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 trainig 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. Freehand Sketching - Paul Laseau
4. Watercolor Sketching - Paul Laseau
5. Pen and Ink Drawing - Alphonso Dunn
6. Everything by Bridgman
7. Everything by Jack Hamm
8. Painting by Design - Charles Reid
9. Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators - David H. Ross
10. The Artist's Complete Guide to Drawing the Head - William L. Maughan
11. Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators - Mike Mattesi
12. 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

Here's some recent stuff I've been doing. When time allows, I'll post something more relevant to help illustrate my training process.

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.





Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ordinary Things

Jim Rohn  once said: "Lifestyle is really nothing more than the art of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well."

That got me thinking: how do we decide, individually, what is "good" art and what is "bad". Of course, there is no such thing as good or bad art, but why does one piece go unnoticed, while another stops us in our tracks.

We know it's not the craftsmanship, or subject matter, or how much time was spent making the piece. It's none of those things and it's all of those things.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to quantify art, especially when it comes to creative endeavors. I don't spend every waking hour in search of the "magic formula". To me, good art is a reward in itself. But wouldn't it be nice to have some kind of guideline as we put more and more hours into our work?

I think so. And that brings me back to Jim Rohn's observation. Sometimes an artist will manifest something that's never been done before. And that is amazing when it happens. But it rarely does. So what should we do with the rest of our lives? What do we do when divine inspiration doesn't seem to be coming through?

Doing ordinary things extraordinarily well sounds like a worthwhile goal.

Here's an example. We use words everyday (or almost every day). Everybody can do it, everybody has to do it. Some people use words in such a way that nobody wants to listen to them, others make a living using words, and there is a select group of people who say a single word and the whole world listens.

With that in mind, let's see how this applies to visual storytelling:

letters and sounds are strokes and lines,
words, idioms and grammar correspond to tonal values and structure,
sentences and paragraphs are composition.

All these elements come together for a single purpose: communicate a story, deliver a message.

When these ordinary elements are prepared and presented extraordinarily well, it makes for an extraordinary story. When done right, amazing results appears to be effortless. To quote Jim Rohn once again, it's easy to do and it's easy not to do. Time will go by anyway. Best to put our time to good use and do small ordinary things very well, one little thing at a time.

Here is my final for Anthony Jones' Painting with Confidence class.

Final week was rough for me. I finally took my painting to a refined finish. Getting from a blank page to first image was easier and quicker than getting from the first one to second. Learned a lot in the process.






Thursday, April 7, 2016

Confusion of Natural Progress

Reaching goals is a straightforward process, in theory: you estimate where you are, you decide where you want to be, you work hard, you arrive at your destination.

Easy, right?

Would've been great if it were. It never works this way. All good plans fall apart as soon as they touch reality. Think about it this way: a ship or a plane leaves from point A and arrives at point B. One would think that it's possible only because it stayed the course the whole way. Quite the opposite. Most of the journey is spent off-course, being pushed around by wind and gravity and many other forces. And yet, at the end of it all, the vessel usually arrives safely at its destination.

I had the hardest time embracing this concept. For some reason, I expected to be able to draw better on Tuesday than I did on Monday. And why wouldn't I, I put in the effort and the hours, I'm entitled to a visible increase in skill, aren't I?

Apparently not. Until the invention of the modern engine, vessels used to rely on wind or muscle power. But the wind has a tendency to change direction, even reverse it, while muscles need rest. And when the vessel is not being pushed ahead by human will, it drifts. There's no way around it.

I used to stress and worry when I was drifting. I would go to sleep feeling good about my progress only to find myself the next morning being unable to replicate the success of the previous day. That would often trigger anxiety and frustration. I should have rested or doodled, or did something else entirely, let nature take its course, but instead, I would push on. I wasted precious energy and focus which would have been better spent later, saved for a time when the wind was ready to fill my sails and put me closer to my destination.

On the journey between the two ports, drifting and detours are inevitable. The calm motionless waters are there to remind us that we should also be calm and relaxed, we should trust that our vessel will take us where we intend to go.

Struggling and worrying when the forces of nature are not working in our favor leaves us fatigued and unable to take advantage of opportunities when things finally turn around.

Regardless of favorable or unfavorable circumstances, our job is easy to define: we ought to make sure our prow is always pointing at our destination, no matter where we are at sea, and always be prepared to give our best effort when the winds and the waves start pushing us toward our goal.

I'm learning to embrace this and be comfortable to take one step forward even if I seem to kept ending up two steps back. Even when my senses are trying to trick me when my journey forward inevitably goes off my imaginary course, I still know where I'm going. And if I know where I'm going, there's a very good chance that through the storm and the still, I will arrive in due time.

May we always have wind in our sails and a hand's width of water under our keel.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Week 4 with Anthony Jones

I'm improving, but my values still need a lot more work. I will keep on practicing. Here are a few pieces from this week.