I would like to press this in a blog entry, because I'm starting to repeat myself in my critiques for the Studies & Practices section.
You can't learn anything new from what's already in your head.
If you don't actually study something, you can hardly call the result a study. I feel as though the skill of observation is being underrated, which is surprising, because I'm not exaggerating when I say that over half of any artist's skill is due to their ability to observe, if not more. Therefor, if you do not train your observation skills and practice purely your drawing ability, you really won't make much progress.
So for any Serious Artist who would like to improve fast: whenever you draw something, find references first. Either in real life (which would really be best) or from the internet, make sure that you have examples ready and that you study what is necessary before (and while) you start drawing or painting. Compare what you are doing to your references regularly. It's only through observation that you will understand, and as a result, learn. Don't make guesses and rely on happy accidents; they don't happen often, and if they do you still won't have learned anything because you won't know what it was you did right!
Reference is king.
There is no shame in using references, nor is it cheating or "unprofessional". Even the greatest artists out there will look for examples if they aren't too sure about something, and the reason why they know so much in the first place is because they studied their subjects so well.
I will be sure to organize an observation challenge soon, in which every SA member can take part, to emphasize the importance of observation and intense studying.
Founder of SeriousArtists