Hello! Thanks for submitting your lovely art! Sorry for the wait, I’ve had a lot going on lately and these take me a while to write. You asked for all the criticism, so here it is…
Just a clarification that nothing I say here is meant to discourage you or tear apart your art. Your art is your own and you may do with it what you please. I am only trying to help you improve faster.
At a First Glance…
I really like it. The sparkles are a nice touch and the details are very good. The whole thing looks very magical. I would recommend removing the reference photo in the corner, as it distracts from the actual art. You said ten years on and off, which is a good long time, but from now on I would recommend not taking many long breaks to remember everything you learn. Doing it often is important for improving faster. I also see that the spiral of magic looks like an airbrush, which I would recommend staying away from. Try using a different brush for the spiral or using multiple so it isn’t so obvious. The airbrush is good for base shadows and such, but otherwise it isn’t an ideal brush. I’m guessing it’s fan art (hence the reference photo), which I’ve always enjoyed looking at.
These are said with a realistic lens, so follow these depending on how realistic you’d like it to be. She appears to be a kind of young character in the proportions, but her chest is that of someone a little older. Therefore, I would try making her either all young looking or all older looking. Consistency is key. If you go with older, try making her eyes higher as older people have eyes higher up on their face than younger and a smaller head. A person’s shoulders are usually almost as big as two heads, which isn’t the case here. This could be solved by a smaller head/larger shoulders. Her hands and nose could be slightly bigger, too. Her neck could be a bit thicker. If you’d like her to look younger in general, her head could still be a little smaller, especially the top part. Her skull area is a tad big. If doing younger, remove or flatten the chest slightly. Her eyes could have a crease above them and maybe under them, too. More shines are an option, but you don’t have to. The mouth looks really good. Honestly, you said you wanted help with the hands, but they look really good. I can’t think of any way to make them better.
As I said earlier, the details are stunning. I like the sprinkles, textures, necklace, and hair adornment. I have noticed that the amount of detail decreases the further down you go, though. If it’s too much to add more details, maybe decrease the amount of details in general to make it match. I would recommend staying consistent with the amount of details, even though you’ve added a gradient to the bottom. About that, I totally get how us artists just want to cover up what we don’t feel comfortable with, but I would still try not to do that. Try doing it anyway. You’ll never become comfortable with it if you don’t show it. It does overall work with the piece, but I’d still avoid doing that. The arm/hand holding the cake is also a bit less shaded than the other one, so try to make them consistent. The eyebrows could have a bit more detail (hairs) or be a little thicker. I really like the light magic dots, so adding even more would be nice.
Hair is one of the things you wanted advice on, so here we go. I like how you’ve added texture, keep doing that. The little pieces sticking out from the buns look a little unnatural, though. They are a bit too straight. Try making more smaller pieces that aren’t perfect and go in multiple directions. Don’t be afraid to go outside of the general hair shape. There are also some bumps for lack of a better word near the part that could be a little flatter. If you want it to be shinier, you could make the highlights darker and highlights lighter. You could also add accents of cyan or purple for some extra dimension.
I can’t see the legs or shoes very well, so it’s a bit hard to critique. From what I can see, though, The ankles could be a bit thinner. The legs in general look a bit larger compared to the arms, so I would make them a bit less round and thinner to match the rest of her. I don’t see any soles on her soles, either, which should be present from that position. Make sure to show more of the bottom of the shoes. More shading could be added to the legs and shoes, as I mentioned before.
I like the shading and highlighting. I especially like how the cyan light from her hand affects her surroundings. In fact, maybe you should push that element even further and exaggerate that cyan light even more. Your light source is consistent, so no problems there. Adding a multiply layer and shading everything with one color might help with cohesion. Multiply and add layers are a digital artist’s best friend. If you want something moodier, lightening the highlights and deepening the shadows would be a way to do that. Just an idea though.
That’s all I can think of for now! I hope this helped. You’re an amazing artist and I know you’ll get even better. In no way was I trying to make you stop or feel bad about your art. I would love to see your redraw when you do it, so please show us! Thanks for reading!