J.K. Riki

Art Post: Then and Now

Today I have some art to share, seen below. I also want to walk through the process, for all who might be interested in an analysis of redoing a drawing fifteen years after the original creation.

I found the drawing on the left, done in 2002, in an old sketchbook from my early art-school days. Back then I had a particular affinity for anime/manga, which is the art style predominately done in Japan. I practiced (poorly and not nearly enough) drawing in this style, but paid no attention to important aspects like structure, posing, and appeal. This is common in college and high school students as they mimic styles they like rather than truly trying to understand anatomy and form. (Side note: This now drives me crazy when I watch younger artists do it. But it’s something time and experience teaches you. I didn’t listen to people who said otherwise then, and [most] up and comers don’t listen now. Go figure!)

I don’t remember how I felt about the drawing at the time, but I can say in earnest that it made me ill to look at when I found it earlier this year. It’s, frankly, atrocious. What a disastrous mess! So I set about to redo it.

Redoing 2002’s Horrific Art

For starters, I’m almost certain the original drawing used zero reference. Even though I was borrowing the big-eyed anime style, I doubt I bothered to look at something for inspiration as I did this drawing. Back then reference was cheating in my eyes. (What a stupid thing to think. Sigh.)

That is, perhaps, the biggest difference fifteen years later. Now the first thing I do is search for reference images. Whether it is work done by other artists or, more often, photos of human beings in particular poses, reference is essential. Some masters pull their reference from a vast mental library. I am no master, so I find as much as I can to have in front of me before I work.

I wanted to keep a basic pose for the redone drawing, but I couldn’t bring myself to use the straight-up-and-down boring pose of the original. It’s just too dull. Tip for artists, especially starting out: Draw interesting poses. The drawing on the left is a perfect example of the most boring pose you can attempt. Do not do that. It teaches you nothing and is ugly before you put down a single detail.

I chose a standing pose with a little bit of dynamism so that it remained relatively standard without being completely boring. This was my reference.

I did the drawing digitally on my Cintiq, but worked from the photo. No tracing, even though the end result feels a little bit traced. In a way this actually pleases me greatly, because it means I did at least a decent enough job on the pose that it looks like the photo I used as reference! Progress, to be sure.

I started with loose, rough underdrawing, as learned via Samantha Youssef’s Studio Technique method. As an aside, if anyone is interested in what I have found to be the greatest drawing method in my extensive searching, hers is it. Should classes resume, they are worth taking the second the option is available to you. In the meantime you can check out her book if you’d like. (I gain nothing by plugging Sam’s teaching, by the way; I truly think it is the best there is out there. It was a night and day difference for me learning her method over so many others I had tried.)

I built on the main figure line and added form and structure as I went. The hair (still keeping loose and rough) I did on a separate layer, using a different photo as reference:

Then I moved on to the face, which I did on its own layer as well. I need more practice in all facets of art, but doing faces in particular. I didn’t want to mess up what I had already done. Sure enough, I did, and my first attempt was all wrong. I started a new layer and tried again. Better, this time.

After tweaking some proportions using the magic of the transform tool (the upper torso needed moved up just a touch) it was time to do a clean ink over the whole thing.

Clean line work is the second worst art skill I have. (Color selection is the first.) The reason for this is because, as an animator, I love working rough and loose. It is freeing, and I am confident when I work roughly. If you can’t tell, the final inked drawing on the right lacks confidence (but more on that in a bit). I managed to do the inking decently well compared to some attempts in the past, but a lot of life was sucked away by my nervous pen strokes.

I placed the images next to each other, and even though I wasn’t content with the new version, it became clear that at least something has changed for the better in the past fifteen years of work.

Lessons Learned From The Process

I gained some great insight from doing this, and I highly recommend any and all artists reading this try something similar. Find an old drawing and redo it. Perhaps you will discover a few of the things I did, which include:

  1. Art takes time. I do not know exactly how long the 2002 drawing took, but I would wager it was in the neighborhood of five minutes. The new version, done with a desire to do something GOOD (rather than just “something”) took five hours. That isn’t an exaggeration. Start to finish, I spent five hours on it. This is another reason I tend not to do clean drawings. They take forever. Still, it’s worth the time and effort to do better work. You certainly learn more.
  2. Confidence means so much. As I mentioned above, my inking lacks confidence. As a result, much of the soul of a rough drawing is lost. Great artists can keep this confidence and line quality even when cleaning a drawing up. It is something I need to practice, and practice a lot. I was so concerned about the drawing being “right” that I failed to make it feel alive. (BUT look at those little bumps on the shoulders caused by the clavicle bone! That’s something I never would have had before I took the last anatomy class I had. That’s something to hang my hat on, at least.)
  3. I still have a long way to go, but I need to recognize where I’ve already come. Here’s something you may not know: Artists never finish their careers. We all die first. No artist (that I know of) has ever reached the point where they say “Yep, I’m exactly as good as I’d like to be.” We want to be better. As a result, we can get down on ourselves and always be looking to some magic future point when we’ll have “arrived.” It never comes, though. So then the key becomes balancing striving for improvement while ALSO being excited/content about all the progress already made. That’s one reason I recommend this experience to other artists now. By redoing an old drawing, you will be able to see, instantly, that your skill is developing. Sometimes because we progress  s-o  s-l-o-w-l-y  we don’t realize just how much we’ve improved. It pays to take a moment and realize how far you’ve already come, before you go back to wishing you were further along.
  4. I need to practice more. After fifteen years, I could be MUCH better. I don’t practice enough. If I want to progress even more in the next 15 years, that MUST change. No excuses or alternatives. The work we put in will determine the outcome. I do not practice enough, and I know it. (Then the question becomes, will I change? Time will tell.)

I hope the analysis wasn’t too long winded and you enjoyed hearing a little bit about the process. If so, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I’ll try to do some more posts like this if folks would enjoy such a thing.

(Also a reminder that if you’d like to keep tabs on what I’m doing art-wise, you can find my latest sketches and illustrations over on Instagram.)


  1. Adam

    Hurrah for clavicle bones!

    I’m no artist, but have done a couple of similar then-and-now exercises in writing. It’s encouraging and satisfying to compare the new to the old, and to realize there has been improvement after all!

    Even though I’m not an artist, I really enjoyed this post. It was neat to see the reference photos, and interesting to read about the step-by-step process behind the finished drawing.

    1. JK Riki (Post author)

      Ah, I hadn’t considered trying that in writing! That would be a good time. (Or maybe I could just do it with that stupid novel you looked at a while back that I STILL haven’t edited properly! Dagnabbit…)


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