10 Lessons I have learned as an artist

10 Lessons I have learned as an artist

1. Always start with the fundamentals.

I regularly do exercises specifically focusing on each of the fundamentals of art. Even an artist who has painted for years, need to continually refresh the practice of all these fundamentals.

Perspective, values, color, rendering, gesture and composition is what tells the story in an artwork. They are an artist’s toolbox. Exercises focusing on each of these areas, are what keeps our tools sharp.

2. Start lighter and work towards darker.

Nobody really can draw anything perfectly perfect with the very first marks they make. With practice, the number of lines needed to be corrected will become less, but we all still draw a few lines and then stand back to judge the results. When these first lines are dark, it is very difficult to erase and correct. So, always start light and work towards darker lines over only the lines that are correct.

Even when painting with mediums such as acrylic and watercolor, remember that darker colors can cover up some incorrect lighter colors, but light colors will not easily cover up darker colors.

3. Look, look and then look again.

You cannot draw something you haven’t really seen. The more you look at something, the more detail you will see. The details are very important when you want to give your subject character. This is true especially of portraits, but also of almost any subject out there.

4. Objects reflect the colors around them.

In this photo, the red cherry on the menu reflected very clearly onto the side of the white teacup. I have also learned that if this cup had had a very bright light shining directly on the edge showing the cherry color, the red color would not have been visible. Lighter objects pick up colors from their surroundings much easier than darker objects.

5. Shadows are dark, not black.

In fact, shadows tend to be cooler, so they tend to lean a lot more to purple (the opposite of the warmest color yellow) than to black.

Of course, reflected light can change the color of shadows as well, so once again observation is very important.

6. Establish a learning goal.

When setting a goal, it is important to be specific and to include a time limit and quality metric.

a. Be very specific.

“I want to learn how to draw” is not specific enough. Someone who have never drawn anything before would have to specify that they need to learn how to see shapes and texture, for example.

“I want to learn how to draw apples” is much better, because this helps you to find the proper tutorials and examples to follow. Just remember that if you can draw apples even perfectly, does not mean you can now sit down and draw people with your first try.

There are so many more things to see and interpret properly when drawing more complicated subjects. I would even suggest when wanting to learn to draw people, first focus on one area only: Faces or expressions, hands, feet, poses (but first learn proportions).

b. Include a time limit.

By setting a deadline, you know that you cannot afford to slack off. You must get this finished in time. Including a consequence for failure also helps. Having someone you can rely on to share your goals (along with their deadlines and consequences) helps to keep you accountable so you cannot just quietly give yourself more time than needed.

c. Include a quality measurement.

Compare your latest art with the work of an artist you admire. Be honest with yourself. Do not rush and finish your goal with sloppy work. It helps to have someone you can trust to be honest, to critique your progress.

7. Practice alone doesn’t make perfect.

When practicing how to draw faces, one must really look at photos of people. But just looking without thinking of proportions, textures, colors will not help us to improve. It is a waste of time to sit down and sketch face after face. We need to really look at each finished sketch to see where the mistakes are made and how to improve on it.

As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress;
each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward
Vincent van Gogh 

8. Learn from multiple sources, not just one.

When you learn from only one source, you do not give yourself the option to choose from different ways of doing things. What works for one artist, does not always easily work for other artists, so learning from different sources gives you the opportunity to find the best way for you.

“There is no must in art because art is free.”
Wassily Kandinsky

9. Listen to critiques – but choose your critics wisely.

You need to listen to your critics if you truly want to grow as an artist. It does not always mean that they are always right. You may have wanted to create a sense of discomfort by painting the horizon not perfectly straight, but you may have not realized that you did do that and still preferred to keep it like that.

The point is, if you do not listen to critics, you will never get the benefit of their unique perspective of a fresh pair of eyes.

Find critics that you believe to be honest, but not someone who will feel that they must find fault in all your work. You will find that these are the people you really want to listen to, because they will compliment your achievement while being honest enough to let you grow.

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done.
Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad,
whether they love it or hate it.
While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Andy Warhol 

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.
Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Scott Adams

10. All work and no play make Jill a dull girl.

Learning fundamentals and practicing drawing are very important, but if you do not take a bit of time out for “fun” projects, you will lose interest and give up on your art career very quickly.

You can start with say, 5 days of learning and doing planned projects for practice. Follow this up with 2 days of pure fun.

If you find that you get tired of this, you can switch it up and have 3 days of work followed with 1 day of play or whatever you feel works for you. But do keep your timelines in mind.

Also, remember to allow time for fun when you set your goals.

Something that helps is to create artwork that you love. If you love painting pets, do not waste your own time by only painting cars. Of course, you can paint a car or two if you really want to or have reason to, but by staying with the subject you love, you will not burn out and you will not see your art as so much work.

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