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On improving at art

Journal Entry: Thu May 29, 2008, 9:25 AM
  • Listening to: Poets of the Fall
  • Drinking: the best jasmine tea EVAR
Several years ago, I looked at the ever-expanding gallery on my website and realized that I draw a lot more than I write.  Which is funny, because I've got a BA in English, and I grew up thinking that I wanted to write.

A year or two after that, I looked at my art and realized, "Gee, I'm actually not bad, but I definitely see flaws that need fixing if I want to be what I'd consider *good*."

For a year or so after *that*, I worked on fixing those flaws with the amusing idea in my head that there was some sort of line I could cross where I'd go from being "okay" to being "good"--as if art were structured or formalized so that I could know I had "made it" and could now call myself an Artist.

Well, that idea got knocked out of my head pretty quick, as I fixed the flaws I'd spotted, and then spotted a few more and worked on fixing those.  I discovered that getting the anatomical structure of legs right was nothing compared to getting *hands* right, and that no, I could not ignore backgrounds and scenes and whatnot forever if I wanted to continue to get better.  Oh, and then I realized how infuriatingly different it is to think in terms of a color medium compared to graphite or charcoal.  And then there's lighting.  Argh!

Yeah.  So it didn't take me too long to realize that there is no line.  There's nobody who'll swan up to you and say, "Behold!  You can now consider yourself a serious artist!"  There's no moment in time where you can (or should) look at your art and think, "Well, that's it, then."  Like most things in life, getting better at art is a continuous, never-ending process.  Oh, you'll have your periods of screaming, exhilerating, and obvious progress in skill, and your times when you'll rest on your laurels, mastering what you've developed and getting comfortable in your style and/or rut.

I've been thinking about this lately because for a while I was arting all over the place, and then around January I hit what seemed to be a dead patch.  Eh, this is how these cycles work for me.  The artist's block happens to everyone.  But for some time, I've been in that infuriating stage where I feel like drawing but I can't seem to get anything out.  I'd sketch part of a face and then feel the mood leave me, or start on a scene and then just not be able to dredge up that spark that makes me want to see it through.  At first I wondered if there was something wrong with what I'd been trying to do, some bit of zing! to the pictures that I was missing.  If I could quantify what catches my interest, then...well, I'd be sitting pretty, wouldn't I?  Who doesn't want Muse in a Bottle, after all?

But then I flipped through my sketch books and realized, no, it's not the muse.  I'm just in a doodling mood.  And the doodling mood is good, because I'm suddenly noticing that what catches my interest about a drawing lately is the little things--the lines in a person's face that give them character and individuality, the details of costuming that make an outfit really pop.  The lighting and shadows of a picture.  And right now, that's what I need to work on.

As I accept my doodling mood as merely the latest stage in my evolution as an artist, I feel at ease; enthusiastic; excited, even, for what I may reap from it, what it might lead me to create and how my work can grow and develop from it.

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Yzabel Featured By Owner Jun 7, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Ahhh, the good old realization. It took me quite some time as well to understand that. I also go through cycles with art—sometimes it's art block, sometimes it's indeed doodling, sometimes it's a sudden breakthrough that allows me to draw right something I couldn't really draw before. Which doesn't mean my art suddenly becomes TheAwesome!, but if one element is improved, I'll take that any time over no improvement at all. (Not that my art is very realistic, anyway. Oh well.)

I wonder if we're actually meant to find a set point in art. Maybe we can simply go on evolving until our dying day, or something like that.
Bluesrat Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2008
Actually, I love your style! Very cool. And I doubt any of us will ever find a set point in art. Even if we manage to master one thing, there's always something else to work on.
Yzabel Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hah, no kidding. But I prefer it that way. If there was a set point, reaching it and knowing that we can't learn anything after that would kind of, well, suck.
Bluesrat Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2008
Indeed! It'd get awfully boring.
Murasaki99 Featured By Owner May 30, 2008  Student Traditional Artist
Yes! :) My brain is semi-dead tonight, but I agree very much with your observations.
Jagash Featured By Owner May 29, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wisdom, thanks for sharing. I have had those same feelings of being without muse and I shall consider the joys of doodling.

Miskatonika Featured By Owner May 29, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Did you just read my mind or something? Or maybe just my latest journal ;) I asked the very same thing, about how I can improve in my art.

It turns out that I was in just a doodling mood, and I needed to draw something other than a realistic portrait or animal. So I made a little cartoon owl for my mom. It helped me relax so much and I had fun with colors.

So now, any time I feel stagnate or frustrated, I'm just going to go with my gut feeling and start drawing. Something might happen :)
Bluesrat Featured By Owner May 29, 2008
*laugh* Actually, I hadn't read your journal yet, so I guess maybe I'm psychic. :D

The funny thing, though, is that I *was* thinking of you, and Nibblekat, when I wrote it, because you'd both expressed the same sort of dissatisfaction that I'd been feeling about your art, and I wondered--in that way you do, where you wonder if it's just you or something common to people in general--if it might be for similar reasons.

I suppose the subconscious knows what it's craving, and it's good to remember that even when Big Art just isn't happening, it doesn't mean we're not improving. Doodling, half-finishing pictures, and even just looking at other art and taking in the world around us are all ways of growing. For a couple of weeks, I didn't even want to look at my sketchbook; I just surfed DA and looked at what other people were doing. :) And you know, I think it did give me some new ideas.

Drawing realistically is awesome. I don't think there's any better way to improve in the fundamentals: anatomy, shading, and all that jazz. And a good realist drawing is always cool to look at. But to develop our own styles, we play around with other things too. Maybe you've hit a point where subconsciously, you're feeling ready to branch out and do just that. :)

Your owl, by the way, is adorable!
Miskatonika Featured By Owner May 30, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
"it's good to remember that even when Big Art just isn't happening, it doesn't mean we're not improving."

This is SO true!! Even when I'm just copying a photo, I'm figuring out the medium and each one gets a little bit better. dA can be really inspiring, that's kind of what got me to look at my own gallery. I wandered around in the Art and Project forums too, just to see what was going on in the big wide world, and that helped some as well.

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Submitted on
May 29, 2008