There are so many YouTube videos, Instagram how-tos, and blog based tutorials it’s easy to get lost in the research and not actually show up for your art. So in the spirit of getting you back into the studio, or to your dining room table, here are some of the key resources I’ve used to build my skill, as well as the skill of hundreds of others, of all ages!
Understand the research
First, let’s talk about the theory. There is still SO much resistance to the idea that talent is overrated, and that skill development should be our primary focus. So don’t trust me, trust a man who has spent 30 years of his life researching expertise. His book has a counter-argument for every talent argument I’ve heard out there. The researcher is Anders Ericsson and his book is called Peak.
Another book, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, even breaks down the biology of learning and what changes occur in the brain when we, as he argues, grow talent.
Learn the techniques
Once you have some foundation knowledge, obviously it’s nice to apply these ideas to your art. One of the most influential resources for my personal practice of drawing portraits is the workbook Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces, by Carrie Lewis. After reading through her book once I had a huge leap in my skill. She helped me see things I hadn’t noticed before, and offered really practical strategies for capturing likeness.
Now, if you feel like a beginner, or want to start from the very beginning, then you must get every art teachers’ bible: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I’ve read through and referenced this book so much in my teaching career the binding is broken! It has wonderful exercises that can help you really develop a strong skill based foundation so you can then start focusing on finding your unique voice.
It’s also helpful to know what to avoid, not just what to practice. And there are some common mistakes creatives new to drawing make. Here’s how to avoid them.
Develop the habit
One key part of building skill that so many people know but skip or ignore, is that showing up regularly, and making a consistent habit of practice, is going to help you grow faster. It’s one reason I am constantly talking about Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies and her book Better Than Before.
It’s hard to try to show up everyday. It’s a lot easier to be in the habit of showing up everyday. Just think about it: do you have to work at brushing your teeth every morning and night?
Even 15 minutes of daily artist practice can create huge shifts in the way you see yourself as an artist and the quality of your work.
Other ways you can help yourself follow through and stay accountable to your goals is to join the monthly art challenges hosted by the lovely women at Kick in the Creatives, for example, or join a mini course like Drawing Drills, which is designed to help you use the formula outlined in Ander Ericsson’s research to improve your art skill in 7 days.
Permission to be where you are
It’s so easy to want to see results, like yesterday. But what about also celebrating where you are right now with your creative practice? We so often think we have to show up in unrealistic ways to achieve what we hope for ourselves, well, I have some good news. Not even Leonardo da Vinci could meet the many societal rules and expectations we have for artists today.
Those societal rules and expectations include definitions of what is cheating in art. So many artists from the Renaissance used a version of the grid method to improve their drawings and paintings, but no one calls them cheaters!
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Now It’s Your Turn
Where have you found invaluable resources, ideas, books to help you become a better artist? Share them in the comments below!
When I share ideas, research, and strategies here on Artist Strong I hope you are interested in digging deeper, and finding the truth on your own. In fact, I’d love you to share research and prove me wrong, or enhance the content I offer here! We are all learning together. 🙂