Tips and Tricks For Storyboard Beginners

Becoming a storyboard artist– or an artist of any sort, really– is a long game. It's not going to happen overnight and it's not going to happen without a whole lot of hard work and sacrifice, but it will happen

And, it will be worth it. So, in the meantime, remember to breathe.

We’ve put together some material for you to consider as you get started. We can’t take away the 

moments when you’ll stumble, fall short of your goals, and get frustrated– those moments happen to everyone who makes this journey, many, many times– but we can help you get better at facing those moments head on.

Draw at least a little bit, every day

It doesn't matter where or how you learn to draw, sooner or later, you’re going to get one particular bit of advice– sooner or later, someone is going to tell you, "If you want to get good at this, you'll have to do it every day, for a long time." 

Maybe they'll also tell you, "If you want to stay good at this, you'll have to keep doing it every day, forever."

They probably won't tell you, "No matter how good you get, or how long you've stayed that good, you're never actually going to think you're any good." But, that's another topic for another day.

Anyway, there is no substitute or workaround for the endless grind. 

First, we build good habits. Then we build good muscle memory. And then we rinse and repeat and rinse and repeat, for as long as we expect to do this and do it well, because if we ever stop, it all goes away, quickly.

Here are a few tips and tricks you can put to use starting today, to help get you there and keep you there:

Take Your Practice Whenever and Wherever You Can

Drawing for a few hours at a time is better than a few minutes, but hey, drawing for a few minutes at a time is better than nothing. We harp a lot about carrying a sketchbook and a few drawing tools with you at all times, and the reason why is you can use them on the fly to get a bit of practice in.

If you're sitting in a coffee shop, pull out your sketchbook and drawing tools– a pencil, a pen, or whatever you've got handy– and make use of the time.

You can twist and turn your coffee cup (be careful not to spill it) and fill up a two-page spread in your sketchbook, just drawing that mug from all sorts of different angles.

You can look out the coffee shop window, pick out an interesting stretch of buildings, figure out the horizon lines and vanishing points in your head, then freehand a quick perspective drawing.

And, if there happens to be other people in the coffee shop, you've just stumbled into a free life drawing session.

You can dash off some quick sketches anywhere, at any time, whether you’re riding on a bus, waiting in line, or sitting in front of the television– just draw what’s around you or in your head.

Find Your People

It's in all of our natures as humans to share stories– we just tell ours visually. And it's also in our natures to want to experience all those stories. So, put your stuff out there as you grow, to show anyone and everyone willing to give you the time– we promise you it’ll be more people than you think.

Join online communities. If you're here, you're already off to a good start. Get set up on our Discord server and start chatting some people up. Also, follow us on social media and start interacting with the folks there, too– we’re on Youtube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Take part in any online storyboard challenges and assignments you can find to get practice working under direction and deadline. Again, if you're here, you're off to a fine start– you’ll find material to work with and inspiration to draw from on our Discord server and social media.

And most importantly, get comfortable with the idea of other people seeing your stuff!

We're all in this together. We're all waiting for you to show us your art and stories, and also for you to see what we've been up to as well.

Embrace Your Stumbles

Don't throw out (or delete, if you're digital) your scrapped storyboards! Every stumble can offer lessons, and should be treated as the learning opportunity it is.

Look, it doesn’t matter if a storyboard artist is just starting out or has been around the industry for years, every so often, a frame (or an entire sequence) just doesn't make the cut.

Sometimes, someone was expecting something different, or just changed their mind. Or maybe the idea didn't even get that far– maybe it just wasn't working out and you had to abandon it for a different one. Whatever the case, save those storyboards and look at them later– see if you can nail down why they didn't work out or what you might do differently if you took another crack at them.

You can reverse-engineer your work all the way back to the thumbnails to find new solutions for visual storytelling problems.

Learn Story Structure

Even if your end goal isn't to write your own stuff, you'll still benefit from learning how to at least passably make your way through the craft of structuring a screenplay. It can only help you when you’re storyboarding someone else's script.

You’ll be far better equipped to problem-solve and come up with solid visual storytelling solutions if you know at least a bit about what went into the creation of that thing you’re working from. 

The best way to start learning about story structure is to grab yourself a book on the subject. Which book probably doesn't matter– there are many out there and they all say more or less the same thing. 

A few of the better-known ones are:

Just pick one and study it. And then consider trying to create a couple of shorter scripts yourself.

(Nothing’s stopping you from storyboarding your own scripts afterward, to get in that extra bit of practice!)

Study Film and Develop Your Visual Language

Actually sitting down and studying film is a huge part of learning the visual language behind the medium. That’s right– you get to watch movies and call it work. That said, you’ve probably never watched movies quite like this before.

Find a favorite movie that has a collection of its storyboards available. You’ll usually find them in “Art of” books or other production art books.

Look for material you can round up cheaply and easily– there’s no need to break the bank here.

For example, for not a whole lot of dollars, you can stream the movie Parasite and also pick up the book Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards. If you want to do this with, say, Akira, it'll cost you– there are two books collecting the storyboards for that one and both have been out of print for years.

Once you have your material, sit down with both the movie and the storyboards and go through them together– you’ll be able to compare the boards to the final product.

Take Your Time When You're Just Starting Out

If you're just getting started with this whole storyboarding thing, know that it’s absolutely OK to take your time with the practice boards you’re working on for challenges and assignments. At some point, in many professional environments, you will be expected to turn boards around fast and furious. And at some point, you'll be able to.

But that point doesn't have to be right now, so don't stress out if you're slower at finishing off a scene.

Remember, you're still learning. You have a lot on your plate as it is, including maybe learning drawing fundamentals, which also takes time– maybe a lot of time.

Speed will come later. For now, you should just focus on learning what you need to learn, and doing the very best job you can with any storyboards you work on.

If you’re drawing at least a little bit every day, you’re sharing your stuff and getting feedback on it, you’re paying attention to where it is you’re stumbling and actively trying to improve yourself, and you’re taking the time to study story structure and visual language, hey, you’re already way ahead of a lot of people looking to get into the field.

You’re doing great! Keep grinding away! And check in with us– let us know how your journey is going!

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