"I know what I like when I see it". Have you ever said this or thought it? I’m betting you have. We can all look at something and pass judgment on it. "That’s pretty, that’s ugly, that’s okay but it could be better." What separates an artist/designer from people who "know what they like when they see it" is the artist/designer knows why they like something when they see it. While art is subjective, there are established rules or basics of design that help artists/designers understand what makes artwork look good, bad, and everything in between.
There are tons of books, articles, essays, blog posts etc. written about the basics of art/design. Many of them explain these things much better than I could. There are also too many elements and details for me to go into in one post. I will supply you with a short list of books I’ve read or want to read that I believe are a good starting point and I will also write a list of what I believe to be the “basics” so you know what to focus on as a beginner artist.
The basics are the building blocks to a strong art/design foundation. Everything an artist learns throughout their personal and professional career is informed by this foundation. It’s important to periodically review and strengthen this foundation. You’re never too “good” to reinforce your knowledge of the basics.
-Drawing from life (including life drawing and still life drawing)
-Anatomy (esp. human anatomy)
Here is a list of books for you to consider (and a few extra additions):
-Design Principles and Problems by Paul Zelanski and Mary Pat Fisher (A thorough introduction to design overall. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in any kind of visual arts/design)
-Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual by Timothy Samara (For graphic designers: a thorough introduction to graphic design principles)
-Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair (A comprehensive introduction to character design and character animation)
-Drawing to See by Nathan Boldstein and Harriet J. Fishman (How to draw from life for beginners. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to better their drawing skills)
-Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson (I just ordered this book, but from the preview I can tell it’s also an insightful guide to drawing from life for beginners)
-Bridgman’s Life Drawing, Constructive Anatomy and Heads, Features and Faces by George B. Bridgman (All three are general introductions to drawing anatomy, with many illustrations to learn and practice from)
-The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium by Phil Metzger (I also just ordered this book. From the preview, it looks to be a thorough introduction to perspective)
-Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers by Marcos Mateu-Mestre (I finally got around to ordering this one, too. Many professionals recommend this book for artists interested in visual storytelling)
Of course these are not the only books you should read. There are lots of other books out there. However, before you buy anything, make sure you preview the first few pages and/or read people’s comments and reviews on them. Some people just like to complain about stupid stuff, but you’ll sometimes find insightful reviews that will help you determine whether the book is the right fit for your needs.
Remember that while it is important for you to know the basics, you learn by doing. You won’t fully understand what these books are talking about until you put the theories into practice. The time you spend reading is time you’re not spending practicing, so make sure you’re distributing your time wisely.
Finally, take the things you read with a grain of salt. As an artist, you have the creative freedom to break the rules. BUT you have to know the rules before you break them. So be patient and take the time to know the basics before you disregard them.