How to Study Art - Not Satisfied With my Art - Part 2
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Part 2 - How to Study Art?
Wait up, "Art" activities could go from Chopin's symphonies to creating memes, so let me make it clear that this is a series focused on drawing and painting. If you missed part 1, the introduction, click here!
LEARNING HOW TO LEARN
Before we even start getting nerdy about the smoothness of your pencil, there is something even more important. It's your relationship with learning. If you're an introvert like me (which most artists are) there is a high chance you spend a lot of time with yourself, so then you're probably skilled in being self conscious. This is like our superpower. Now can you remember the last time you learned something new? Maybe how to use a new software, or a new painting technique, or read an Ikea manual to assemble the bedside table? A new hobby? Did you understand the process and the steps you took from when you decided you wanted to dive into it? Were you aware of your emotions when you felt uncomfortable, or when you felt like throwing all your furniture out the window? Did you know how to deal with whatever happened and still continue regardless? I mean continue learning, how throwing things away..
Serious talk now! Learning means expaaanding your brain's current natural state and forcing it to think things it doesn't know yet, so making that effort is never gonna be pleasant. Our brain is not tired, but it's super happy doing simple things. Things that are gonna keep you alive. Fortunately, to guarantee your survival you only need to learn how to go to the supermarket and to pay your rent. Your brain is like "It feels so good to be so young and have this fun and be successfull, aye aye aye", but I'm sure you have interests, goals, dreams and various definitions of success other than that. Ok so we know learning is not pleasant. How come we still feel happy when we learn something new? It's because what is pleasant is what comes after. The feeling of accomplishment when we're able to to what we couldn't before. Exporting a job on the new software you learned, gifting your mom with a cute portrait, laying some books on the shelf you built (Ikea has our backs a lot, huh?). Because the results are pleasant, we dream about all the things we want to do. We want to speak 17 languages, play the piano blindfolded and upside down, read 4 books a day and code a website. But also because the beginning is unpleasant, we give up when we see this crazy new alphabet, so many scales and 850 pages with no pictures. It explains why sometimes we get stuck in the "thinking about learning" and don't actually start doing it. We get scared by looking at the scope of what we are going to face, and would rather not even start. It's too much anyways, right? The first few times (and hours) you try something new... your body is gonna be very awkwardly trying to avoid it. We better go buy cheetos and watch netflix, that doesn't include any hard effort. So it's crucial that you remember this is all part of the learning process, and that you decide to push through anyways. Yes, it's unpleasant, but so what?
The hardest part of learning is the emotional barrier, the pain of "not knowing how to do" or "not knowing where to start" the thing you want so bad. We don't wanna feel bad like that, so we go do something else instead. But you know what's the funniest part? We forget there is also pain in procrastination. There is pain in looking at people doing the things you'd like to, comparing yourself to them, only to see you're not going anywhere because... well, you haven't started. We do it all the time, because we don't wanna feel the bad feelings of the learning process. The solution? Tell yourself "Oh I know i'm gonna feel weird things, and when I do, I'm gonna ignore it and still try. And try again, and again. Rinse and repeat, then I'll progress". It's ok to feel unpleasant. We're not gonna die. In fact, we're gonna learn that it goes away, if you don't let it control you. The more you recognize the annoying beginning and go beyond it, the less impact it has on you. You got this bitch!
Can you believe that's exactly how every successful person did whatever they did? Artists, Engineers, Composers, Doctors, Teachers, all millionaires and billionaires who built their way up there. If they could feel the bad feelings, still push through and get to wherever they are, so can you. Just notice your feelings, ignore it for 10 seconds a few times and you'll be progressing. That's the secret! Now shhh, go away demons, go find somebody else to bother! We're bigger than you!
LET'S THINK ABOUT THE LOOP
Say you really like gathering your pencils and spending hours with your sketchbook, or your digital canvas. You became this art supply hoarder, or you found some interesting and inspiring pieces that make you really really happy. You wish you could do that. It's been happening more and more, you've noticed this urge of...creating. Cool! But you're still feeling quite meh about the level of your artworks. You see this cute little girl with amazing colored hair, then when you draw it.. looks like she has a broom hat on. You basically destroyed the girl and feel like apologizing to her. So it creates this weird loop of getting inspired, making something... only to feel frustrated about it!
