If you got any comments or feedback I encourage you to share it by making a comment at the end of this post. Please consider all of this work in progress. I don’t claim to know the answers to how one becomes a great artist, and some things I say in this post is probably wrong by some standards : ) Coming up: an extremely long blog post featuring a bunch of images and some rambling text. I put this together to summarize my own learning process and keep track of the important things!


Masks And Selections

This year I feel like I’ve started to understand the technical side of painting in Photoshop so much better! I’ve finally started to feel comfortable including masks, selections and brush settings into my workflow. The first year was a lot about how to even get brush settings and pressure sensibility on my Wacom to work, to make sure I had the right tools and understood the very basics behind image making.

The above three images were created with a lot of masks and selections. I finally started to understand how to use these tools to my advantage. Before I used to paint everything directly onto the canvas, which made it all look too smooth and smudgy. I really recommend this 10$ video on Dynamic Brushflow from CTRL Paint to learn about masks and selections! Below are a comparison of working with and without masks:


As you can tell the image to the left is very flat and all the edges are just too soft, everything floating into each other. On the right I have used some masks to make sure I’m only working on a specific detail at a time, so I don’t have to worry about paint bleeding out on other stuff in the image.

So getting the hang of masks and selection in my workflow was a very nice thing I did this painting year!

Standing Characters

Another area where I feel like I made some progress is the standing pose of humans and humanoids! Below is an example of standing characters, the left one’s drawn in December 2013 and the right ones are from June 2014. It was such a big revelation to me when I understood that legs are almost never on the same plane, one foot is almost always further down than the other due to the fact of perspective. I know how simple this sounds, but to me it was just mind-blowing, haha!




Moving forward I’ve done a lot of studies these past 365 days. Something that’s changed is the amount of time I’ve dedicated to my studies. Over all I have been able to push more time into the drawing, not rushing things trough. I’ve notice that great looking images are not made in a hurry. Rome is not build on a day, and your image is not perfected in 20 minutes. Investing some time in the image usually pays off greatly. So no rushing, take your time!

Here’s some color studies. I’ve invested a lot more time in them than I usually do, and  think I learned a lot both about color and the way I paint by doing them. I practiced a lot of different tools when making these; both the color picker, the mixer brush and masks, which is great!

Not Too Much Special Effects

Something else I used to do previously but I’ve tried to correct is when it comes to using waaaay to much special effects and contrast in my images. I used to throw a lot of fancy layers on top of my images, looking for some cool effects. Lately I’ve come to learn that if I’m trying to add a lot of effects to an image it’s usually a sign that something basic in the image is not working. Instead of adding fancy glaceing to my images I need the foundation to be rock solid. If the basics are great, then it’s OK to add cool layers, but using them wisely, just to add one extra touch or some small details. Here’s an example to show what I mean:


Some artists are able to use a lot of special effects in their images, but they are able to do so because have super solid foundations in their images. To break or bend the rules you need to know the rules. The image to the left has way too much “cool” effects while the newer one to the right is more careful (and looks better imo).

Use The Right Brushes

Something that you are told over and over when learning to paint in Photoshop is that the brushes are not that important, that you need to know the basics of image making before you can actually use a nice brush to bring a nice painting to the next level. In other words, if you can’t paint it won’t matter how awesome brushes you are using, it simply won’t look nice. Most digital artists seem to use between 3-7 regular brushes. The standard brushes included in Photoshop are not that good in my opinion, but I continued to use them for a very long time before downloading some other artist’s brushes. The thing is, it does matter what brushes you are using! Here’s a comparison of when I was using the totally wrong brushes vs when I had collected some very nice brushes from other artists:


Left: some studies made without elections and using waaaaay to soft brushes. Everything just blend together and looks too soft. Right: cloud study using the right brushes and the mixer brush tool!

