Learn from your doodles rather than resent them
I frequently see artists complain that their finished works got less attention than mere sketches, doodles and other smaller or less serious work. Which is frustrating! But almost as often, I can see exactly why the doodle got more attention. I’m going to cover some of these reasons, so you can use that information so you can do more than fume about it.
The doodle is easy to read, the polished work is busy
The polished work is completely drenched in little details that the artist slaved over, but the details create a kind of overall noise that makes everything harder to understand, making the whole image less appealing.
Don’t get too lost in little details, work from larger shapes to small details, use things like a highly readable silhouette, contrast, variance in line width or negative space to keep the image understandable. Pay attention to the composition to guide the eye where you want it.
The doodle is high contrast, the polished work is low contrast
When you do lots of details all equally well lit and easy to see, overall you lose the strong lights and darks that make a work pop. You have to sacrifice some of those details, let them be in shadow or out of focus in the background, to create a more appealing image overall.
You might also be forgetting that without lineart you need to use strong lights and darks, since lineart creates it’s own natural high contrast.
Contrast draws the eye, use that to create focus where you want it.
The doodle is simple to understand, the polished work is highly ambiguous in meaning and message
Many doodles that outstrip the artist’s polished work are jokes. Jokes usually have a specific clear focus and message, the viewer can understand it immediately (if they couldn’t, it wouldn’t be funny). You don’t have to make everything funny, but like a joke, you need to get to the point and give the audience the information they need to “get it.” More details can be present, but the viewer should not be confused about what to look at from the outset. Remember: people will look at and interpret your art in milliseconds. They might give it a longer look but only AFTER that millisecond look.
The initial glance is like the first page of a book. If it wows them they keep looking to understand more, if they are lost and confused, no second chances, they’ve already scrolled away.
You can use things like composition, basic structures of shapes and simple shape symbolism to give viewers the initial information they need to stay interested. Don’t feel like you have to abandon more personal and difficult to parse symbolism, these things can work together to create intrigue.
The doodle is fluid and expressive, the polished work is stiff and dead
The sketch for your polished work needs to be done with spontaneity and fluidity. When you want to really flex your drawing skills and show the world your beautiful realistic human faces, your sublime anatomy, gorgeous textures – it’s easy to forget about the undersketch and jump to rendering as soon as you can, creating a stiff or boring sketch that isn’t worthy of all the time you’re sinking into the minute details.
Practice quick gestures, read up on line of action, and before you make a polished painting, make sure you have a sketch that’s fun to look at even without the detailed rendering. Thumbnailing helps. Studies too. Sometimes you have to do the bad boring sketch, but you can take a few stabs at it.
You can’t make a bad sketch good by painting more details on it, you need to work out the sketch first before moving to the details.
Remember, if you’re going to spend 20 hours painting the thing, you can afford another half hour sketching a few different takes on your idea before digging in.
Lots of doodles, very few polished works
If you mostly post one kind of thing, your audience will be people who like that. Also, you may not have much practice with the techniques you are using in the polished work, while you have become a pro at doodles. You become an expert at what you practice, do more of what you want to be known for, become an expert at it, make it the only thing your audience is there for.
The audience is familiar with the subject of the doodle, unfamiliar with the subject of the polished work
Many artists do doodles of fanart and get fed up that people like that more, but the truth is, they don’t like it “more” they just already know they like it. You can increase the chances of people appreciating your original works by making sure they can understand what’s going on in the illustration without prior knowledge of who these characters are, or simply sticking to it until you have garnered an audience. Just keep at it.
Remember, the creators of the property you made fanart of are themselves artists who were pushing an original idea at one time. You can follow in their footsteps.
The doodle is quirky and unusual, the polished work is stale and samey
This can happen when an artist has an image in their head of what a SERIOUS and PROFESSIONAL painting looks like, usually based on a very narrow subset of artwork, often itself based on the same cargo cult of seriousness.
Try studying works outside your usual stomping grounds. Look to artists that likely inspired your faves (if you’re talking about realistic artists who inspired your favorite concept artists, here’s some likely culprits to get you started on the google search: JC Leyendecker, Alphonse Mucha, Norman Rockwell, James Gurney, Rembrandt), look to artists outside your genre, and look at your doodles and ask yourself what “not serious, just for fun” source of inspiration is making them so fresh and vibrant that your audience is connecting to them so strongly. Study that, respect that fun and try to pull it into your serious work.
The polished work was hard to make and no one cares
Being an artist is hard, and that we keep at it is commendable, but struggling and taking more hours doesn’t make a piece better necessarily.
There are a few things to consider here. First, you need to realize looking to the vague faceless masses of the internet for a fatherly “I’m proud of you, son” moment is always going to be disappointing and painful and attempting to guilt strangers into fulfilling that role for you is awkward and inappropriate. You need artist friends who can recognize your hard work and cheer you on and you need to be your own cheerleader, value your own hard work and practice.
Second, you need to realize torturing yourself doesn’t in and of itself make art better. Hard work is something people love about art, the meaning of someone spending that time, but if I screamed for 8 hours, drew a single line, then posted that, the internet wouldn’t be wrong to be unexcited about it. Rather than blame the viewer, think about two things: how can you make the art itself more appealing while still doing the painting that you’re interested in doing, and how can you do that faster and with less pointless suffering?
It’s okay to be a masochist when it comes to art, many artists are, just make sure you’re spending your time and suffering wisely.
You’re complaining about someone else’s “doodle”
Sketches and cartoons are deceptively hard to make appealing, rather than fume that they are getting more attention, look to them for lessons. What could you learn from them? Could you do it? Maybe you should try. Would make a good exercise.
And never get mad that their drawings are more appealing to the internet than yours, even though they spent less time on their drawing than you did on yours. See above for why time is not important here, but also keep in mind they may have been practicing longer than you or may be more established than you.
Keep working on your art, keep posting, push to be seen, advertise your work, put yourself out there. These things take time but work.
There’s something I could add to this, on the specific subject of people liking the doodle/sketch better than the refined image:
1) loose sketchwork and doodles have a fluidity and energy to them since you’re thinking less structurally/not obsessing about perfection, and, in that way, do a better job of capturing a more emotional/gestural image.
2) Often in loose thumbnail sketches, when you don’t have all the lines super defined, your brain will fill in the blanks with what you imagine it to be. People will see different things in looser sketches, and they’ll almost always be cooler because you see what you want to see in it.
more babbling under the cut: