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.