Todays post is a bit more of a “storytime” post. I have already turned this into a youtube video, but since some of my friends like to read instead of watch videos, I’ve decided to turn this into an article here on my blog as well.
There was this person who asked the community on a social media platform how they learned how to draw, what helped them to get into the topic, and what motivated them to keep going when your first results don’t look nice or “good”.
There were a lot of tips and advice under this, and obviously also the ones with “learn colour theory” or “draw simple objects first to learn how to view things, like an apple”.
I must admit, I get unreasonably upset by people putting this kind of advice on hobbyists, who are just starting out to…basically do anything artistic. It doesn’t have to be drawing, I remember reading this kind of advice underneath an article about sculpting for beginners as well. It basically said to sculpt a variety of objects so you would learn how to deal with different shapes and surfaces.
Now as a disclaimer, this is obviously coloured by my own experiences, and there are people who will find this method to work well for them. Also, if you want to pursue a career in any artistic field, especially one that deals with any kind of commissioned work, you will have to learn a wide variety of techniques that you don’t necessarily like or find very fun to do. For this it is absolutely necessary that you come in contact with, and study, a lot of things to get better to be able to fullfil your commissioner’s request.
However, I do think that for most people the approach to work on studies of one thing is a bad approach, a motivation killer, and not necessarily something that helps them improve.
I’m going to take you with me on my art journey here, because I have done it all, and I had teachers of all kinds.
I have drawn all my life, since I can remember. The people around me told me I’m “talented” since kindergarten, and I guess praise is something that keeps children going in what they do. And I can also remember, that during my childhood, up to the age of about twenty, I used to have some phases where I was super hyper fixated on drawing one particular thing at a time.
In third grade, I was obsessed with shoes, and feet in shoes, especially high heels. Don’t ask me why, it brought me joy.
When I was 13, I was a girly girl, and I loved drawing horses, and people riding horses. Oh boy, I did study horses so hard, I copied them from science books, I copied pictures from my horse magazines I read (praise to forever 15-year-old Wendy Thorsteeg here), and I even went out to live draw horses.
Around the age of 16 all I did was draw eyes, occasionally with a full face or eyebrows.
I just LOVED drawing these things, so I did the studies on my own. I had motivation to do so because I was interested in these things.
At the same time, during 7th-10th grade, I had a teacher in my art class in school, who would introduce us to certain techniques in constructing perspectives, shapes and faces. I didn’t necessarily have fun with all of these, but I did well in all these tasks, my pictures looked better than most of the class. And while people jump to the conclusion fast that you’re just “talented” when you pick up a certain skill fast, that is not the point here at all. Despite me probably having an initial talent that kept me going when I was small, the main point is that over my obsessions, I learned a lot about drawing without noticing it. I learned how shapes work, that elements in a picture shorten or lengthen with perspective, that bigger, complex objects and bodies are a combination of smaller objects and so on.
And this teacher just put a name on these things and showed me how to make the things that I had already learned a little easier. And that was the advantage that I had over my classmates. I just saw things they didn’t, because I had practiced seeing them – and that did not only apply to the things I had obsessed over, but it also applied to the things I learned new.
Here is the thing though: would have kept going and practicing, would I have learned to measure distances by watching objects, how perspective changes objects, if someone hat sat down with me in third grade and said: “Girl, put away that shoe, it’s hilarious. You need to learn how folds of cloth work now”?
No, I wouldn’t. Because I wasn’t interested the slightest in folds at that point. Later, when I had learned how to draw bodies, and I had this picture of the greek goddess character in my mind, I suddenly became interested in those folds. I looked up pictures, I put fabric over my own legs to see how it would wrinkle up. Because the folds suddenly had a purpose.
Later, I visited a design school with a big emphasis on art. We had to draw scientifically correct pictures of small animals, like bees or butterflies or beetles. We did exactly those studies that people recommend to beginners. I was always really mediocre in these, until the point came, where I could decide what I wanted to draw. There were some rules like “It has to be an artificial object” for example. I did paint my beloved pink PlayStation 2 controller in acrylics, and to this day I get asked if that drawing is a photo, because it was so much fun to do, that it came out great, and suddenly those studies made sense.
