The journey to become a professional artist is misunderstood.
I started drawing in 2010. After nearly graduating with a Computer Science degree, I took an elective that changed my life. A year later I was in California at the Laguna College of Art & Design studying entertainment design. Shortly after that, a friend recommended Concept Design Academy and I took an art class that taught figure drawing on a whole new level.
I continued this path of discovery and progress, attending various art schools, learning drawing lesson after drawing lesson, and training to be a professional artist until Wednesday April 24th, 2019. Or at least that’s what my computer says when I look at the date on the last illustration I created.
When you start your art journey, your ambition is light-years ahead of your skill. You’re excited to learn. Ambition can only get you so far. It gave me nearly 10 years of experience, but it still wasn’t enough. Whether you have some natural talent or not, you need dedicated effort to learn how to draw.
You might have heard that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. It’s a myth. People say that because it’s catchy and it sounds like you can get by doing the bare minimum, if you just put in the time.
I used to fall victim to that. It held me to my practice, but if you’re trying to learn, drawing without effort is pointless. Don’t get me wrong, drawing is fun but you don’t want to be terrible at a skill you enjoy. It will only get less fun and more frustrating over time. The goal is to improve and the only way you can learn how to draw is by putting in consistent effort.
Time is the least important variable when it comes to learning how to draw. Effort, on the other hand, is what separates a great artist from a beginner.
Consider these two beginners who are learning to draw portraits.
Beginner A has 2 hours to study. They put on a TV show in the background to pass the time. Paying more attention to the show than they do the portrait practice, they pass the time without actively engaging any problem solving or critical thinking during their practice.
Beginner B has only 15 minutes to study. They put in their headphones and play smooth jazz from the Cowboy Bebop episode they watched yesterday. Breaking down the portraits with two different art books, they engage in problem solving to understand the forms they’re drawing. While they were unable to finish the portrait in time, they review what they did well and what needed more work and go over potential adjustments in their mind as they close their sketchbook.
Learning how to improve your drawing skills requires more thought than putting pen to paper. You need to engage your mind. I’m sure it won’t shock you to know that putting in effort is hard. Without effort, a beginner might not ever make it past drawing a stick figure.
The biggest reason why many of us can’t learn to draw is, for whatever reason, we can’t put forth the effort required to improve our skill. This could be any number of reasons.
· You got bored.
· You can’t focus.
· You feel that you don’t have time to make any meaningful effort.
· You’re frustrated with your progress.
· You don’t think it’s possible to improve.
· Your daily life got in the way.
· You gave up.
I stopped drawing in 2019 because I was depressed. I was at a dead-end job that treated me poorly. I lost hope in finding a girlfriend because of some miserable luck. Life just wasn’t working out the way I had planned.
Becoming an artist is not easy, but we can certainly make it easier with the right approach. We can use the right techniques to study and develop a drawing course that focuses on putting in effort.
There are two things you’ll need:
2. Implementation intention
The first time I was on a plane, I was delighted. There was an incredible amount of noise and shaking but it didn’t concern me. Part of it might have been the fact that I was going to Disney World with my family for the first time, but it was also because my parents told me it was safe. If you’re going to fly on a plane, that’s the first thing you want to know.
Trusting the drawing process is more difficult than strapping yourself into a sky rocket. One of the first things a beginner artist will do (and one of the hardest) is convince yourself that the art journey is possible. You can do this the same way you convince yourself that a plane can fly and land safely – with proof.
If you see someone start as an absolute beginner and watch as they learn perspective, color, light, and anatomy until their skills blossom– you know it’s possible. When you see proof that talent has nothing to do with true mastery and skill – you see that there’s a path for you.
With proof of the artist’s journey behind you, the last hurdle that stands between you and becoming a professional artist is effort. Or more specifically, applying effort to your practice.
I started drawing again this year and learned how to properly dedicate myself using one basic technique – intention.
Simply by making a plan that clearly describes when and where you intend to draw, you’re much more likely to follow-through. A study involving exercise showed that those who made the intention to exercise had a 91% chance to take action – over twice as much as those who had no specific plan. Using what researchers call implementation intention, you create a cue to jumpstart a habit into occurring.
You can learn to draw if you make a specific plan for when and where you’ll perform the new habit. Instead of a vague notion to improve your drawing skills, you have a predetermined plan to follow. You could say:
· I will draw for one hour at 10AM at my desk.
· I will draw the figure for 30 minutes at 5PM in the living room.
· I will draw the female figure for 1.5 hours at6PM on my iPad on the patio.
You can get as specific as you want, the point is to make the intention clear. With enough repetition, at your chosen time and place, you’ll find it easier to learn to draw.
It feels unfair, but for some people, applying effort comes easy.
I struggled with applying myself every day. I’m only now figuring out the best ways to do that. When you know that it’s possible to learn to draw, making consistent effort is really your only obstacle.
I don’t take pleasure in saying some people can’t learn to draw. Just like you, I want to be one of the one’s who succeeds. I’m finding the way and sharing it with you as I go. Intention can help you apply effort to your work. You can improve your drawing skills faster so your beautiful drawings are all the motivation you need to create more.