As you can tell the difference is quite big. Of course I had improved my overall painting skills as well, so it’s not ALL about what brushes I was using, but I’ve learned how much the right brushes affect your work and limitations. If you are looking for some nice brushes to try I recommend Algenpfleger’s or Zedig’s. I’ve gone trough a lot of brush packs and throwing away 90% of it. Find the stuff that works for you and use it to your advantage!


Rendering Images To Make Them Look More Finished

The last thing I want to show you is that I kinda feel like I’m starting to understand what It takes to make a piece look more “finished”. I used to be able to paint in the very basics, but then I had no clue to how to make the image look “done”. It was like I knew how to cook the potatoes but had no idea on how to fry the meat, if you get what I’m saying. It’s still a great mystery, but I think I’m on the right path. It seems to be a lot about time. If you invest more time in an image it will look more finished, but it’s also about something as basic as image size. finish

I used to paint on a very small canvas in Photoshop. Small canvases are nice if you want to be able to work fast since big canvases, big brushes and many layers slow my computer down. But on the other hand, if you canvas is too small you can’t zoom in on the image and work with the details and add more visual information to the image. To size up my canvases and be able to actually add details has helped me a lot. Such a simple thing but something i didn’t think of previously! Haha!



Overall I have not invested the same amount of time into painting and drawing this year as compared to the last. I have been quite busy with getting my own company up and running, and I simply haven’t felt like I wanna spend too much time in front of the computer (partly due to medical reasons). If I sit 8 hours in front of the computer at my office I just feel it becomes too much to spend the rest of the night sitting on my butt and painting as well. I’m that kind of annoying person who values physical exercise in my free time ; ) I think that my next big challenge will be to find out what I want to do with my skills, to find out where I’m going. As of now I feel like I don’t really have a clear goal anymore. We’ll see!


I want to close this extremely long blog post with a comparison between a study I did in July 2013, and one done in August 2014. The bottom study kinda includes all the things I’ve learned the bast year; using selections, planning my images, invest plenty of time and use the proper brushes.


Painted in the summer of 2013. Unfortunately I can’t find the original photo on my laptop.


Study of Alxendria’s amazing illustration! Follow her artwork over at: http://alexneonakis.tumblr.com/



P.S If you want something more to read, feel free to check out the “What Painting For 365 Days Taught Me“, written a year ago!


4 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned From Two Years Of Painting!

  1. Andreas

    Congratulations getting this far. Without a doubt there’s improvement. The contrast/balance comparison is particularly striking, letting go of the effects fallback and working in a more basic manner.
    That’s the most important aspect in any craft if you ask me, discovering the ways of which things work and use that to achieve the desired result.
    I don’t think you need to worry too much about what to make out of your skills. Just pursue what seems most relevant to you and maybe even let opportunity decide where to go next.

    Looking forward to next years post. Keep up the good work!

    1. Saxen Post author

      Thanks for stopping by, A! Always nice to see you commenting and sharing your thoughts! It feels nice to read what you wrote about the future;

      “I don’t think you need to worry too much about what to make out of your skills. Just pursue what seems most relevant to you and maybe even let opportunity decide where to go next.”

      Maybe one doesn’t need to have a glorious master plan at all times? Perhaps it’s OK to just go with the flow and see where you end up? I’ve always felt a little bit bad about now having any kind of end goal with this, just painting and improving along the way. Perhaps that’s OK : )

  2. Simon

    Pretty damn inspiring, Saxen. I’ve learned quite a lot from your updates and your studies. Not only about the value of certain techniques and methods of practicing but also about the progress that can be made when one puts their mind to it. Really cool stuff and kudos to you for getting this far. I’m sure whatever goal you set forth next, you’ll reach it with flying colors (horrible pun intended).

    Keep at it!

    1. Saxen Post author

      Hey S! How nice to see you here :D I’ve been following your progress on Facebook, and it’s very inspiring! Keep it up!

      I’m happy I have inspired you and though you something valuable :D My next goal is to go another year with this and see where it takes me (while running my own business and all that other important adult stuff).



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