Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The fastest way to learn how to draw and paint: the deeper dive

Almost half a year has gone by since my last post. I'm happy to report that my main approach to training hasn't changed. Everything I said before still holds. In fact, I've become even more focused on making copies, studies and experimenting with my own designs.

I would like to mention a few concepts I keep in mind when I train. They help me to maintain my focus and move forward, regardless of how big the artistic challenge in front of me may be.

Hundreds and thousands of drawings need to be made before progress becomes apparent, so work faster!

You are NOT drawing a picture! Making a picture is the job of a camera or a copy machine.

Instead, you aim to describe what you see and feel: there is no right or wrong, only accurate or inaccurate to your own perception. Don't think good or bad, correct or wrong, instead think: how dark is a surface, what is its local color and the value of that color, what is its shape, how wide is the shape, how tall is it, what's its color, is it lit or is it in the dark (not the same as the first item on the list: how dark is a surface)?

Instead of using words to tell someone about what you see and believe, use lines and strokes. Writers use words, musicians use sound, artists use lines, shapes and colors.

Don't try to paint what you think the object looks like, instead describe it, tell yourself and others everything about it which you can observe and understand. What an object looks like is irrelevant and fleeting, what you understand about it is why you put pencil to paper.

Keep in mind that your art is always good, as long as you do everything you can to tell your story about what you see. The more you describe your thoughts, the more you show the impressions of what you see and feel, the better your art becomes.

Only you know what you see, only you can train yourself to see things with more clarity and deeper understanding, no art program or teacher can do it for you. Watch, draw, check if your drawing clearly and accurately describes what you see, correct, do it all over again. And again.

Currently I'm going through a book of anatomical studies by Michel Lauricella, called Morpho. Here are some of my studies from the book. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve their understanding of artistic anatomy.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Deliberate practice for drawing and painting

A few years into my training, I naturally fell into a somewhat demanding, but very effective method of practice. Those of you who follow my blog might know that I decided to get serious about my training in art a few months after I turned 40. I set out to learn how to make art that would make me happy and to prove that art is not a talent, but a skill, which can be learned at almost any age.

Before I go any further, for those of you who don't have time to read the rest, here's the training method in a nutshell:

1.For each session, set clear, small, achievable, realistic goals.
2. Find mistakes in your drawing or painting and apply step one to correct those.
3. Get feedback: if you don't have a mentor, compare your work side by side with art made by your favorite artists. Better yet, get a mentor or a coach who can guide you through your mistakes and corrections.

If you are interested in the details, please read on.

So I decided to fulfill my lifelong dream of being able to make beautiful drawings and paintings. Some would say that I made an unreasonable decision so late in my life and the sacrifices I made were not worth it.

I would have disagreed with those people then, and I would certainly disagree now with anyone who claims that there is such a thing as being "too old" to start learning a major skill, or even a whole new mindset. Not only would I disagree, but I can say that I am living proof that one can accomplish his or her goals at practically any age.

Before I explain my training strategy, I would like to admit that I always belonged to the camp of people who are skeptical about the value of natural talent. Some time into my training, I realized that I was partially wrong: having some talent would've been nice. It would have made my life a bit easier along the way. However, in the long run, almost any talent is irrelevant.

Natural talent will give you a slight advantage in how quickly you learn a very specific subset of a broader skill, and one will enjoy such an advantage mostly in the early stages of learning. However, once things get difficult and complicated, our ability to succeed in our endeavors boils down to how hard we can work, how much we can focus and pay attention, and how creative we become as we adapt and rise up to difficult challenges and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The training method I stumbled upon through much trial and error, as I later found out, is called deliberate practice. This approach proved to be the most efficient way to break down any barriers and learn anything that I was capable of learning.

Much has already been said about this method. I believe there are several excellent books on the market on this subject. "The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How" by Daniel Coyle and "Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else Paperback" by Geoff Colvin are 2 books on the matter which, judging by their reviews, are excellent reads. Please keep in mind, that these are not my recommendations. I never read books on deliberate practice. When I have time and energy, I usually invest it into the practice itself: I try to draw, paint and design at every possible opportunity. If you do end up reading these books, please drop me a line and tell me what you thought.

