Recently I watched a webinar about how to learn art skills. A lot of times artists are told to just practice, but not given the mechanics of how or what that even means. I realized as I was watching and taking copious notes that I have been passively learning little bits here and there, getting familiarity with some techniques, but not mastering any of them.
To master something you have to break it down and study each segment in detail until you know everything about the parts and how they go together. For me, I’m pretty good about drawing whatever I’ve got sitting in front of me. I can even add a couple of techniques to make it stylized. What I’m not good at is drawing from my imagination. I’m lacking mastery of the fundamentals that are required.
I’ve devised some lessons for myself that I will post here to keep track and assess my progress. Feel free to take from these as you like and adjust them to suit whatever it is you’re trying to learn. For me I will be starting with digital portraiture. I recently got a Ugee 1560 and I definitely need to do some drills to get myself using it daily and improving my digital drawing skills. These are not always fun. Some are tedious. Learning doesn’t have to be fun though. It has to be stimulating and that’s not always the same thing.
My first step was to decide on my goal and then break it down into chunks to create the first couple of lessons. I went through my books and put sticky notes in every one that had a section on the head, making note of whether it was about the skull, musculature, eyes, nose, mouth, expressions, etc. The books I am mainly focusing on are Drawing the Head & Hands by Andrew Loomis (the primary book to study as it comes highly recommended for learning and developing skills with portraits specifically), Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck (which is very technical and has intricate illustrations from all angles of the skull and musculature and how it works), Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook by Betty Edwards (which has some very good exercises I’ve used when teaching 5th-8th grade portraiture), and Anyone Can Draw by Arthur Zaidenberg (just for personal interests because this is a book that was owned by my grandfather’s brother who went MIA during war and is the only person I know of on that side of my family who had any interest in art).
I also got a free calendar from a health food store. More on that in just a minute.
Once I had a good idea of my course of study, I came up with a simple 4 part plan for my lesson template:
- Warm-up/Review– Drawing warm-up and review of what I studied the day before at 5 minutes every single day. This is to get myself in the habit of working daily and to assess if I am ready to move on. Because it’s just 5 minutes there is no excuse not to work this in every day. Once I am comfortably in the habit of 5 minutes daily, I will up it to 10. As it is, I already find myself doing this longer than 5 minutes. Once you get all set up and start working that tends to be the case. This is where that calendar comes in. Every day I do this I put an X on the calendar. It is a visual reminder that is always on my desk next to my tablet. There is no excuse to forget. And it’s just 5 minutes, right?
- Reading lesson/tutorial– After the warm-up/review I will either read the next section in a book or find a youtube tutorial that goes over what I have been studying if I need more practice.
- Practice– I create an exercise based on the reading lesson or follow along with the tutorial. These are mostly drills that I will do over and over until I get proficient on a topic. The motivation to do these is that if I don’t, I’ll be doing the same warm-up/review every day until I do. This is a practice in regular self-discipline which will help on days when I don’t want to do even the fun art.
- Application– Once I feel comfortable with my current lessons on I will apply the knowledge to whatever artwork I have on my to-do list. This is the fun stuff. This is what I’m working toward. These are the artworks I will share. My goal is to take more artworks to completion and do so more efficiently and with more skill. I want to be able to visualize something and have the technical skills and muscle memory to make a visual representation.
So far I’ve been following this plan for 3 days and have 3 Xs on my calendar. I have drawn plenty of portraits in the past that I have been happy with, but they’ve always been from reference. This is an entirely different method and it’s difficult! I’m finding resistance already, but I think that is good. Like I said before, learning doesn’t have to be fun, just stimulating. I feel challenged and I think that is a good sign.