Now, my drawing “career” is long, so I want to come back to the social media post from the beginning, because that person clearly asked for a beginner who isn’t a kid, and then I tried to compare my sculpting process to see what kept me going there. What motivated me in first place. Because I only started sculpting in my mid-thirties, minus some cosplay sculpting and mandatory STUDIES in university.
And my motivation in first place to start sculpting was to sculpt a figure of my beloved mmo character. I saw a figure of the race my character has on deviant art and was super inspired by it. I wanted to have a figure of my character! I had sculpted accessories for cosplay earlier, but I always hated it. And then, suddenly, I sculpted what I loved, and suddenly I loved sculpting! To be fair, I also discovered the material I like, but that is another topic for another day.
My love or obsession for certain things was always a motivation for me to do art. To keep going. To learn new things, because at some point you don’t only want to draw that horse, you want to draw it with a rider, and then you want to draw horse and rider in an environment, so you must learn how the environment works etc.
One thing will lead to the next, at your own pace. You will have much more patience, than if you have work yourself through that hand study “because you need to know how hands work”. One day you want to draw that cute lesbian couple from your favourite video game and they’re holding hands, and believe me, you’re going to look up how to draw hands.
I strongly believe that that fun and love for whatever you’re drawing, sculpting, cosplaying, MAKING is a good motivation to keep going and to improve, and that to improve the art of something that you love and like makes you do all those dull studies on your own, without forcing yourself to.
And that, at some point, when the initial art in whatever medium is flowing better for you, you will become inspired and motivated by others to try out new things you haven’t investigated, because you saw another artist do something that looks great and intriguing. I saw so many things other sculptors do that are so interesting! Highly textured figures, chibi anime figures, miniatures, it’s all something I sculpted and will sculpt when the time was or is right, not because someone tells me that it “would be good to learn this now to broaden your horizon”.
You choose what keeps you going, there is no “wrong” thing to approach motivation if it works. I know some people who are mostly taking elements they see and put them together in what they like. That is nothing to be ashamed about. If it helps you to understand how the medium works, if it keeps you going because at that moment it’s easy, and you only have patience for this, that’s fine.
There are people who only do fanart, or who try to copy another artist’s style first. If that helps you to understand how things work, then do it. Eventually you normally develop your own style, and things start looking like “you” made them.
Please note here though that tracing, and very blunt collages of other’s work is a bit of a delicate topic if you want to publish your pictures, and also a topic for another time. Just please – don’t outright steal anyone’s art. If you want to publish something in a very specific style, ask for the artists consent and conditions to do so.
A last point is for sure that, if you expect your skill to grow a certain amount in a certain time, this can be a huge motivation killer. Growth is not a linear thing, just like toddlers do not grow and learn at the same speed. Sometimes you learn a lot at once, sometimes it takes ages until it clicks, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to click at all. I, for example don’t really like to draw digitally, and trying to draw digitally so far has always taken motivation off me. Maybe I didn’t find the right way to learn it yet, maybe I just really prefer my watercolours. The good thing about being a hobbyist is that you don’t have any pressure to learn something in a specific time or at all. If you don’t want to deal with this one topic, you don’t have to.
Motivation and learning are something very individual, and I don’t want to say there aren’t people who learn by working off courses or studies, and some may even prefer it. We can find your way by trying out things. There is nothing that is forbidden. I often feel that art schools and courses try to tell you an exact way you should go, that just isn’t right for a lot of people.
Like I said in the beginning, if you want to pursue art as your career, you will have to look into broadening your horizon depending on your jobs or pitches you need to do. But as a hobbyist, you have all time and freedom in the world to just do what you love and what motivates you. Even if you draw shoes for the rest of your life.
This was my, very personal, opinion on the topic how to learn and stay motivated as an art beginner. I hope it helps someone to stay or get motivated to do what they want to do.