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. 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.



Sunday, March 13, 2016

On Practicing and Frustration

I confess, the further I try go, the more I struggle. I tried every possible method of learning that I could think of and every time it seems that the reward for the time and effort invested into practice was disproportionately small. Sometimes even negligible.

So I started paying more attention to the general theory of learning and acquisition of knowledge, not just ways to improve my drawing and painting skills.

After observing Anthony Jones, how he learns and how he works, it became apparent to me that I'm doing something wrong. For several months now, Anthony kept insisting that my practice should always be mindful, above all else. Here's what he taught me:

1. set a goal and attempt to reach it (let's say, draw a proportionate human figure in 10 minutes)
2. when first attempts fail, figure out what went wrong
3. ask questions
4 form a possible solution
5 test it
6. go back to step 1

In other words, engage in deliberate mindful practice. Not just practice for the sake of practice, but practice by trying, failing and thinking.

For some strange reason, although his advice and approach makes perfect sense, I still have a hard time following it. Usually around step 2, right when I fail, my 4 decades-long habit of bringing everything I've got to a fight would kick in and instead of thinking for 5 minutes and trying something else, I'd just attack and attack, only to realize, completely overwhelmed and frustrated, that 2 hours have gone by and all have to show for it is nothing but a heap of failed attempts with no solution in sight.

I know you must be reading this and thinking I am an idiot. And you might be right. But I'm not alone and I'm writing this article for stubborn, hard-headed people like me. People like us don't fail for lack of trying, we fail because we fight, then we get exhausted , then we pass out. Then we do it all over again. And sometimes we crush our obstacles, but usually it's our bones that get broken first.

So here are a few things to possibly consider for us, the "shoot first, ask questions later" crowd :

"Remember that practicing is learning: learning to practice is only a specialized version of learning to learn, and learning starts with thought. Remember, activity is key. Now get off your butt and go practice. Or rather, get off your butt and go learn."

I linked the rest here:  Henry Myers and his excellent article "The Case for Active Practicing"

Currently, I practice, on average anywhere between 6 and 16 hours a day. And with all that, I'm still not getting the results one would expect from so many hours invested into a craft. I keep seeing accounts written by established artists who insist that a healthy and productive daily practice schedule should be somewhere between 2 and 6 hours. No more. I've yet to wrap my mind around that one, but here's a good article by Noa Kageyama, Ph.D. supporting this perspective with reasonable and sound arguments, I feel compelled to review and adjust my own views on the matter.:

How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?

So here's what I'll do: I'm willing to try to go against my nature and do something different for the next 4 weeks.

I will not work hard and I will not try to overpower unmovable obstacles.

Instead, I will work in 10 minute increments only. For every 10 minutes of work, I will spend 10 minutes thinking and observing and another 5 minutes resting and relaxing. Then I will spend 30 minutes experimenting. And only then will I approach my task again for 10 minutes

That's it for this week, kids: even more unanswered questions and a tiny bit of progress. But maybe I'll get it this time? We'll know soon enough. Cliffhanger! :)

Here are a few sketches from my painting and design class with Anthony Jones



If I could leave you with a single thought, remember that practicing is learning: learning to practice is only a specialized version of learning to learn, and learning starts with thought. Remember, activity is key. Now get off your butt and go practice.
Or rather, get off your butt and go learn.
- See more at: http://stringvisions.ovationpress.com/2011/12/the-case-for-active-practicing/#sthash.Kf0Uv17o.dpuf

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Learn Squared: Week 2 Studying with Anthony Jones

Week 2 was both brutal and eye-opening.

Week 1 ended with my realizing that I'm nowhere near where I intended to be at this point in my training. Everything was hit and miss, heavier on the miss side. I decided to completely submit to the training procedure Anthony was advocating and follow it as precisely as I possibly could:

1. study, test, review, study, test, etc.
2. time everything in 5 to 10 minute intervals.

Here's are some of my most productive tests for the week:



And here's what I found out while reviewing my test results:

1. My related lines were too far apart, while my unrelated lines were too close together.
Solution: Fix this and the drawing flows almost on its own.

2. Ambiguous strokes and lines, laid down without a specific purpose, confuse the viewer and prevent a good story from being told. It's like telling a story about a princess and an apple while using random words related to heavy industrial equipment.

Solution: Keep lines and strokes clean, meaningful and precise. Random messy marks create dirt and accomplish nothing.

3. Thick broad lines describe the concept of the story,
Medium lines present the plot, characters and setting,
Thin lines make the story come alive, they make the story real, by giving it detail, pacing and rhythm.

Solution: use all 3 types of lines (strokes) in meaningful priority.

So that's been my week. Lots of ups and downs. But I learned a few very valuable lessons along the way. I hope your week is going swimmingly. Thanks for reading this.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

At Terminal Velocity

Hello everyone,

I'm approaching the finish line of the timeframe I've set for myself back in 2012 when I started this project. I'm almost at the end of my official training. Of course, that does not mean I will not train anymore. I will continue to do so daily, if all goes well, as I've been doing for the last 4 years.

My final big push is currently underway with Anthony Jones' "Painting with Confidence" class at Learn Squared

Today, I will post my notes from the first week of my Painting with Confidence class and show a couple of studies I did as part of my homework for the first week.

1. Stay focused on 1 or 2 things at a time
  - do it well, as best as you possibly can; use precise, clean thick/thin lines and precise clean strokes
 - after test, write down what you did wrong
 - write down what you learned
- identify a shape precisely before you size it
- size a shape precisely before you place it
2. Test/ Focus, Correction (with everything from point 1 in mind)
3. Discover how to get it right, don't guess
 - from biggest shapes to smallest + negative (see example in the image)
 - always thin lines, except:
  . ambient occlusion / contact shadows
  . cast shadow side
 . exact point of overlap
4. Overlap + cast shadow (thick/thin lines) go hand in hand
5. Rendering skill: 10 - 20 hours marathon to finish 1 painting
6. Knowing that push-ups make you stronger will not make you stronger; practicing push-ups without correct form and knowledge will usually be an ineffective waste of time and effort.
- doing studies is how you gain knowledge, but not skill
- doing careful practice and thoughtful repetition is how you acquire skill, but limited knowledge



Here are some of the 10 minute studies I did for this class



That's all for now. I expect I will make 1 more post before I close this blog and start a new one. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read this.