Hello there, sorry for lack of postings - life seems to always find a way of getting in the way.
So, anyway now I have introduced myself I'd like to talk a little about the very beginning of my artistic journey - it is such a daunting and seemingly complex profession, so where can you start from scratch with no experience?
Luckily for me I joined the ImagineFX forums and from there, a lot was de-mystified after spending some weeks on there, and seeing what everyone else in similar shoes to mine were doing. So I'd like to talk a little about being part of an online community, getting involved and the rewards which come with it. You do not have to have any experience in Art education or be in Art school or even have plans to attend Art school. Luckily for us there is a huge online community of people willing to help, offer advice, from beginners to pro's at the top of their game.
There are literally tons of online Art communities out there - some people like to be on every single one, update all of them and take part in all of them. While it can be beneficial, maybe it's not so realistic for everyone! I'll try to write a little bit about my experience and my favourite ones.
One thing to consider is the field you want to go into when picking the best community for you, whether it's illustration, game art, general concept art, caricatures, whatever - they'll be a buzzing community out there.
ImagineFX is a SciFi and Fantasy magazine - bit of a jack of all trades Art-wise - they cover game art, illustration, anime, film, concept art and most things digital.
This was the first forum I joined, really because I had bought the magazine and found it through there. This is a really great little community, extremely warm and welcoming atmosphere for anyone wishing to join. I still haven't found a place I would have rather started out, and recommend any complete novices to try there first. One benefit here is the size, it's not too big, and you won't get lost in the never ending sea of other artists, which can happen on some of the bigger websites. This creates a really relaxing and laid back environment where life isn't taken too seriously and learning about Art is fun without the pressure.
For the more serious learner, you will most likely need to join other sites, to get those "harsh" crits and the like, but that all comes with added pressure. Which is why I like ImagineFX so much.
There are weekly and monthly challenges, and really these are fun - not too crowded and there is always opportunities to get feedback from your work which can be difficult in other places.
I'd encourage all, regardless of skill to make a sketchbook on ImagineFX, join the challenges, give critiques and you will really be rewarded from a great little community.
So, this was the second site I discovered, and wow - this place is like ImagineFX x100! A huge community, this comes with it's good and bad points.
For an absolute beginner, you're really going to find a hard time getting noticed. That is one of the reasons I really recommend joining some of the smaller sites first, you can easily get discouraged on a big site like this when you simply don't get any recognition. It's also called "conceptart" for a reason, there's a definitely style and outlook running through the site, very much geared towards the game industry. Don't be put off by that though - artists from all walks and genres can be found on this site.
There are many sub-forums and a lot going on, the best place to start is probably the sketchbooks. I have seen countless people going from zero to hero on this forum. If you're serious and willing to put in the effort then really the sky is the limit in this place - there is advice available throughout from hundreds of top Artists. Be prepared for serious comments though, don't expect to just get a pat on the back, people want to see real improvement and effort - many take anatomy, composition, lighting, colour, and all other aspects of Art quite seriously. So again maybe not for the total beginner. To really get the most out of this site, you have to make an effort of interacting with the other members - visit their threads, introduce yourself and try to say something constructive about their work. The benefits of this site are huge, and for the serious learner making a sketchbook here is an absolute must.
Other aspects of the site -
Famously known for the "Character of the week" challenge or CHOW - which has seen countless iconic characters created over the years, many from people now working in the top game companies. Any aspiring character artists will learn a great deal from taking part in this. There is a huge turnout though so don't expect to get a critique or even get noticed - but do try to soak up people's process and how one can go about creating convincing characters. Other challenges include environments, creatures and even industrial design.
There are some great downloadable videos too on this website from some really great artists - my favourites being from Jason Chan and Whit Brachna - learnt a lot from these guys. Really there are videos from all styles too, worth checking out!
Well, cghub really puts the Pro in professional! This site has an insane amount of awesome work, easily accessible at a couple of mouse clicks. It's very well laid out with a great design - I have spent countless hours finding art on here, it's really a great inspiration. If you ever needed a swift boot up the backside to get into gear this really is the place to get it.
Cghub is geared toward both 2D and 3D, with a definite emphasis on Games and Films.
The community - the general forum activity here is pretty sparse and there certainly seems less of a definite community of individuals, unlike other sites. It's a bit like you go there, post your work, and don't really get any feedback. However it is improving and the sketchbook section for example is much more active than it used to be a couple of years ago.
Where cghub really excels is the challenge forums, there are mainly challenges to choose from, 2D and 3D - ranging from bi-weekly to monthly. They also host regular large challenges which involve professional artists and companies. Recently there have been ones inluding Mudbox software, Bobby Chiu and Adrian Smith.
The challenges are always lively and the community isn't too large - it's a good place to get noticed and importantly get good feedback, with several prominent professionals frequenting. Like conceptart.org there is a range of subject matter, environments, illustration, characters, creatures, drawing jams, 3D jams. Check it out!
The big 3
So for really being a part of a community - as far as I'm concerned these sites are the "Big 3" - sites which all aspiring artists and professionals should at least have some kind of presence. Bearing in mind I am interested in fantasy/sci-fi digital art, so these are my big-3 but not necessarily for everyone!
There are many other sites, some I'm not really all that familiar with, but I'll try to name a few and write a little about them.
Absolutely huge. Endless hidden depths - like cghub I have found a large amount of great art and artists here. Not a great place to learn, don't expect professional critiques or much useful artistic advice. Do post here for exposure, there is no other place where you can have your work seen by so many people so easily. You have to persevere though, because of it's size you have to find a lot harder to get seen - so join groups and use the forums and really try to promote youself.
The Kitchen Wecookart
Tbh, I haven't been on here much - seems like a great little community, much like imagineFX - certainly with a game edge and about serious learners - seems like a lot of great incentives to improve and compete with fellow artists.
Game Artist http://www.game-artist.net/forums/
Game Artisans http://www.gameartisans.org/forums/index.php
3D total - http://forums.3dtotal.com/index.php
CG Tantra - http://cgtantra.com/
CG Society - http://forums.cgsociety.org/
CG Channel - http://forums.cgchannel.com/index.php
Sketchoholic - http://www.sketchoholic.com/index.php
It's Art - http://www.itsartmag.com/forum/
Illustration Friday - http://www.illustrationfriday.com/about_p.php
Gnomon Workshop - http://forums.thegnomonworkshop.com/index.php
So, as you can see there is a lot of site to choose from. If you know the field you want to go into - pick the sites most relevant to that. If the only thing you know is, you want to learn to be an artist - conceptart.org is probably the most essential learning tool and community to join, because as I said before, these are serious learners and take the classical - tried and tested approaches to learning drawing and painting.
Otherwise, try any and all of them, see which you seem to fit into best and make an effort to interact to get the most out of these invaluable learning resources for our digital age. Don't just "dump" your work everywhere and expect many useful comments, being a part of a community is just as much giving and taking!