My deliberate practice follows 3 major steps:

1. For each session, try to set clear, small, achievable, realistic goals. Every few drawings deliberately stop, make note of your mistakes and try to figure out what's causing them. These mistakes are your practice goals for the next session

2. If, after step 1, you can't see much of anything being wrong, try to get feedback:
a. measure your drawing against the target (if you are doing a study), or
b. Compare your drawing/painting side by side with the target. When I say "target", I don't mean a copy or a study. I am, instead, referring to art inspired by your favorite artist. Put yours and that artist's work side by side and make notes on how the two are different. Your notes should be productive. "Mine sucks and artist A is awesome" isn't going to work. You need to quantify: is artist A using more/less strokes than you, is artist A's work more elaborate or more simplistic, is artist A producing more accurate human figures than you, etc., etc.
c. Find a coach or a mentor. Find someone who would look at your work with a critical, yet professional and experienced eye and tell you what he or she thinks is off about your work, compared to the target art you are working toward.

3. Rest! This practice takes a tremendous amount of concentration and it also builds your ability to focus. Just like with any other type of  rigorous activity, your body needs time to recover. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and getting enough rest between sessions. Some say you don't need to practice like that for more than a few hours a day, but I prefer to go as much as my body can take. I often take a whole day off between days of intensive deliberate training to allow my brain and nervous system to "cool down".

A terrific method of deliberate practice, which I adapted to art improvement, is based on a story I read about how Benjamin Franklin increased his writing skills. I won't go into the details of Franklin's story, I will describe my approach instead. If you would like to learn more about my source of inspiration, do a search on "Benjamin Franklin deliberate practice".

This is a great way to conduct deliberate practice with studies:
1. Examine a drawing/painting by your favorite artist. Write down the description of the overall scene, who's doing what, what they are wearing, what are the most striking features of the art piece, it's mood, it's main message or raison d'etre, etc.
2. Draw or paint the same exact scene or subject from your own knowledge, understanding and reference, without looking at the original piece
3. Compare your piece to the original inspiration: put them side by side and take note of what you did differently and why, what is clearly lacking and in need of improvement and what you did well and even better than the original.

I hope these strategies will help you in your training as much as they helped me. Always remember that excellence in drawing and painting doesn't happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and always keep in mind that your art is your own. It has value because nobody could make it exactly the way you did. Your art describes how you see the world around you. There is no right or wrong, but there is what you like and what you don't like. Using this deliberate practice approach, you can efficiently reduce the unwanted in your art and increase the aspects which bring you happiness.

Happy drawing and painting!

Here are a few of my latest sketches.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fastest way to learn how to draw

5 years ago I've set out to learn how to draw and paint and find the best training techniques.

Turns out, the answer was simple:  you learn to draw and paint by copying drawings and paintings made by someone much better than you. You copy stuff over and over thousands and thousands of times. That's the secret.

Here's what  you will need: 

1. Most importantly, you will need to throw away all the mental and emotional garbage and become singularly focused on one thought: this art stuff is a skill! Just like any other skill it can and will be learned through effort, patience and ridiculous amount of repetition.
2. A few good books to learn a few important theoretical concepts. I listed them for you at the bottom of this text. You will also need one very important book: an art book with your favorite artist's  drawings and paintings. If you can't get the book, find pictures of the artist's work on the web and use the highest resolution possible for your studies. You should be able to see every single detail, every curve and stroke.
3. You will need to learn never to judge yourself or the "quality" of your art; let others do it for you, and when they do it, don't listen to anything they say.
4. You will have to learn to set aside from a few minutes to a few hours every day or every other day, when you can not be bothered or distracted by anyone or anything, except your own thoughts and your art practice. And even if you do nothing during your art time, you still are not allowed to judge yourself or your art. An hour spent in quiet meditation on the problems and possible solutions is just as useful and productive as an hour spent drawing or painting.

In other words, you will need to learn to have unshakeable faith in yourself and your ability to reach your goals, no matter the circumstances or the words, thoughts and opinions of everyone around you. You will also need lots of patience and energy. Take frequent breaks, relax into your training and make sure you get plenty of rest to stay focused and energized during your practice sessions.

