By now everybody already knows that becoming a good artist doesn't come from talent alone. On contrary; talent is a myth. Like the famous quote goes: "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration". Meaning so much that even with a good idea and a bright mind, you still have to work your ass off in order to achieve something. While this makes mad skills available for basically everybody, I still hear many people complain about practice being a rather boring thing, or about them practicing a lot but still getting nowhere.
So I thought; Oh well... Why no article about practice?
Conscious vs unconscious practice
First of all lets divide practice in roughly two types. You have the conscious type of practice. This is the kind of practice in which you're sitting down and thinking to yourself "Hell yeah! I'm gonna draw some <subject> today to get better at this!". And then there's the unconscious type of practice. The type of practice that is often more playful and less intended than its conscious counterpart. Like watching art at a museum or the internet, or doodling in your textbook at school.
While conscious practice is most effective, it's often also most boring. It's like going to school or doing work. Even if you have a job you love in general, there are still those nifty little things you have to do that you don't particularly like. And if you do it too much, you grow tired of it. Unconscious practice, on the other hand, is less directive and more playful. It's like learning while you play around. You don't aim for something with a certain goal, but you just do it because you like it, and learn from it anyway. It might not be as effective, but it sure helps. For this reason, unconscious practice is often confused with mad talent. Because if practice doesn't feel like working, people somehow assume it's a gift that came to us automatically.
The best combination is often a bit of both. You can't get good at something you don't love, because doing something you're not genuinely interested in will wear you out on the long run. But without any conscious practice you will often keep doing the same thing over and over again (comfort zone) and your improvement will undoubtedly stagnate at some point. Yes. This is why some people say they "practice a lot" but still don't make progress. They're stuck in their comfort zone!
What should I do?
First of all; make sure you actually like what you doing. If you don't have passion for what you're doing, you will never get good at it. Not ever!
If you have that passion... congrats! You made it through the first part.
How you should learn, is entirely up to you, and to the craft that you want to learn. There are so many types of art that I can not even begin to cover all of them. Of course there's basics for every single one of them. For writing there's language and a lot of metaphors to learn. For visual art, there's anatomy, light/color and composition. But these aren't by far all the subjects, and all of them are heavily influenced by style. For example: the anatomy of an anime or cartoon character differs from his realistic counterpart.
As for a studying method; this differs per person. Some people are great in motivating their selves and can study on their own for hours. Others do better in a group and would do better in an environment with peer support. It all depends on your personal habits and preferences. This also covers the question "Should I do art school?" entirely. If you're the person that does well in a school setting (and you have some money to spare) you should probably go there. If you've always hated school settings and do a better job at teaching yourself; why even bother to get in there? It would be a waste of time and money.
The most important is that you find a way that works for you.
And often that's a way that comes closest to doing what you like most. Nobody likes spending long hours on a subject that they're not 100% passionate about. So why not team it up with something that you like? Like your favorite character? Or a setting from a world that you like? Why not team up realistic anatomy with your favorite anime character, and try to make a realistic version of it? Or team up animal anatomy with your favorite MLP character in order to learn about more dynamic poses? Or draw cool fashion to learn about clothing material and folding? This might not be the most effective way to learn things... and I'm sure many classically taught art students will frown upon this. But from what I've seen during art workshops motivation is just as important as study, if not more
Keep yourself motivated!
That's a question I get a lot; how much should I study? Or; for how long a day?
The answers you get on this vary a lot. But I see a trend lately that worries me greatly. I've heard (semi-)professional artists and art students advice people to spend up to 40 to 60 hours a week studying in order to get a professional career. And while it's entirely true that many art prodigy's spend that much time on art, and that spending so much time will help you improve fast.... I'm still heavily pleading against it!Don't do it!
Your body will be thankful.
While it might seem a wise idea to study and practice as much as you can, spending 40+ hours a week drawing will put your health at serious risk. Our brains might be able to put up with the huge stream of information we're subjecting it to, but our body's aren't designed to spend 40+ hours a week sitting cramped over a drawing table making the same precise arm movement over and over again. It will break you down. Maybe not now. But in 2 years, or 5 years, or maybe even 10... your body will break down under the pressure.
Reading this now, you might think I'm overly careful about this kind of thing. After all, I'm diagnosed with a permanent wrist injury
. For those that are curious how I got it; 60+ hours a week of computer work during a period of 5 years. And writing 2 books and drawing during that same time. One of the first things the doctor told me was; "you shouldn't work 60+ hours a week". And when I replied that I wasn't the only one who did that by far (it's fairly common in the web business) she just told me with a straight face; "All of them break down eventually. Maybe not now, but in 5 to 10 years, all of them break down. Either their body or mind" (a burnout)
So please... let's stop this dangerous trend.
Even well known concept artist Feng Zhu
told in one of his drawing video's (can't find back which one, unfortunately) about his lifestyle that he didn't spend his free time drawing. And that he exercised to keep his body into good shape in order to keep up with working a computer job all day.
If you practice, keep it to a healthy amount of hours a day or week. Not more than a regular office job.
Take regular breaks to stretch your muscles. Drink enough water. Exercise to keep your body in a good condition overall. And remember a good night of sleep makes your brain more likely to pick up new things
than pulling an allnighter. Sleep is good!
With practice schedules, aside from health, two things should be payed attention to:
1. Regularity. Draw often. It's better to spend 4 days drawing 2 hours each, than 1 day of 8 ours. Both of them will add up to 8 hours. But the intervals will give your brain a pause to reflect about your own work.
2. Variation. Don't get stuck in a comfort zone. Draw something you're unfamiliar with once in a while. Doing the same thing over and over again stagnates improvement.
Think outside the box
Coming hand in hand with my last point, I want to say that our brain is an incredible organ. It's able to pick up new things, even if we're not directly aware of it. So while our body needs it's rest, it's not entirely impossible to still study if you want to.
There's one characteristic that all people that are good at something share in common; their interest for their subject doesn't stop when they're away from the job. If you're truly interested in art, you'll look at everything through the eyes of an artist, and you'll learn from everything accordingly.
For writers it's simple. You don't have to write in order to learn about writing. Go read some books! See how other people tackle certain issue's. Learn about their styles. But also learn to think outside of the box. Movies, series and games will also learn you about aspects of storytelling and character building, although they're not directly written pieces. The same goes for visual art. As the name implies; it also has a great visual aspect that involves nothing more than just looking. Visit a museum or browse art through the internet. Read books about art. Watch people paint on YouTube. Check out some of the free tutorials on DeviantArt. Even though they might not be 100% correct, you can always learn at least a thing or 2 about style or approach. Or even watching movies and series will do. Did you know that there are often whole plans involved to create a shot in a movie? Things like light plans, composition.... and all that just to create the perfect mood?
Art doesn't stop at your paper. It's everywhere.
Last but not least
What is most important is that whatever you're doing, you should have fun
doing it. You want to do something you love, after all?
Over the years I've seen many people that loved art apply for art school, and almost end up hating
art because the harsh practice schedules and the many rejections took most of the fun out of something they used to love. Don't become that person. Yes, harsh training schedules might be the way to learn art in just
4 years. But who says you can't take 2 more years if that means you still enjoy what you're doing?
Life's made up out of many choices.
Go with the ones that make you happy.