• Esther Polak Maaravi

4 steps to studying art more efficiently

4 steps to studying art more efficiently

This post is for people who want to create a discipline out of studying art, for personal enrichment. This may be to support or move toward a career as a professional artist, or just to learn art for it's own sake. Either way, these practices are for someone who wants to 'take art seriously'.

1) Create an inspiring vision

First, think about what sparked your interest in drawing. Did you see some incredible work and think "I wish I could do that?" Was is something more like curiosity about the process, or even boredom? Drawing is a very personal process, and it's important to know what motivates you.

Next, capture that spark of inspiration by writing about it. This helps you to think over your experiences and identify what aspects of art inspire you, and which parts of the process you enjoy the most. For some people, it may be most about expressing emotion; others may enjoy the storytelling aspects more, and some people really love the detailed, 'puzzle-solving' aspects of drawing. You may enjoy all three, or something else entirely. Figure out what inspires you.

If you were inspired by a book or work(s) of art, put a copy of it (or some of them) in a visible place that you know you'll see every day. This could be on the wall in front of your bed, your nightstand, the kitchen fridge, or even next to the bathroom mirror.

Finally, create a workspace to pursue your art; one that is free from distractions. If you have a television and/or video games, you may want to consider moving them to another room or stashing them out of sight, such as in a box in your closet. Make studying art the easiest and most intuitive use of your space.

If you don't have access to a fixed, physical space to devote to creating art, you can create a portable one. Designate a bag specifically for art study. Include in it your references (books, printouts, tablet/laptop, etc), and everything you need to create your art. You can take this bag to a library, park or coffee shop, set up and do your work there.

2) Collect resources

There are generally 3 categories of resources:

⦁ Inspiration ⦁ Study materials ⦁ Reference images The first resource - inspiration, would be a collection of art (or anything) that inspires you to pursue art. The easiest way to compile inspirational art is digitally - you can create a folder (and/or network of folders) or a blog where you save work that inspires you. This will be a growing collection, so setting up a structure categories early on is a very good idea. For example, you may want to have separate folders for different artists work, or different types of work, such as portraits, landscapes, etc.

Study materials includes everything from books to videos to blog posts. Create some kind of database so you know what you have and where to find it (for digital resources). This list will likely become very long, so it is worthwhile to get organized early on.

References are images that are used to help you draw specific things. For example, if you want to draw a picture of a turtle, you need to know what it looks like. Usually, an artist will collect many images of a single subject they want to draw, so that they can draw it from whatever angle and pose is needed for a given picture. Artists will also take their own reference pictures for this same reason, so they can set up the lighting situation so it's exactly as they want it.

3) Set long and short-term goals

Create habits of study, practice, critique, and iteration. You should be using your resources on a regular basis, and your goals should be clearly defined and measurable. Always study from a resource, whether it be a book, video, or blog post. You may want to study from a particular page in a book for a while, move on to another resource, and then come back to and finish the rest of the book later.

It is critically important to choose goals and challenges that are appropriate to your skill level. Some books or concepts are more advanced then others; you may need to study from other sources for a while before you're able to really learn from a particular resource. Still, you may be surprised how soon that comes, so keep track of good resources as you come across them.

For short-term goals, you may want to have monthly, weekly, and daily goals.

Each practice session should focus on a particular skill, and have a particular goal; This could be time spent drawing or pages drawn.

For example, if you're studying from a book, you could set a goal of reading 2 pages a day, then copying the drawings on those pages. Then, you could spend 15 minutes practicing the concept from some of your reference images.

For your daily goals, choose a practice that you could do even on a 'bad' day when you're tired, stressed, or simply don't feel like drawing.

In any given day, you can always spend more time than the allotted amount, but you should have a minimum goal that you can maintain. Also, if an emergency comes up and you really can't get to it, you should be able to double-up the next day.

If you're going to spend more time drawing, make sure it doesn't interrupt the slow, steady pace you've set. In the example of studying from a book, you could spend more time practicing the concept you learned, but I would caution you against the reading more pages in a single day. If you do that, you run the risk of de-motivating yourself in the long-run. As tempting as it may be, interrupting the slow pace of learning might make it more difficult for you to keep up your practice on 'slow days'. Even if you have a monthly or yearly-long streak of high motivation, de-motivation will likely come at some point, and you need to be prepared for it.

Over time, you'll need to change the content of your routines (such as what book you're studying from), as well as the process (you may want to focus exclusively on sketching for a while, then move on to detailed drawing; you may want study from life instead of, or in addition to, a book).

Iteration and change are a huge part of being able to make significant improvement.

Learning is an active process, and you need to pay attention to where the process is taking you. Sometimes you'll find yourself struggling with a specific piece of a process - such as getting accurate proportions, and you may want to focus exclusively on studying that piece for a few weeks before returning to your previous routine.

Long-term goals could include 'writing and illustrating a children's book', 'creating a series of landscape paintings of your backyard', or something like 'drawing and uploading art to my blog on a daily basis.'

These goals will help you identify how and what you should be studying. For example, if you want to draw children's books, you'll need to spend time studying visual storytelling, gesture, and stylization, whereas if you're doing fine-art landscapes, you'll probably want to focus more on portraying form, realistic painting techniques, and master studies. There is a lot of overlap though, and everyone needs to study the basics. (Which is a topic in itself; I can cover this in another post.)

4) Adopt attitudes & routines to help you stay motivated

Learning to draw is a journey; focus on enjoying the process. Wherever you are in that process, come up with thoughts and attitudes that help you face where you are head on, and accept and enjoy the challenges as they come.

Especially in the beginning, you may benefit from keeping your drawing journey hidden from your friends and relatives. Most people tend to focus on the products of your journey rather than the journey itself, and this can be a distraction. Even praise can be detrimental; you may feel less inclined to challenge yourself with something difficult if you know that your work is going to be judged by other people. If you're feeling unsure of your skills, I suggest only showing your studies to a mentor or friend who can give you honest, helpful feedback. This should inspire you to keep working, because it gives you a 'next step'; what to keep doing (constructive praise), and what to do differently next time (constructive criticism).

It's very tempting to feel bad about yourself when your drawings aren't turning out how you want them to, or when you see how far you are from your goals. Goals are important for giving you direction, but your goal should really be to enjoy each step of the process as much as you can. The long-term goals are mostly there to give you a structure so you can plan and enjoy your short-term goals more. They can also help you assess whether your short-term practices are moving you in a consistent direction.

Mindfulness is a useful tool for an artist. After you've set up your long and short-term goals, use each session to focus completely on what you're doing in the moment. Each drawing session should feel something like a meditation session; try to focus only on each, single step as you do it. The better you can focus, the more you'll get out of each session.

Anticipate 'art blocks' before they happen; come up with a plan for handling them.

In the process of learning anything, the beginning is always very exciting. You also tend to see the most dramatic improvement in the first couple of months, especially if you're studying, getting critique, and iterating your process. Over time though, there becomes a greater difference between what you expect yourself to be able to do and what you're actually able to do. Part of this is because your 'taste' has gotten better; you have a much better idea of what 'correct' looks like, while your ability to draw that hasn't caught up. It's really, really important to anticipate this step, and to accept it when it happens. Keep up your studying 'habits' (especially at times when they feel like nothing you draw looks good), and this 'art block' will go away over time.

You will probably go back and forth with resources; there will likely be times when you find yourself unable to draw something you could draw well before, and you'll need to focus on studying it again. That is okay, and a normal part of the process. Set up new goals and keep moving forward, starting from where you are right now. You will improve more if you draw something every day for a month then if you draw it a lot in a single day.

Don't get discouraged if you miss a few days of drawing, or if you feel lost. Revisit your artistic vision and resources, and come up with a new plan.

No journey is without its bumps in the road; the important thing is to keep traveling.



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