One of the hardest things I struggle with is proportions and placements of shading etc.
I'm always researching to try and improve and I found this bit of info on this site very helpful:
READ DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN BY BETTY EDWARDS
If you want to read one book on how to draw, this should be it. It has been in print since 1979 and is a real classic, as it teaches you not so much how to draw as how to LOOK. It proposes the idea that most people when trying to draw allow the part of their brain associated with linear reasoning and language to 'jump in' and tell them what it thinks they OUGHT to be drawing, making them less likely to really look. In Edwards' view, artistic ability isn't 'magic' or based entirely on good hand-to-eye coordination! Artists are simply people who seem to know how to suspend this part of their brain activity instinctively.
A good example is the exercise below - the book reproduces this drawing of Igor Stravinsky by Picasso (Musee Picasso, 1920) . It asks you to copy the drawing firstly the right way up, and then upside down. Most people will find that the drawing they did upside down is far more accurate! This is because when the drawing is the wrong way up, your brain will be unable to identify the separate features of the face or parts of the body and therefore to impose any preconceptions about what those things should look like. All you will be able to register instead are abstract lines, and so you are likely to find yourself mentally measuring the distances between them and deciding where they ought to be placed on the page far more accurately. The exercise teaches you that drawing is about constantly mentally measuring, sizing up and comparing shapes and lines. If you aren't doing that, then you aren't likely to produce an accurate drawing.
3. LEARN TO SEE ABSTRACTLY
This is really a good summary of the lessons above, and it's what I try to do when I draw. I aim to entirely forget that I am drawing an eye, nose, mouth and so on and instead try to simply see the image I am copying as an abstract collection of lines and different shapes of light or dark. After I've loosely sketched in the lines of the portrait I will first fill in the pupils of the eyes, as these are almost always the darkest areas of tones that you will see. Then I'll dart around the image looking for all the darkest areas of tones - these may be in the nostrils, or the hair for instance. I find this a useful method as when I next turn my attention to the lighter tones I will have something to compare them to. Sometimes if I'm really stuck and can't see what's wrong I will turn both my portrait and my reference picture upside down! This will usually help me to see exactly which shapes have been drawn or painted incorrectly. As with lines and shapes, try never to make assumptions about areas of light and dark! For example people tend to assume that the whites of the eyes or the teeth will be the brightest parts of the face. In fact these areas are usually a little shadowed, with bright areas of highlights.
Here's a good example of the benefit of trying not to mentally 'name' the parts of the face as you do your portrait and seeing them as separate from each other. Take a look in the mirror at your own mouth - most beginners when drawing a mouth will assume without really looking that both lips end in a clear and linear way when they meet the rest of the skin. In fact, they aren't defined anything like so clearly - you'll notice on your own lip that the thin lip tissue actually blends back into the skin of your chin in quite an uneven way and straggly way. In between the two you may well see an area of lighter pink, intermediate skin that isn't quite lip but is darker in colour than the rest of your skin. Underneath this is where you may see a line - of dark shadow. By thinking of the face as a series of abstract tonal areas and working your way through them methodically, you'd have been much more likely to notice this and to draw it accurately!
Info taken from Portrait Artist and Painter Anna Bregman - article archives
Anyone got more tips on all things arty??