Ok, I admit it...I've been putting off writing this post. Imposter syndrome is definitely kicking in here, and I'm not sure I'm the right person to tell you how to get better... I may not be the teacher you need, but I guess I'm the one you're listening to, so let's do it.
First of all - 30 minutes a day is better than no time a day, and better than 3 hours once a week. If you can't find 30 minutes a day, IMHO, you aren't really serious about making it as a professional artist, at least right now...which is fine, but relax.
Second - 30 minutes is good, 3 hours is better. There is no substitute for work. Scott Hampton told me that drawing improvement is measured in inches - as in, the stacks of paper you are drawing on. You'll get there on 30 minutes a day, but it's going to take you a lot longer than if spent more time....but assuming that, right now, you DON'T HAVE that kind of time....
The most important thing:
You learn more when you are having fun.
Seriously. Fundamentals are great. Drills are great. Cast studies and still lives and all that stuff are great....but if you aren't having fun, you probably want to work on something else that hopefully incorporates that stuff but still gives you a buzz. Rather than draw endless pages of cubes and ellipses, draw endless pages of spaceships that USE cubes and ellipses. I have always found my biggest gains in skill happened when I was excited for the process, not the long term result that might or might not come months or years later.
The second most important thing:
Work on stuff you want to get better at.
Sounds obvious, right? Well, from looking at people on the path, you would not believe how many people use their precious drawing time on things they are already good at. You gotta step outside your comfort zone. If I may use a gym analogy, you have to use weights that you don't feel comfortable with...For all the people who think they're great, 2lb weights don't really do much for you when you're curling them. I'm happy you can draw Batman, you learned in 3rd grade, and you draw a *mean looking* Caped Crusader....but if you want to get better, you're going to need to put him away for a little bit....To connect with #1, maybe you put him in a cityscape, so you can practice backgrounds...but you should spend as little time as possible doing things you feel comfortable with, so you can maximize growth while still meeting your "enjoy it" needs.
The third most important thing:
Review your work when you finish.
It's not enough to draw/paint/sculpt, you have to check your stuff after you are finished to see what you did right, and more importantly, what you did wrong. Try to turn off that internal editor during the creation process, but bring them out with a VENGEANCE after you are done. It's not enough to say, "Man, my anatomy sucked!" either. You need to see what you did wrong. You need to know, not only that you have a problem with perspective, but that you have a tendency to put your vanishing points too close together, or forget that things get "thinner" as you go backwards in space. When you go to draw again the next day, try to remember your mistakes from the day before. Look at your work, and try not to make the same mistake again.
The fourth (and last) important thing (for today):
Switch it up.
Within the category you are trying to work on, try to find as many different ways to get there as possible. If you're working on drawing, don't spend your whole time with a pencil. Try a brush pen. Try a Sharpie marker. Don't go nuts with this (which is why it's number 4), but different tools and different processes will help you find your way faster. Every couple of weeks, go ahead and do something in a different way. It will help you.
Ok, I lied.
You aren't here to make pretty pictures.
Not in those 30 minutes a day anyway. You are working to be *able* to make pretty pictures. The gym isn't the bodybuilding competition, it's what you do before. In an ideal world, try to push everything you do until it breaks and looks like shit. It's the gym equivalent of "working to failure." I know it's hard, I know we want that ego boost from getting something sweet out there to show on Instagram....but if you want that, that's on your own damn time, not in your art workout period.
I can't tell you that you'll "make it" as a commercial artist if you do this stuff...but I feel very confident that if you do this stuff, you *will* improve, even at only 30 minutes a day.
Thanks for reading, please share if you think others will find it helpful :)