I received an email from someone who’s been painting for 5 months. They felt stuck in their work and didn’t know what to focus on. Below is my response, edited a bit for blog format. If you’re ever been caught up with the feeling of being foggy about where to go next, I invite you to give this approach a shot:
Study the fundamentals of drawing and painting each day– the Andrew Loomis books are very good for this.
Fundamentals are the base that you can build gorgeous work with– when you know the fundamentals, your work will improve quickly. Always focus on them first.
Here are some of the most important fundamentals:
Gradients vs Flats
Straights vs Curves
Now this may seem like a long and overwhelming list, but it’s really important to just pick two or three fundamentals at a time, and study those until you get a decent feel for them. Read about them, apply them to you work, and repeat. This can take a couple months for things to “click.” But I guarantee that when you keep working at them they will begin to feel natural. I suggest starting with 2-3 of these:
Another great way to see good results very soon is to work from reference. Pictures, Life, Masters, etc…Don’t copy outright, but try to capture the essence and apply the fundamentals.
Here are some of the biggest things that have helped me as an artist as well:
Create workflows and processes that you can count on that give good results. Linework > Values > Colors > Finish is one example.
Basically a step-by-step approach to your art– keeps things organized and smooth.
Slow down and have patience while working. Be precise in your decisions. It helps to think before each line or brush stroke. Become very specific about your work– don’t just rush to see the finished piece, slow down and enjoy the process. Ask yourself all the time “what looks right? what looks wrong?” And always correct mistakes right away.
Don’t forget to flip your canvas and rotate it to look at your work from different views, this helps to see mistakes and things that feel off.
Lastly, don’t get discouraged by where you’re at. Artists beat themselves up too much and make the process of learning difficult. Love your work and always aim to make it better. When you make mistakes, laugh! Then fix them. When a piece comes out looking bad, step back, analyze the errors, and re-do it better! Instant improvement again.
These are things that have helped me the most. Being consistent and practicing at least 2-3 hours a day helps as well.
Keep at it, and I guarantee you will see major improvements.
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Your friend and admirer,