Maybe you're having ideas but are not able to represent them on paper (or pixels). This can be happening because you're having trouble with the foundation of your skills. Let's talk!
It sounds serious, and unfortunately the way we tend to think about studying is almost always "the bad kind of serious" as well. But it doesn't have to be! There are many ways of learning, you have to find yours! Because you're gonna have to spend lots of hours to see change and to notice your progress, you have to take a road that makes you comfortable. The one that makes you repeat, so then you'll never stop coming back to it. That's the biggest secret. Do you like to read? To watch? To follow a guided program? Step by step? To have a tutor? A group? Maybe take classes? Try to think of how you learned other things in the past, to understand how you work; or just try things out until you feel good about coming back to it. Remember that if you don't like the thing you're studying on the first try, it's not always the subject: it could be your learning process not fitting your taste! That's why it's so important figuring it out first.
I'll tell you the way I found mine out: I love spending time by myself, reading books and tutorials. But when I wanted to study drawing for the first time, I tried to go to a formal group class, because I thought that was the "right way to make sure I get all the important things, from somebody who knows what they're doing". It turned out to be a big waste of my money, because I hated every second of it, found it very embarrassing and ended up wanting to skip every single class. At some point I did just that. Yep, it doesn't make any sense to "learn" this way! I wasn't even learning, and I definitely didn't want to go back to it. Drawing was a weird burden that felt so out of reach. The worst part is that I kept thinking "oh, maybe drawing it's just not for me, because I'm not having fun, and everybody else seems to love it here. It's obviously me!". Nope, no, no, no. Don't ever let yourself fall into that trap. Please try as many ways as you can, and give it a good go and lots of time before you decide "it's not for you".
Ok, cool, now let's deconstruct this drawing thing. What is it made of? Flour, sugar, butter, chocolate chips and 9 drops of desperation. What else?
Drawing is the visual representation of something. So in order to draw well, you need to get good at "representing". Sounds a bit weird, but that's the logic behind it. When we draw things, we are basically choosing visual elements to "form" those things. Those elements can be lines, contours, shapes, fills, scribbles, or cross hatches, for example. Drawing from life or from a reference means looking at it and translating to your surface with the elements you want. Drawing from imagination means having this translation your mind and being able to choose the elements without looking at anything. This is possible when you know your subject enough (probably because you already drew it or practiced it a lot), so you're able to repeat the steps without constantly checking for accuracy.
But if your mind is not used to representing things on paper, then we have to level up on this game before we start drawing from life or from imagination. We have to start thinking of how to pick our lines, angles and shapes and make them work well together. We have to learn how to see consciously, so then we are able to put it out as we wish. Makes sense? Sounding a bit wonky?
Drawing = Learning How to See
Drawing is learning how to observe your subject, how to pay attention to elements that define it. Learning to see means studying form, proportion, perspective, gesture, composition, anatomy, value and lighting. There you go, these are our golden basics. Ooof, it would be crazy if we decided to dive deeper in all of these. You don't have to do it all at the same time, this is not boring high school that we had 27 subjects and 60 exams each month. Art is your little baby, and you can start by the ones who catch your attention the most (mine are always colors and lighting). Slowly, but surely.
WHY CAN'T I START STUDYING BY COPYING STYLIZED DRAWINGS ALREADY?
Yea, I get it, when we open a drawing book it's so full of complicated guides and charts, it makes us feel so irrelevant. GO AWAY, DEMONS, we know better now! But do we haaave to read books and study boring things? Why can't I study the things I find on the internet? They look so much cooler! First of all, you can. But you're gonna get really good at repeating that one representation that someone else did. The reason you are better off studying the fundamentals is because you're gonna be able to give your own interpretation of anything you choose to. I was gonna make a metaphor with clay, shaping and throwing ceramics to form beautiful pot, but I got lost and gave up. Here goes a story, instead.
