Hey, @kalpelm, this is a post from a 34 year old who started doodling really crappy shapes with really crappy shading a year and a half ago and couldn’t draw a straight line to save his life. I have something to share with you!
It might not be on the same level as yours technically, but this was a game changing improvement for me in about five months time.
The “painting” on the left was from my wife’s push to stop being scared and try out my new crappy walmart acrylics. (They were crappy.) Up to that point I had just been attempting pencil. It’s a representation of how my personal depression sometimes feels. I’m honestly embarrassed by it, but I want it to serve a point I’ll come to in a moment.
The second painting is something I’m deeply proud of, because it represents a turning point where I’m actually able to reproduce images I have in my head. It’s a character of mine staring out into an alien world. This exact scene has been in my mind for three years. Is it a masterpiece? God no, it’s nowhere near the realism that I want to be able to achieve. Am I proud of how the sky turned out, how there’s light from the sun across the water? That the first figure I attempted turned out to be an identifiable woman? Yes, yes I am. And that makes it a successful piece in my journey.
You’re probably getting what I’m hinting at here.
If you were objectively looking at both paintings without concept, what would you consider a success? To me, these both represent personal successes even though they are VASTLY different. The first was when I was scared to hold a paintbrush and incredibly reluctant to do anything because I knew I sucked at painting. The second is when I had tried (and failed) a few times and decided “you know what? I think I’m just going to go for it and see what happens.”
So. My “1 weird TRICK FOR BETTER ART!” for you is this: don’t give up on yourself. Start looking at your work objectively from your own standpoint and take a step back. Ask yourself, what do I like about this? What do I hate about this? What do I want to achieve? What do I need to get there? What should I do differently? Filter out other people’s opinions and whoever you’re comparing yourself to. (I compare myself to James Gurney, he’s my childhood hero, and that ain’t gonna get me anywhere!!!)
Also, that “this is a slog” feeling? It is perfectly perfectly reasonable to step away from a piece and start something else. If you don’t love what you’re trying to make, or if the scene or concept doesn’t excite you, I think that translates to the actual work you do.
EDIT: Oh, also! Sleep on it. Literally, take your work, cover it, and forget about it for a day or two. Come back fresh and evaluate it. My GOD does this help lol. When you’re staring at something and ripping it apart intensively to the point you want to scream walking away and coming back is a good way to look at your work and start to pick out what or what isn’t working.