2002/2003 - The Early Years
When I first started, you can see that I was afraid of the 100x100 pixel canvas. And since I wasn't on LJ, I was just making icons for fun, I decided to do a 200x200 pixel canvas. I needed more room to suck. You'll note that I was both in love with box textures and also had absolutely no idea how to use pixel fonts - they're practically illegible. Later I became more comfortable with icon-sized icons, though I wasn't sure how to use these things called textures and filters and colors. I...I actually put a noise filter on that Wesley icon. Why. I include that last icon of Arwen because it's actually not terrible - it was a fluke. And in studying that fluke, I got a little better.
2003/2004 - Reading Icon Tutorials
One day an amazing thought occurred to me. How do other people make icons? Maybe I could read their step-by-step instructions and learn myself! So I started reading tutorials. Lots and lots of tutorials. I copied them step by step, then started putting two and two together. If I put this kind of color on that kind of blend, it did this. I actually, believe it or not, started to understand how Photoshop works.
2005 - Experimentation
I really like my icons from this period, and I think I've lost some of the ability to just go for it. Just throw some stuff on and see what happens. I had fun experimenting with colors and textures, of doing weird things, of maybe going a little too over the top. Sometimes I feel like all I do is color and crop, maybe toss on a light texture, ho hum. I kinda love this set; I haven't looked at some of these in a couple years.
2006 - Easy Does It
Things start getting a lot simpler. I think part of that was the trend in icons anyway - even though I'm still four years out from using a Livejournal at this point, I certainly lurked quite a bit, and had a lot of favorite icon makers whose work I saved and studied and tried to figure out. I'm doing interesting crops and compositions, but I haven't quite worked out coloring yet.
2007 to Present - Comfort
I think I've finally reached the stage that I can look at a picture, know what I want the icon to end up looking like, and then actually make it happen. I've figured out how to use the tools. Not that I'm not still learning things, not that I don't still sometimes throw on a texture and run down each blending option just to see what it looks like. But I'm doing okay.
Also, it must have been around 2007 that I read an icon tutorial that said if you have someone in profile looking down it will always make a great icon. This is a fact. Seriously. How many of those do I have?
(I will say, actually going back through something like Photobucket is like opening up a time capsule. It's a really neat way to look at chunks of time in terms of fandom/what I was into at any particular moment. Ah - that's the Lord of the Rings year. Yes.)