I started drawing by copying things I liked. I used to draw cute characters from shoujo animes (yasssss I'm that person!). Then I discovered Tumblr's tutorials, imitated them exactly. Later on, I found out about We Heart It and got lost with so many cute things. They were so different from each other, but in my mind I felt great, I felt like I was good at drawing. Only to get a reality shock and feel very confused later on. Why? Well, first of all, I was not exactly drawing. I was copying the drawings of somebody else, and changing them a bit to "tell myself it was not a copy". Of course I was doing it just for fun, I wouldn't show anybody nor claim them as mine, drawing was just a thing I did once every 2 months, or even less. But it started bothering me very much, and I started feeling really bad about it. If you were to put my drawings side by side, they felt like they were made by either 72 different people or one person with 72 personalities. Or 72 different people with 72 personalities. Yeah, that sounds more accurate. And no, I didn't feel good about it, it was all over the place. Plus they weren't mine. Those two things were terrible to realize. When it came the time to actually draw something on my own, without looking at anybody's ready-made version, I felt completely lost. Because I had never studied drawing. I was copying what somebody else had studied, I had never learnt how to see for myself. Wow, it sounds like a mix between a cult and a coach session. Hang in there for 30% discount on your first call and leeearn how to seeeee!
You know they say "you gotta learn the rules and then break them"? I hated how vague this sounded, but when it comes to drawing, it's actually a really good example of why you should learn the fundamentals before stylizing. You can decide to go towards a completely loose style, not care at all about shading or lines, but at least you know how to make something believable, you know how to create your shapes and how to convey your message. Because you understand where it's coming from, and what it should NOT be.
DOES THAT MEAN I CAN ONLY DRAW WELL ONCE I MASTERED ALL OF THESE CRAZY TOPICS?
Wow, wow, that's a heavy question! I don't think any person who draws for years and years would say they ever got to "master everything". I don't even think it's possible! Those are deep concepts, full of branches and complexities, so it all depends on what you feel like doing. It's up to you on how far you wanna go in any of them, you make the rules of what you wanna get better at. When we start, we are usually a bit vague on what we want, which is normal. But as we go trying things, we start understanding what we like better, what we prefer, and what we definitely don't want to ever look up again. Like ever ever. And that's the beauty of it all! Studying is a starting point, to which you're gonna unravel beautiful paths to follow. And only you will follow those paths, because you're the only one of you! I'm pretty sure that's a Taylor Swift song. But it's true, you're the only person in the world who has your set of experiences in life, and who has all the exact tastes that you have, combined. So don't worry about mastering everything, the journey is the best part! Feel free to drop anything that makes you stop learning, because those are definitely not keepers!
I'm sure when you look at any list, your face lights up with some items waaay more than others (color! yay, color!!) .. some you cringe and feel disgusted with (perspective, eeeeek). That's your clue! Go directly to the ones you feel speak to you, and then take it from there! You'll feel it when it's time to move forward.
PLEASE DON'T HATE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
I think the world makes it very hard for beginners to begin sometimes. I keep remembering the one sentence we repeat aaaall the time, the infamous "get out of your comfort zone". Why am I so bugged by it? Because to get out of your comfort zone, you need to have one! And if you're beginning, you don't have it yet. You have to make yourself a cozy place to practice, to create the habit, and then you start playing around with it. But if you want to try all things and go around all topics all the time, you'll feel constantly "lost", or like you don't know "who you are", no "style", no "voice". That's because you didn't craft your little world, "your things", the favorite methods and subjects you love. Try to find those first. Build your comfort zone, so then you can safely play outside of it. Mixing it up (haha.. mixing..) with the previous topic of "mastering things", I believe we progress better when we start small and take little steps with love, which translates to choosing a topic and drawing things you love with it.
