The theme of this second column is "How I leveled up my art skills & practical tips".
Let's be totally honest: I'm not exactly the kind of mangaka whose appeal is the sheer power of my artistic prowess alone, so I may not be the best authority on this topic.
Still, much like in fighting games where various characters have different styles and strategies, creators too have diverse approaches to their art.
That said, you can't deny that good art is the best kind of art, right? Naturally, we all want to improve our artistic skills.
A new niche = Something you've never drawn before
Have you ever looked at a friend's art and thought, "Whoa, they've leveled up!"?
There are some brave souls out there who improve by traditional means, like studying anatomy or copying still-life compositions, but I think the most significant boost often comes from diving headfirst into a new niche.
Looking back at my old fan art, I noticed a clear shift in quality when I transitioned from drawing chibi characters with a 1:3 head-to-body ratio to a more realistic 1:5, and eventually to a 1:7 ratio.
At first, I gravitated toward very cartoony works. But after falling for a series that dared to show that humans had, y'know, bones and joints, I had no choice but to figure out how to face the reality of the human figure.
Eventually, I stumbled upon the shocking revelation that—brace yourselves—muscles and clothing wrinkles are a thing too!
Simply trying to replicate the details in the original character designs forced me to level up my basic skills.
Anyone here ever look at seinen fan art and wonder why artists in this niche seem to draw so well? I suspect the secret lies in honing your skills through relentless practice and copying existing works.
It's not just niches with high head-to-body ratios, either. Newbies who just dive into a fandom often find themselves copying the original work, struggling to adapt intricate hairstyles or clothing into their style, and trying all sorts of things. So by tackling something they've never drawn before, their skills naturally get a boost.
The art of drawing what you don't want to draw through manga
Another way to hone your art skills is to draw manga.
I know, I know—you want to hone your skills because you want to draw manga. But hear me out: manga forces you into situations where you have to draw stuff you really don't want to, and that's key to leveling up.
Honestly, if you're doing dialogue-heavy scenes, you could easily get by with just showing characters from the shoulders up, along with speech bubbles.
However, one day you may have to draw a wide shot to establish the setting where the scene is taking place (just once, and never again). Or maybe you hate drawing hands and fingers but you want to depict your OTP holding hands. You're backed into a corner, and you have no choice but to draw things you'd rather not.
Funny thing, when I'm working on a script, I'm way more ambitious than I should be, probably because the me working on the storyboard has no idea what they're in for. I'll write stuff like, "character A kneels down and takes B's hand", or describe "a bustling crowd at a festival" like it's no big deal. A more considerate me would write, "A blackout occurs, and only their voices can be heard."
Screaming, "I don't want to draw this!" doesn't change the fact that you'll still have to. And in forcing yourself to draw, you're likely to gain something valuable.
Another thing about manga is the deadline factor. If you're racing against time, you'll have to adapt to draw passably well, and fast.
And let's be real, when we're under extreme pressure, we somehow pull off some miraculous growth spurts! Although this point may not be relevant for those who can manage their schedules well.
Humans, if left to their own devices, will stick to drawing what they know from angles they're comfortable with, much like how one might stick to the same seasoning for every dish they cook (guilty as charged).
But when you try to draw a proper manga, you'll discover a lot of things you've never drawn before.
Once you've drawn something, it becomes part of your EXP, making it surprisingly easier to draw the next time. Like, I was once forced to reproduce a character with swirly glasses from a famous shoujo manga in class, and to this day, that's the one character I can easily draw. Muscle memory, I guess.
So, to sum it up: diving into a new niche and then tackling manga on an absolutely insane schedule might just result in some crazy fast leveling up. It's a terribly toxic conclusion, but the explosive energy one gains when excited about a new niche is quite amazing. So, in a weird way, maybe it's the right way to go.