Ever heard of practice, practice, practice? I did. But practice what and how? And how do I make sure that what I'm practicing is actually making me a better artist?
I've been dreaming of making beautiful art for years, inspired by amazing modern and classical works. I tried and failed and tried again. The progress I was making, if any, was negligible. And I couldn't understand why my art was not getting better.
Most things are relatively easy to learn. You read the instructions, you follow the instructions, and if you do both things well, then relatively quickly you become proficient at whatever it is that you are doing (math, reading, writing, driving, languages, etc).
Why doesn't learning to draw or paint work this way?
It does. But not as quickly. Unless the artist has amazing natural talent, one usually doesn't get immediate success or instant gratification. In fact, the student often gets rewarded with frustration instead of a sense of accomplishment after all the hard work.
So what are we doing wrong? Are we missing something important?
Yes and no. It's quite common that we're missing the correct mindset. Anyone who expects instant gratification from artistic effort is setting themselves up for disappointment and pain.
The secret to becoming a proficient and capable artist is in the correct practice routine.
Disregard the frustration, because it will always be there (at least that's what they tell me, and I believe them) and focus instead on following a routine or a training schedule, day after day, week after week. Art training needs to become a habit. But it will only become a habit if the training is enjoyable or gratifying. In a few months, or a few years, the accumulated skill will start coming through. Things which seemed impossible will suddenly become much more agreeable and less challenging to produce.
So what kind of practice routine gets us there?
Although I figured out a few things along the way, it's not until I saw Jazza's new youtube video, that I realize the success in learning art is as much hard work as it is following a smart training plan. I knew about the hard work part, but I couldn't figure out how to diversify my practice. Thanks to Jazza, we now have a clear and practical presentation on this topic:
Here's the summary of Jazza's video plus a few comments and notes which I felt like adding:
4 methods of training:
1. Innate - things you do on a regular basis if art is your job
2. Inspired - art that inspires you. Things you want to make studies of (copies of your favorite art), trying to get the look and feel that you enjoy. Copying is not a sin. Many of the things we learn, we learn by copying others. Claiming that a copy is your own original work is, or course, a no-no. Doing studies (copies) is like singing in the shower. It can be fun, but probably doesn't need an audience.
3. Developmental - the bread and butter of success. Drills, drills, drills. When your hands hurt, take some aspirin and do more drills. Or take a break. The latter is probably smarter.
4. All of the above 3 combined
6 types of developmental exercises:
1. Art study. Pick a picture you would like to study (copy). Draw it and redraw it over and over. Give yourself less time to draw it with each repetition. Good idea to use a timer for this one.
2. Life drawing. Take anything you see, from a human model to an old shoe, and put it on paper. Don't try to be "perfect" (there's no such thing). Do try to make several drawings from different angles in one session. If it looks like a mess, don't worry. You did the work. You turned 3D into 2D using the skills you have at this time. That was your goal. Creating a gallery-ready masterpiece was not the purpose of this work. Making you or your friends go "Wow!" was not the purpose either. Don't make it harder than it already is.
3. Tutorial marathon. Pick a tutorial, preferably something inspiring and fun, and do it over and over. Or pick a bunch of tutorials and do all of them in one session. Mix and match.
4. Deconstruction (simplify). Take complex scenes (photos, movie frames, art from your favorite artists) and reduce them to the most simple and basic shapes, or values, or colors (or all of the above).
5. Construction (fill in the blanks). Take simple representations of things: silhouettes or pictures of mannequins, or even random shapes. Fill these blank shapes with enough detail to clarify and describe the actual object (face, car, human, animal, rock, etc)
6. Practice based on your flaws. Whatever you are good at, you will naturally get better as long as you keep doing what you are doing. That's the easy part. Finding what gives you the most trouble (or mild discomfort) and patiently drawing or painting these subjects will eventually make the problem disappear. It will either "click" or gently become a natural part of your abilities. It will also become part of your comfort zone. Make sure you always find the time to work just outside of your comfort zone, but don't push too far. Practicing art does not have to be a painful experience. We want to continue working and improving, not quitting and starting over, right?
Happy art training!
Huge thanks to Jazza. The man is a brilliant artist and an excellent teacher.