DRAWING X PAINTING
Before I spam and flood you with loads of links, let's talk about the differences between the two. Drawing is like the base, it's how you make every mark on your surface. It's your sketch, doodle, ideation process, or refined graphite piece, and usually it's made with dry media. Painting, like the name obviously says, is applying paint, pigment or color to it. Different pigments have different densities, lightfastnesses and sedimentation. Different colors have different properties as well, so how they interact with each other is a whole world on itself. Both drawing and painting offer you a wide variety of materials to experiment around, like graphite, ink, pens, charcoal, colored pencils vs markers, watercolor, gouache, acrylics, oils...
You might want to learn both, you might want to start with one or the other. This definition is gonna help you look for resources and deepen your studies.
OK I'M READY! SHOOT ME WITH LINKS!
Now that you've seen how important it is to learn the fundamentals of drawing, I can give you my favorite people on the internet, the ones that make it so much easier and fun to study. Some of them wrote books or created courses, which you can also go for, but everything I'll link here is completely free and full of great great information, because that's what I'd love to find when I was a young broke teenager. I'm an adult now, but besides that.. not much from those adjectives has changed. Anyways, let me start!
Tumblr pages - There are some people who curate and gently compile a bunch of links and resources on their blogs, which can be extremely helpful to start with. There are reference picture packs, tutorials on softwares and art in general. It's a bit weird to find them on the tumblr search, since the names are not always obvious, but try looking for related pages, people they follow or reposts.
Alphonso Dunn - The king of fineliners and pens in general! His videos are very educational, even if you're not really into using pens (I'm not, and I love him!). He's very well spoken and has a crazy deep knowledge, not even to mention his penmanship, of course. Yea, I'm just not gonna mention, it's too obvious. He's been making videos since 2011, so there's a bunch of content to binge.
Proko - The king of art youtube, I guess? He doesn't even need presentations, he basically represents drawing on youtube, in my opinion. He probably has the best quality videos, and has only gotten better and better at making them. He also has a podcast, full of advices and terrible jokes (we all love it)! Just a quick reminder, so you're fully warned: you're gonna find yourself randomly whispering the intro.. forever. I mean... forever! I'm a survivor!
Marco Bucci - A more painting focused channel, he is sooo good in explaining the overall feel and mood of a piece. There is a series breaking down the elements that help form a good artwork, it's a must see!
Draw Mix Paint - A little bit more serious, but LOADED with expert info, so don't be intimidated by his fabulous skills and give it a go! His work with oils and color theory on pigments and paints in general will definitely keep you watching!
James Gurney - The gouache master! His videos are such a delight to watch, I always feel like he is my cool uncle or a really good neighborhood friend. His voice is calming and his work is just spectacular! His books are like bibles among the art world.
Other people you might like:
Bobby Chiu (amazing digital art)
YOUR PERSPECTIVE X YOUR SKILL
Everything is fine, going great, you're learning things and making experiments, then.. the more you study, the more you're likely to see this pattern show up:
It means that when you engage in practicing your art for a longer period, you work on two things at the same time. Your technical skills, like controlling your pencil lines and measuring angles, but you also your perception of images at the same time, like when you quickly spot wrong proportions and bad shapes. These two abilities may not always go up at the same time, leaving us in a weird in-between place. You'll be spending a lot of time observing, comparing and constantly checking back and forth when you're drawing from a reference, so naturally you'll be able to notice things that you weren't used to, when you didn't have the knowledge. Then you're gonna be examining these details in your own pieces, and in a much deeper level, making it feel like you're "not that good" at your craft. In reality, it means your perception level is higher than your technical side. You've gotten really good at "seeing", and your "making" has to level up to meet it. These two are constantly balancing out each other while we study long-term. Most people feel frustration when they notice something bad on their art, but that's actually a really good thing. It means you understand, without the need of an outside critic, that some points need work. When that happens, it's up to you to decide if you wanna revisit and brush up on previous topics you already studied, to freshen it up or deepen it, or go down a path that you've never tried before. There's always something to learn!
That's it for today, I hope you liked it! In the next part of the series, I'm gonna try to help out with our next problem: the motivation to do all this hard work of studying and keep being interested in what we are doing. Boy, we got a lot to cover! I'll see you soon!
Thank you for reading!!
Not Satisfied With my Art: