I'm repeating Kent's course Fundamentals of Digital sculpting with Blender (for the second time), after a very long hiatus. I can follow the lessons, but find the final exercise (shark) overwhelming. Basically, remembering the effects of add / subtract / smooth / size / strength for dozens of tools is overloading my memory capacity. (This is in addition to the "artistic eye" which probably is more caught than taught.)
Is it legitimate/useful to pick a small number of tools and use them extensively, until they become "second nature", then maybe add one or two more at a later time? I'm not sure that this will achieve course completion any time soon. Or maybe I should try building up skills gradually on a series of objects of increasing complexity?
I don't expect that sculpting will become a primary skill, but I aspire to be somewhat well-rounded (maybe have it to pull out of my pocket if the situation demands).
I'm also at a beginner level at sculpting as well and found the shark sculpt exercise to be very challenging. So, you're definitely not alone in this! However, completing it was very personally rewarding and gave me more confidence in something that I thought I couldn't do. I definitely would recommend sticking to it and just set out 30 minutes every day sculpting the shark and making slight improvements every session vs. going for a single all-out hours-long session and burning out.
Some of the tools I really leaned on (other than constantly smoothing) during this course were the mask, grab, smooth, crease, and pinch tools.
The mask tool was a huge help in that you could mask off exactly what you want to work on. By masking the area you are working on, then inverting the mask, you end up with just the part you want to work on. This really helped me in terms of forgetting about how complex the whole thing was and instead focusing on just what I masked off.
As a non-tablet mouse-only guy, I really love the grab tool. It allows me to be temporarily imprecise about when I add/subtract details with my mouse, then just use the grab tool to move the details where I want later. Don't underestimate the simple grab tool for sure!
I recommend using the crease, smooth, and pinch tools (in that order) as a sort of combo move for getting corners nice and tight (for example, where the fins meet the body) I like to first crease the corners, then slightly smooth, then pinch everything nice and tight. I found this process to be super important to getting the corners to look refined.
Also remember that for dyntopo, the resolution is extremely important. If you are doing very fine work, you need to up the resolution a bit for the tools to be even able to get to a required level of detail you need for small features.
That all said, I'm very new to sculpting, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt. I wish you all the best in your future sculpting!
I think the inflate, crease, pinch, smooth, and grab / snakehook brushes will get you most of the way there for the shark sculpt... and you can actually get pretty far sculpting, using just those ones. My workflow with dynamic topology is usually a lot of dragging out new forms using the snake hook, adding more mass with the inflate brush, detailing with the crease brush (add and substract are both useful), and polishing things off with a gentle inflate, then smooth, over the whole sculpture. It does seem like a lot to take in at first, but it become pretty intuitive over time. I'd recommend following Kents walkthrough fairly closely at first, then using it as more of a general guide, as you become more comfortable.
When it comes to sculpting, I advice practise, practise, practise.
Mesh modeling can be improved with knowledge, from the basics like extruding verts and inset faces to understanding edge flow, etc.
As well as knowledge, Sculpting is a technique which will improve given time.