How do I learn to draw better graphics?
See Pixel Art Tutorials for more tutorials than you could imagine existed!
Advice from James
How about an art class? You might not think that learning to draw with pen and ink would help you draw better with mouse and pixels, but it really does make a difference.
When drawing small pictures, like sprites, try using the keyboard instead of the mouse. It is much easier once you are used to it.
A good way to practice pixel-drawing is to draw a picture by hand on graph paper, and then fill in the squares that correspond to your lines.
Pick (at least) two shades of each color in the picture, one light and one dark. For example, pick two shades of brown for hair, two pinks for skin, two greens for the shirt, two blues for jeans. Then mix the two colors in the picture. You could use light on one side and dark on the other for a cast-sunlight effect, or you could use light in the center and dark on the edges for a "depth" look.
Reserve one space in your palette for a black, or some really dark color. Lots of pictures look better if you add a black or dark outline around them, or between their parts. Its hard to draw black areas because the transparent color is also black by default, but you can change the transparent color to any other color you want, and it will still be transparent.
Use the whole box! If you look at the graphics in the Final fantasy 1-6 you will see that they had even smaller walkabout pictures than the OHRRPGCE (16x16 and later 16x24) and they filled them all the way to the edges. When you are dealing with small pictures like that, always go for cartoon-like over realism. Go ahead an make peoples heads take up half the space-- it makes them bigger and easier to draw :)
Most importantly, just practice. The more you draw the better you get.
Advice from Anonymous
It would also help if you got many shades (as said before) at least 2. I use 18 different shades for most of my pictures and they turn out great. It also helps if you actually get an idea of what you are drawing. You could use another drawing program to test it first and see how it looks, then you could transfer it, or redraw it on O.H.R.RPG.C.E . Some people just can't draw, that's life, but even if you're not gifted, you can still use the many tools available to you, like the oval tool and the airbrush. With time you will learn to make better pictures just practice.
Advice from NeoTA
A plea against an academic attitude:
Art skills can be divided broadly into study, design, and rendering.
Skills related to pixel art in particular are primarily rendering skills. While study, design, and rendering skills need to be developed in tandem, the less complex skills, design and especially rendering, have an undesirable tendency to dominate artistic thought. This is because rendering is a more simple problem than design, and design is a more simple problem than study: The point is that if you are looking for pixel art techniques (for example, how to draw circles or ellipses that look properly round), they will only improve your art to the extent you can use them in context.
Study asks : “What exactly is this object doing? How is it put together?”.
Design asks “What purpose does this art serve? What must it fit in with? What parts should be emphasized, and which should be reduced or eliminated?”.
Rendering, otoh, is simply the methods you use to turn a plan into a completed object; it conceptualizes an image not as a whole thing but a series of processes (lines, fills, circles, etc).
The simplest way to prevent one process from taking over is to impose time limits. After half an hour, say, it’s “Done enough”. You may feel it’s quite lacking. It’s necessary to gain some acceptance of that, because, how can you design appealing things if you do not understand their nature? How can you render appealing things if your design is incoherent, unbelievable, or haphazard? The quality of your artwork is limited to the quality of the weakest link in this chain.
Study problems, design problems, technique problems — with enough thoughtful practice, they all clear up in time. The important things are to show up, work on them, and keep each in its proper place.
Most talk about art is limited to technique — design and especially rendering technique. This is difficult to avoid; the more abstract aspects of art are difficult to properly discuss. Nevertheless, try to think about them and discuss them, They are the basis for properly practicing and integrating techniques, so that you wield the technique, intelligently. You only own a technique once it recedes from conscious attention; the you which is actively trying to make nice circles is the you which is obsessed with circles, to the exclusion of any big-picture design sensibility. The effective craftsperson sees that a circle is needed, makes one to the current best of their ability, and moves on. They accept difficult tasks in part because they recognize that much of the refinement of their art comes simply from being forced to solve problems in all varieties. The trial is the thing, not the techniques. The techniques are pursued gradually, as exactly what is needed becomes clearer. If they see intensive technique practice is required, then it is still approached in the same way: “Draw 100 circles, as best as I can, notice what is wrong with them; DON’T spend a lot of time fixing them. The part in my mind or my body is the part that must be fixed. The part on the page is simply a symptom.”
How to begin studying pixel art technique
The most ubiquitous techniques are general in nature. For example, knowing that a circle should have a constant amount of curvature no matter where you examine it; having a solid sense of WHAT A CIRCLE IS, contributes the main part of being able to draw circles in your medium of choice.
Whereas pixel art circle techniques contribute the 20% : some sizes of circle look better than others; circles often look nicer with some antialiasing; if you want a circular highlight on something, try to avoid positioning it in a location that creates banding.
Neither mouse, keyboard, or even graphics tablet are sufficient for working on the 80% part of technique, the general truths, as long as you are forced to work in the very low-res format of pixel art. Heavy limitations imposed by pixel art mean that you are generally dealing directly with close-up technical problems : "How do i make something round looking with 10 pixels", rather than figuring out exactly what kind of shape you want. You can make a technically sound or interesting solution without knowing exactly what kind of shapes you want, but you can't make a solid picture without knowing exactly what kind of shapes you want.
Simple, precise, and rapid mediums like pencil and paper represent the other end of this equation. The idea of the perfect pencil circle is pretty absurd. It’s just : If you move the pencil in a smooth, consistent motion that creates an actual circle, you win. If you want a triangle, the only barrier to getting a good triangle is your ability to move in a straight line without overshooting the endpoints you aim for. This kind of medium is good for figuring out what you are aiming at before you attempt to render the final artwork.
The gritty details of pixel art — rendering problems — must always be dealt with. My point is simply that when you approach them as an outcome of design work, you keep control of the picture. When you do the converse — attempt to directly fit the design to pixel art constraints — the level of your technical skills dictates the design of the picture. That's a problem, because if you have enough taste to know that your artwork is lacking, you have more taste than technical skill. If your taste isn't in control, you aren't playing to your strengths.
A short aside on design for pixel art
When talking about design, it’s necessary to distinguish between design in general — called just ‘design’, and design as extended into a specific domain — called ‘visual design’, ‘sound design’, etc, according to the particular domain.
Design per se can be related to world building. You have a character in your world who does Y. What do they need? What kind of temperament and backstory do they have? How do the answers to those two questions combine to indicate what equipment they specifically must choose? Clearly, temperament, choices of equipment and clothing all effect the practical question of how you must draw the character, but how much you include is limited by the practical constraints of making clear, effective art in a realistic timeframe.
Visual or Graphic Design is concerned with exactly those questions as they relate to visual art. It attempts to boil this broad set of characterizing facts into specific visual designs that exemplify the most important characteristics and omit those which would only confuse or be impractically demanding to render.
Thumbnailing is a staple practice of visual design work — making a tiny picture that captures the key characteristics of the picture - flow or gesture, composition, volumes, tones. Actually, many tiny pictures, because it’s usually pretty easy to improve on visual layouts once you have at least one to compare to. It saves a lot of time to make your mistakes in tiny quick scribbles rather than re-re-re-rendering a fully realized artwork. Graphic design for pixel art , in my opinion, should rely even more heavily on thumbnailing. If your sprite does not read well as a 4x4cm thumbnail, it will not read well as pixel art. Even if your pencilwork is really imprecise and clumsy, pixel art is much more coarse than that.