My childhood art mentor Rolly Buenafe, an artist/lecturer of the Planetarium, who was a comic illustrator in his earlier years only taught me the shortcut to be better in drawing/illustrations.
This is what the maestro said :
"If you want to be *really* good in illustration (and ART), the only shortcut is to learn FIGURE drawing because it is the hardest subject to draw than anything else! Learn to draw people and the rest of the objects would be easy. Don't start to be abstract artists. Master the conventional skill first before distorting it because only the masters can destroy the art..."
If a parent is reading this, encourage your artistic child to work hard in drawing the figure. Recommended book for further study: Figure Drawing for All Its Worth" by Andrew Loomis
Never sleep without drawing anything even in pencil. Draw everyday! Nothing could be achieved without practice.
Custom Thin Drawing Board for Sketching (If you will buy the idea):
By preference, you can have a custom-made thin plywood drawing board (topped by white formica or white vinyl wall paper) at hand. Its purpose is for convenience. You can seat anywhere when you feel like sketching and also take the board anywhere. I seriously find it useful because even in the present I have two (2) sets with me. I even use it when I draw with my wacom tablet while facing the PC! The size will vary depending on you. I am very convenient with the size: 17" x 14" (43 cm x 36cm), 1/8" to 1/4" thick. You can make yours a bit wider. You can use masking tape or clips to keep your drawing paper in place. I prefer masking tape.
Don't limit yourself to doing 2D-looking drawings. The eyes are meant to see depth (3D). Perspective Drawing is a huge topic in the artistic world. You could look down or look above at an object. The solidity that you see, the way it seems to fall into plane is exactly what this topic is all about. Draw with sense of perspective.
Never draw what your mind thinks it can see. Draw exactly HOW you see the object sits on a plane. The brain is very tricky when it comes to visualization. It adds many information on how we see the object, plus the lack of hand coordination. Any layman would draw something else all the time, but an artist would draw the exact form of what he/she sees at an angle.
I have written about Understanding Basic Perspective in One Seating
for more information.
Observe everything. Differentiate each object from the other. Example, how does a male cat differ from a female cat? They could look the same but for sure, there is difference. What makes an old person appear aged? What makes an infant younger looking? What line and contour you need to add to achieve the convincing output? Look at the texture. What makes an angry face more convincing? Do research on how things are paired if you are into realism. Have you seen an Underwood typewriter?
And if your memory is not as sharp as you think, then #5 (below) will always be the best move!
If you have doubts about how an object really looks, use reference. They come in picture or actual objects.
An example for your pure entertainment:
If you do not know how a carabao looks, find pictures for reference. Copy or re-invent out of the image. A picture may only show the front view or limited angle. Gather enough comparison of subjects based on your requirements. Even if the art theme is outlandish, always use natural reference before deviating from it.
As for the carabao on the right, I took this photo during a provincial visit. In one look, what did you observe? The rest are self-explanatory.
On to drawing people:
If you are drawing various races, use pictures to differentiate one from the other, like the species that they are. Common genetic traits vary from another. The features and character need heavy references.
Some curiosities to ask yourself:
How do you draw an Asian to appear more Asian? What are the physical traits? If you will draw action scene, example, how does the hero/heroine hold the gun? How does the flow from falling water recede? How do you project reflections? Why do the waves get smaller as it gets far? What is an Adam chair? (Oh, the Adam chair reminded me of my college dean.
And so on and so forth...
If you are to draw based on a specific time-line, research about the culture, manner/style of dressing, transportation, architecture. It is indeed complex. You will realize that all of the data gathering consumes time too, let alone the drawing.
If you are asked to draw scenarios like, say Victorian Era, it will include all details like fashion, table setting, sports, vanity, ornament, furniture... everything including how docile women were! It helps to see the signature attributes. Knowing the back story adds conviction to the execution of art. By knowing more, a new inspiration serves as guide in expressing yourself.
Reading the right references is everything.
Use the figure to give your art an element of scale. If possible, add people to your landscape art.
Draw smaller objects when they are at a distance. Use line-weight. The thicker the line means the nearer it is to the viewer. Use lighter shading if the object is very far. The face of a figure looks very detailed when near, while less detailed when far.
Measurement matters. It was my first pitfall as a kid, worst! It got corrected when I took up drafting in college. Having strong knowledge in scale in relation to art is a plus!