Throughout the entirety of my creative journey, I have learned many things. All of it was useful in one way or another. A few of those lessons came relatively easy, through observing other artists’ process and through my education. However, other experiences, I had to learn the hard way, facing numerous mistakes and working through my own hesitations. Afterward, I would usually feel silly that it would have taken me so long to learn something so simple.
In this article, I would like to share with you some tips I would give to my younger self, and to other young artists starting out.
Talent doesn’t replace hard work
Talent is a word that is thrown around a lot. It may come with the assumption that having it would guarantee people’s success. From my perspective, this is definitely untrue. Talent can be a natural predisposition to understand or quickly pick up a skill, yet it must be exercised. No one starts life with a complete mastery over a skill.
How skilled you are at art is directly proportional to the amount of time and effort you devote to it, either through practice or study. I truly believe everyone can learn to draw if they put in the required time and effort. Results do not happen overnight, it requires hard work and patience.
Often, you are going to meet other artists who may be in your age bracket or younger and whose art skills seem to surpass yours. This is astonishingly common. It is not helpful or fair to compare yourself to other artists based on their age as a point of reference, as every artist’s circumstances are different. Some artists benefit from added advantages, such as encouraging mentors, being present in highly creative environments or just may have had more time or freedom to practice. If art is something you genuinely want to be good at, you will get there. It takes time, and there is no rush. Enjoy the ride!
It is a healthy practice, even if it took me a while to adopt it. A sketchbook is a collection of ideas… your ideas, and a place to practice and explore. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. Ordinarily, my own sketchbook is filled with unfinished scribbles and incoherent out-of-context ramblings. A sketchbook should be treated as a safe space allowing unpolished drawings and to make mistakes. No one has to look at it, and there is absolutely no obligation to show it to anyone.
No more erasers, it’s time to make mistakes
“Every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them, and the only way to get rid of them is to draw it out”
- Chuck Jones
This is a quote that has really stuck with me since I first read it. It reminds us that mistakes are necessary to get better at art and that we should not be afraid of making them. When you make a slip, the most fundamental step is to not erase it. You have already made an error so why not learn from it? Ask yourself ‘What can I do to fix this?’ and then draw it again. Repeat until you are pleased with the result. Very few people have a perfect drawing in the first draft. As a general rule, if you avoid drawing something because you are afraid of making mistakes, then it should be the thing you are working on.
Don’t be precious: quick drawings and thumbnails
When I was starting out in art, I would immediately jump into a piece and work on it for a great deal of time. If there were a glaring mistake in the piece, I would get frustrated, but I would push on even though I knew it wasn’t going look right. I had spent so much time on it that I was unwilling to abandon it. Then upon finishing the piece, I wouldn’t be satisfied, and I would feel like an incompetent artist. I had become precious about this drawing.
It takes a bit of effort to get used to the concept that not every drawing produced is a winner. As I mentioned in the previous point, you have to be comfortable with making mistakes, however, you must not be afraid to stop working on a piece if something is looking wrong.
One of the ways I tried to combat being precious was to work on my thumbnailing as well as speeding up my drawing. Thumbnailing allows you to work through many ideas in a short amount of time. While thumbnailing, you will notice straight away if a composition or a pose isn’t working which will save you time later. Thumbnailing combines very well with drawing quickly. You can run through ideas much quicker and stay detached from them. You are more likely going to discard a doodle that took 20 seconds than you would for a drawing you spent several hours on.
Your work and other people
Showing work to an audience is difficult. Showing someone a piece of art is almost like revealing a part of yourself. It is often said that an artist should grow a thick skin and learn to receive criticism. I disagree, I think it is far more essential to determine the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.
Constructive criticism should be welcomed, honest and helpful. An example of constructive criticism would be ‘I like where this piece is going, but I think the angle of the arm is unnatural and throws off the composition, maybe the overall weight can be reworked to balance it all.’ The critique points to a possible solution rather than just highlighting a problem.
Destructive criticism is the opposite, it is often undesired, biased and its only intention is to put the artist down. Using our previous example, destructive criticism would go something like this “This piece isn’t right, the arm is just wrong.’ There is nothing that can be gained from this. There is no need to acknowledge comments like these, and it is imperative to be mindful and avoid giving criticism like this.
For whatever reason, there is this need to be seen as humble when showing our work. A bad habit that other artists and I suffer from when showing someone a piece of work or a collection. While they are flicking through I would say things about how the work wasn’t that good or how it was teeming with mistakes. For someone looking at your work, this is incredibly disrespectful. You are essentially asking them to look at work that you think is bad; it gives off an air of irreverence. If you cannot stand 100% by a piece, then you shouldn’t show it off. In contrast, don’t be afraid to be proud of what you have produced, you worked hard and deserved to be proud.
Social media is a great way to show off your work while also connecting with other artists. It doesn’t have to be all business, like your portfolio. Assuming you are pleasant and considerate of other users you can post what you like and start building an audience. It is incredibly easy to feel pressured into following trends or posting every day just to gain an audience, but it is an unhealthy mindset. You owe art to no one, you draw what makes you happy as much or as little as you like.
Although there are many other tips I would send back in time to myself, these are some of the more notable ones. Tips on improving mindsets and adopting better practices that I hope will be passed on to others and so on.