It took me a while to figure this out. The world is filled with information which is mostly useless and often harmful to artistic progress. For some reason, this poor information is ubiquitous and  is repeated over and over across many channels. When I started this journey I didn't know any better, didn't even know where to begin. I followed many of these bad leads, wasted several thousand dollars along with precious months of my life on classes and training materials which were completely useless to me. I was hitting very painful dead-ends over and over. Eventually I figured out how to tell the difference between what helps me improve my art and what doesn't.

After all these trials, the wins and the losses, I would like to share with you what I know. I hope to make your journey easier and less frustrating.

Around the time I turned 40, I decided that I needed to become better at art. My first goal was to learn how to make believable pictures representing what I see in front of me or in my mind's eye. I didn't want to be good at drawing a few things, I wanted to be able to draw and paint anything and everything with a high degree of fidelity. My second goal was to learn how to draw an accurate and believable human figure in less than 30 minutes. My third goal was to find the quickest way to achieve my first 2 goals.

I've reached or came close to achieving most of my targets. Of course, it will take years to perfect my craft and my ability, but my main objectives have been reached.  Here are a few before and after images for your entertainment and education. The stuff on the left I did in my mid 30s. The images on my right are relatively current (as of 2017). You be the judge of how much I improved.

So how do you get from random unskilled scribbles to the image on the left, and then, to the image on the right?

Crude repetition and copying over and over from someone with superior skill is how human beings acquire knowledge and abilities. You and I learned to speak by copying our parents for several years, then we copied our friends and teachers. We learned to write by copying letters from the schoolbook. We learn to play an instrument by watching another musician play, mimicking him or her and by playing countless scales. 

This is how every single brilliant artist learned the craft. Leonardo spent several years copying his master, Michelangelo copied his, Mozart copied his father, Beethoven played the scales, copied his father and his teacher, etc.

That's all there is to it. Depending on how naturally talented you are, it can take between several months and several years before you become fluent in painting and drawing. But your ability and skill will surely become part of your being if you make enough repetitions. And yes, it is often a very boring process. That is the reason why there are so few very good artists among us. Very few people are willing to do so much hard work and have almost no material rewards to show for it.

If you love art and you want to be good at it, I can't think of a faster, more direct way to reach your goals.

You can find an extensive list of books at the bottom of this post. These books helped me understand what it was that I was trying to accomplish and helped me work out the quickest strategies to reach my goals. I hope these wonderful books will be helpful to you as well. 

All that aside, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, you only need need one single book to get started. 

If you don't already have it, obtain a book filled with artwork by your favorite artist. The most useful book will have sketches, line drawings, and finished art (paintings or inks), but any art book will do, as long as you love the art in it and the art is created by 1 artist. I do not recommend doing studies of more than 1 artist at a time!

That being said, there must be people out there who thrive on variety of artistic input. I don't think doing studies from more than one artist at a time is effective, but I wouldn't be surprised if some gifted artist with superhuman natural abilities proved me wrong. The only way any of this will work is if you find the best approach which makes sense to you. I can only share my experience and give you my guidelines. It's up to you to take what I offer and turn it into your own success.

And on that note, here is how I learn and practice.

I will explain a few key concepts first. Once you understand them, repeating them over and over will allow you to build tremendous skill in a short amount of time.

1. Every drawing or painting is made out of lines (strokes)
2. There are no lines in nature. Everything you see around you is made out of shapes which blend in and out of each other according to the light they reflect into your eye.

That is precisely why drawing and painting is often such a difficult and frustrating task. To solve this problem, you need to learn how to convert a line-less image into a series of lines or strokes. The job of an artist is to see the world around him or her and represent it on a physical surface as a series of marks.

Since there are no lines in nature, the first line you draw is always correct. A single line on a surface doesn't yet define a shape. It can represent anything and nothing. Never hesitate to boldly put it down. It's impossible to go wrong with the first line!

The second line is never correct. All your effort and practice for the rest of your life will go into making the second line as correct, precise, accurate and expressive as humanly possible. Our mind connects these first two lines and sees a shape they represent. And shapes is how we see the world around us. Now it gets serious.

