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.