When helping other bronies learn to draw in this artstyle, I ended up saying the same thing over and over. So, to save everyone time, here's the path I took and how it worked for me:
When I first looked to learn the style, I found some guides that were helpful, but a little too much like the Spongebob method:
Even the basic shapes and styles they showed were beyond me. I needed a more structured approach. So I decided to create my own guide instead and to start, I studied the official art.
This first test was based on the idea that cartoon characters are usually drawn from the head first using a guiding circle (or so it seemed to me). In this case, I started to notice patterns: hair attaches at exactly a 2/3rds point in the upper fourth, the three lines of the ear work similarly, and the horn (for unicorns) is exactly at the half-way mark. Doing it this way also helped me position the nose, the eye and any other parts as well.
Next I needed to see how the rest of the body was drawn. I created another similar graphic for that.
Keep in mind I realize this is probably way more complex than you might think is necessary, but this is just a starting point. I had to do it the hard way to get the proportions right and place all the parts correctly.
In my opinion, it worked pretty well for me:
My plan was to gain more practice by doing straight shots next. First the guide:
And the result:
After completing both profiles and front-shots, I wanted practice with the super expressive faces. I collected a ton of screenshots from the show and did faces for each (without any guides, just freehanding now that I had the basics down):
At that point, I was finally able to start working on comics and plan to do more original art, but the key after getting the basic is to practice! Have a project (for me, it's the comics), but I still use lots of reference images from the show to make sure I'm staying as close to authentic as possible:
That's it! Don't be afraid to use a reference or even trace something exactly and make necessary changes. The more you draw and practice, the better you'll get!
And for those that were wondering, no, I DON'T use these guides and draw all those circles and lines anymore. I did it ONCE ever because that's all it took to learn the style. You use training wheels until you get your balance right?