To become a master at shapes, you will need lots of practice. Here the practice procedure I use:

1. open your favorite art book on your favorite page (or any page at random)
2. pick an image
3. pick a line in the image
4. draw a line  on your paper or your screen
5. see if the line you drew looks like the line you were drawing from the book page. There is no way to tell how accurate it is without a second line, so don't spend any more time or effort on this. Move on to the next step
6. find another line in the picture. Best if this second line is close to the first.
7. make a copy of that second line

Now compare the 2 lines in your drawing to the 2 lines in the original image.

Do they look exactly the same, the lines themselves, their shape, their twist, their lengths in relation to each other, the space between the 2 lines, the angle between them, etc. Most importantly, does the shape these two lines form in your study match the shape in the original image?

If not, repeat steps 3 to 6. 

If your lines are correct, pick a third line inn the image and copy it. Now observe if the 3 lines in your study match the 3 lines in the image you are copying from. Observe all attributes: length, width, twist, angle, the space between all 3 lines, etc.

You will then add a 4th line, a 5th and eventually the whole image will be copied. The study will be complete. If your study looks close to the original, pick a new image and do all of this again. If your copy does not look like the source image, start over.

That's it. Learning to draw well is not a magic trick, nor is it a gift from the gods. It's patience and practice. It will hurt, I'm sorry to say. If you don't quit you will become an excellent draftsman and you will understand how to apply this same method to learning how to draw or paint with value and color. The procedure is always the same.

The secret: thousands of hours of study (copy). Just like in every other field of human endeavor. This practice to an artist is what playing scales is to a musician or memorizing and reading lines is to an actor.

Will this make you a great artist? No, it won't. The art is already in you and only you can unlock it. 

But your artistic abilities can only be unlocked after you have full control of your hands, eyes and your mark-making tools.You need to be an experienced mark and image maker before you can become a good artist. You don't need to be as good as anybody else, but you need to be as good as you can be.

Here are the most important books which I would recommend to anyone serious about their art education:

1. Drawing the Head & Figure - Jack Hamm
2.  Light for Visual Artists: Understanding & Using Light in Art & Design - Richard Yot
3. Draw Naturally - Allan Kraayvanger
4. How to Draw - Scott Robertson
5. Any decent anatomy book you can afford. I use Artistic Anatomy by Richer Hale and the 2 anatomy books by Peck. Most anatomy diagrams are available on the internet today, so having these books on your shelf is not critical.

Here are some of the most important books on my shelf. Life would be hard without them:
1. All art instruction books by Jack Hamm 
2. The Natural Way to Draw - Nicolaides
3. Alla Prima - Richard Schmid
4. Composition of Outdoor Painting - Payne
5. Keys to Drawing - Bert Dodson 
6. All books by George B. Bridgman
7. All books by Hogarth
8. Books by Loomis

Good luck and I hope to see your amazing art in the near future. Don't forget to start posting your work on your walls, on walls which are not yours (get permission first, please), on the internet, or all of the above. Here are some of my studies.


Monday, December 5, 2016

How I Practice

I started learning to draw and paint in earnest when I was 40 years old. Making art can be a very challenging endeavor. Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. After doing art training for about 4 years on an almost daily basis, I encountered more than enough walls I needed to knock down.

I ended up designing my own training methods, based on what I learned from my talented instructors and through the observation of my own mental habits, by paying attention to what I do efficiently and how I do it.


I will introduce diagrams and pictures when I find more time. Right now, here's an outline.

Biggest art myth:
Draw a lot, draw whatever you like and you will become a great artist.

Theoretically that is correct. Practically this advice is no different than saying:

Count everything, look at everything around you and try to express it through math. With enough practice you will become an amazing mathematician.

Obviously, this is not how things work in the real world. For the majority of people interested in doing art, following this advice is the surest way to quite out of sheer frustration.

Learning art consists of 2 main parts:
1. Learning as much as we can about the world around us (anatomy, perspective, optics, principles of design and aesthetics, mechanics, etc.). This you learn from books and lectures.
2. Practicing the physical and mental skills involved in art-making.

Information on the former is readily available all over the internet in a multitude of forms.

Information on the latter is hard to come by. I do not come from an artistic family, nor did I have ready access to art mentors until recently. I spent years on my own struggling, testing and verifying practical methods of efficient study of art-making. I feel it might help someone if I share what I learned.

