I believe any kind of artist, graphic designer, or illustrator—web designers and typographers, even— can benefit from watching the following videos. I’ve tried to avoid any either too generic (motivational and do-what-you-love speeches) or too specific (tutorials on a single medium), and focus on ones that teach the fundamentals, provide actionable advice, or encourage us to think about art and design in a different way.
Will Terrell: “SUPER SECRET Tip for INSTANTLY Improving your Drawings”
Don’t let the spammy title fool you, Terrell’s tip delivers.
If you’re impatient, you can fast-forward to 3:00 for it… But for people pursuing a career in illustration, comics, storyboarding, or any medium that combines aesthetics and storytelling, I’d say the whole thing, as well as almost everything else Terrell puts out, is required watching.
If you don’t draw, don’t let the “drawings” in the title put you off either. This is for artists of every stripe: Design can tell stories, UI can tell stories, and even some of the most successful pieces of abstract art are the ones that hint at a narrative, even if it’s not revealed directly in the picture – see Picasso’s Guernica, for example. Photographers, in particular, might just benefit the most from following his advice.
Stan Miller: Lesson 1 / Composition and Design
Composition is the first step to designing anything worth looking at, but not many videos focus on it. Thankfully, in this one, watercolor teacher Stan Miller blows through all the basics in four minutes.
The video is a bit disjointed, and it personally took me a few watches to absorb it all, but it’s a fantastic overview of several principles, including how to use points of contrast, textures, and recognizable symbols to guide the viewer’s eye through any scene or design, touching on the difference between how the left and right brains move through an image as well.
Sycra: The Emergence of Talent
I knew I couldn’t get through this article without at least one Sycra video, it was just a matter of which.
This isn’t his most informative or specialized one, but it’s the one I think artists of all skill levels could use the most. Sycra discusses not just what constitutes talent, but how artists we consider “talented” got that way, explores the idea of genetic talent, and gives some advice on how passionate amateurs can unlock and develop their own potential. Almost half an hour long, but packed with useful advice.
David Carson: Design, Discovery, and Humor
(Warning: A bit of NSFW language)
Ted Talks are a crapshoot. Some are brilliant, informative breakdowns on topics you’d never thought you’d find so interesting. Others are just some rich guy bragging about his accomplishments.
This early one from 2003, though, is a prime example of the first type. It’s largely devoted to visual symbolism and type, and what they mean for design. For those of us who tend to forget about the “feel” of the fonts or elements they use, it might be just the poke in the ribs you need. That’s because it does something very few lectures or tutorials even attempt, which is to find the humor in design—not just design, but typography, an arcane field even among designers, and certainly not the first you’d look to for comedy. But even without that, it’s still a great refresher on the many uses of design and the messages it conveys when it’s done both right and wrong.
The First 20 Hours
I’ve owned one tablet before, a miniscule Wacom Bamboo that someone made off with before I learned to use it. After that, I procrastinated for three years: the kind of photo editing that makes up most of my visual work can be done just fine with a mouse, I figure. And I draw frequently, but always on paper. I didn’t need to learn digital painting, I figured. I say myself having to slog through months of practice just to achieve mediocrity, and whatever career benefit it would give me wouldn’t be worth the 10,000 supposed hours of practice.
But while researching this article, I came across this video. And three days later, I brought an Intuos. Now, less than a week of dedicated practice with it later, I’m already able to produce better digital work than I ever could before.
So, next time you doubt whether it’s worth learning a new skill that could change your design career, just remember it might go faster than you think.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, or a collection of the “best” ones out there, though, and I encourage you to share your own.