Here are some axioms which can be helpful to absorb:

1. We cannot draw or paint what we don't know, i.e. see in our mind's eye
2. We learn by copying the behavior of those who are more skilled (we learned to speak by listening to the people around us, we learned in school by following our teachers, we learned specialized things by analyzing and studying how the masters of those specialized fields arrived at their results)
 3.We get better only through repetition and regular challenges (reduced time to complete a task, unusually high quality standards, assignments involving new or infrequently used knowledge and skills, etc)

It follows that:

1. We can't expect to be able to draw something complex or unusual (human body, poses, animals, patterns, complex machinery and architecture, nature, landscapes, etc) without hours of studying and practice.
2. We cannot create "original" art from scratch without hours of tracing, copying and studying existing art (paintings, drawings, photographs).
3. We cannot get worse by practicing. The reason we sometimes feel we are doing worse today than we did yesterday, is because our minds are able to become more attuned to the subtleties of the subject faster than our muscles can express our new found understanding. What we can imagine is not always what our muscles can instantly follow.
4. Thinking we can do something and doing something is not the same thing. The former is fantasy and it is easy, the latter is reality and it is hard.
5. No matter what we are taught or how we are instructed to practice, we can only paint and draw what we see and understand. There is no better way to learn to do art, than by doing art without judgement or self-deprecation. You are who you are and not everyone will be happy with that. Instead of trying to please those who don't like your work, bring joy to yourself and to those who appreciate what you do by making more art that is you.

Here's my training philosophy and routine:

Physical skills account for around 70% of art-making, while 30% of art comes from our knowledge (of art-making and the subject we are trying to convey). Don't quote me on the numbers, I made them up. It feels right to me.

All physical skills are best acquired when extreme limitations are in place. Through repetition, the skill level increases and past limitations become the new normal. Working within limitations is a traumatizing experience, which is exactly why it triggers our natural adaptation mechanisms. Our new skills is nothing more than our adaptation to challenging circumstances.

Therefore, use challenges sparingly, no more than once or twice a week if you are doing short sessions, or once per session if you are practicing a full workday. You do not want your art to become constant torture. Peaks and valleys is the way to progress and maintain your sanity.

Drawing - regular training (equivalent of physical conditioning and stamina training)

Do not judge! Do not correct! Work as fast as you can, do not slow down! Produce as many copies as you can!

When you start slowing down or start judging, it means your mind and body are tired. Do not push past this point! Take a break. Rest. Then continue or start over.

Start by working in 20 to 30 minute intervals with 5 minutes of rest. Increase to 1 hour 30 minutes of drawing with 10 to 20 minutes of rest :

1. Trace or copy with grid (this is critical, do not skip this step - your muscles learn directly even if your brain tunes out)
2. Copy by observation (your muscles and mind are training to work together)
3. Sketch or doodle from imagination (your muscles and mind learn to apply everything you learned and make it your own)
 Drawing - Adaptation challenges (equivalent of physical "to failure" and "interval training"):

Method 1:  Make a precise copy of your chosen reference or study, as close to the source as you possibly can
Do not use grids or any other instruments. The goal is to copy with precision through observation. Now judge it. Overlay it over the original and note everything you did wrong.

Method 2: Time it! draw or paint the same thing within a given time interval, then reduce the interval, and reduce it some more. After drawing or painting within the shortest interval, start increasing the time interval. This method is based on one of the most valuable training techniques I learned from Anthony Jones.

15 min - 10 min - 5min -3 min -1 min - 30 sec - 1 min - 5 min - 10 min. 

Use a kitchen timer,  google timer in your browser, or the timer on your phone to keep track of the intervals.

Painting regular training:

Do everything you did for drawing but apply it in stages:
1. 2 value practice
2. 3 value practice
3. 5 value practice
4. color practice

Painting - adaptation challenges:
same as what you did with drawing, except apply it to painting with an increasing number of values (the scheme you used in painting regular training).

Before I wrap this up, I feel I should elaborate on the topic of reference. I recommend using drawings or paintings by your favorite artists, individual movie frames, photographs, etc.

Please make sure that if you are going to be showing your work to someone else or posting it on the web, always give credit to the original creator by indicating directly on your study image that it is a study after an artists, photographer or a frame from a movie. Always write the name of the artist (photographer) or the title of the movie. It's the right thing to do and it will keep you out of trouble. If you intend to sell your studies, make sure to get legal advice first. My advice only applies to private non-commercial effort.

I understand that my method might appear a bit convoluted. I'm making these notes for myself and I'm skipping a large number of nuances. If you have any questions, please contact me on Facebook or through Instagram. Search for my name or my username "Dreamrayfactory".

In closing, here is a short list of books I found most helpful in my studies:
  1. The Natural Way to Draw by Nicolaides
  2. The Practice and Science of Drawing - Harold Speed
  3. Everything by Bridgman
  4. Morpho - Michel Lauricella
  5. Freehand Sketching - Paul Laseau
  6. Watercolor Sketching - Paul Laseau
  7. Pen and Ink Drawing - Alphonso Dunn
  8. Everything by Jack Hamm
  9. Painting by Design - Charles Reid
  10. Figure Drawing for Concept Artists - Kan Muftic
  11. Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators - David H. Ross
  12. The Artist's Complete Guide to Drawing the Head - William L. Maughan
  13. Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators - Mike Mattesi
  14. Figure Drawing Design and Invention - Michael Hampton
  15. Draw Naturally - Allan Kraayvanger

Here are 3 excellent books you might want to add to your collection, if you are looking for something more advanced:
1. Composition of Outdoor Painting - Edgar Payne
2. Light for Visual Artists - Richard Yot
3. Alla Prima - Richard Schmid

Hope you find this info useful and thanks for reading this wall of text :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Design 201 with Carlos Huante Week 3 and daily stuff

This is the anthropomorphic stuff I submitted for my 3rd week homework

I also aim to do contour studies daily, both figure and portraits. Did a small set of constructed figures on a whim the other day. I post most of this stuff on my FB page or my Instagram. And there's the fun color sketch I designed in Alchemy and added color in Photoshop at the end of this list.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Just when I thought I was out...

I'm taking another class. Although my original plan was to take a class with A Smarter Art School or Learn Squared, that's not what happened.

Turns out,  Concept Art Workshop (created by Ryan Kingslien and Travis Bourbeau) is hosting a class taught by one of my all-time favorite artists: Carlos Huante.

I'm in the 3rd week of the class now. More challenging than I expected, but I'm learning a tremendous amount of new things and fixing old problems. Loving it. Here's my progress so far.

I never submitted some of the images. Cringe-worthy stuff. But I'm including them here, so that my journey is documented as fully as possible.

Week 1. Was quite proud of myself:

That changed when Carlos pointed out some very basic mistakes that I was making. Quite embarrassing, but that's why I'm taking the class :).

Week 2 came around and the very first image is a disaster. I then figured out what I was doing wrong,  focused on what I learned from Anthony Jones and from my first review with Carlos. The rest of the batch came out progressively better:

Presented the last 3 images in class. Still making a lot of mistakes. Back to the drawing board :) More anthropomorphic stuff next week.

Just when I thought I was out...

I'm taking another class. And that's after I promised myself that if I take one more class, it will be only with A Smarter Art School or Learn Squared.

Then I find out that Concept Art Workshop (created by Ryan Kingslien and Travis Bourbeau) is hosting a class taught by one of my all-time favorite artists: Carlos Huante.

I'm in the 3rd week of the class now. More challenging than I expected, but I'm learning a tremendous amount of new things and fixing old problems. Loving it. Here's my progress so far.

Oh, yeah, before I forget: some of the images I never submitted. They sucked. Cringe-worthy stuff. But I'm including them here, so that my journey is documented as fully as possible.

Week 1. Was quite proud of myself:

That changed when Carlos pointed out some very basic mistakes that I was making. Quite embarrassing, but that's why I'm taking the class :).

Week 2 came around and the very first image is a disaster. I quickly figured out what I was doing wrong,  focused on what I learned from Anthony Jones and in my first review with Carlos. The rest of the batch came out much better:

Presented the last 3 images in class. Still making a lot of mistakes. Back to the drawing board :) More anthropomorphic stuff next week.