Why is it so hard to practice drawing?
In my own experience as an aspiring artist, I have often felt frustrated with not making any progress in my work. To be honest, I don’t think we really understand anything about practice. Look at how our world is organized : it is more of a desolate place for servile robots than a prosperous garden for civilized and skilful living creatures. It may well be that only those who make beauty in art do know the difficult path to success. Therefore, in order to make real progress, we need to understand why drawing practice is so hard and find ways that will make it easier and more efficient.
Why is it so important to practice efficiently?
“Efficiency” is not a very pleasant word. It is too reminiscent of the performance-oriented, machine populated and disagreeable atmosphere we currently live in. So let’s define it somewhat differently than we are used to : let’s say it represents the most optimal path to where you are now to where you want to go as an artist. This is a relative path defined with respect to your goals.
Given this definition, it is no wonder that practice without efficiency will likely lead most of us to become frustrated and even quit drawing. This can be a tragedy if we are striving to become professional artists and we come to the conclusion that we have no talent. We must not let such things happen.
Considering my own experience, I have been mainly faced with two problems. The first consists in choosing the right material in all the resources available. The second problem is more complex and hidden under the first. It may well be the cause of all our problems. Lets look at these more in detail.
What criteria should you look for in your learning resources?
Beginners don’t usually realize how important it is for them to have the smallest amount of resources possible to start with. Moreover, the resources they choose must meet certain criteria to be profitable for their practice : they must be structured/coherent, experienced, affordable and at the right level.
By applying this definition you can rule out most of resources available on the net : uncategorised and unstructured blog posts, articles, videos, Facebook groups, Youtube channels, expensive classical contemporary ateliers and so on. This is not an easy task by any means. And beginners cannot possibly apply this overnight. Choosing the right material is in itself a matter of practice.
So whatever you have at your disposal, be sure to start asking yourself these questions from now on. Who is teaching the material? What is the teacher’s level and quality of work? Is it at the level I’m aiming at? Is it structured correctly? Am I the only one not to understand? Is there even any chance I can learn something from what is being taught? Is there any result that is satisfactory? How long can I sustain doing that without becoming broke, etc…
What problem makes it so hard to practice drawing?
Once we’ve tackled the choice of material, there’s a bigger problem blocking our progress. You will surprised to learn that this is less a matter of motivation than of frame of mind. You need to start thinking in a special way to make your practice efficient (and more interesting).
This mysterious thought process pervades every human activity that succeeds and it’s what we usually call problem-solving. I will study the subject more in depth in my future posts but if you want a good introduction, you can read the book Peak. “Deliberate practice” in Peak or “System 2” in Thinking Fast and Slow by psychologists Kahneman and Tversky, are other ways of calling a problem-solving oriented practice.
As you will see, problem-solving is not easy nor intuitive to implement. Let’s see what that means and implies for drawing practice.
Why you need to view practice as a means to identify problems
In order to make it less difficult for you, you need to change the way you conceptualize and organize your practice time. In fact, it seems most people make it a sterile routine. They take whatever content they have at their disposal and go through it until they have to go do something else.
If you were to ask them at the end of their drawing session how useful it was, I’m sure most of them wouldn’t really be able to answer. In fact, I’m convinced they rely on the fact that their brains will unconsciously fill in the gaps and correct whatever they’re doing wrong. But will it? It might. However my opinion is that it will do that only up to a certain point : the brain has so many other things to take care of…
Therefore, what usually happens to all of us if we don’t bring some analytical mind into our work is that we’ll hit a competence wall at some point in our learning. Yours might be a little later than mine but that doesn’t matter. You will hit your wall anyway and you might get stuck there for a long time.
How can you implement problem-solving in your drawing practice?
Now that you know why it is so hard to practice drawing, you need to know how to do it. Easier said than done and that’s why I will cover this subject in detail in my following posts. But to conclude this first article, I want to give you the gist of what you need to do.
In order to make your practice fruitful, you have to practice bringing your mistakes to conscience. Of course, there isn’t an absolute set of mistakes that you could consult to make your life easier. Because these depend hugely on your idiosyncrasies and what it is you’re trying to achieve. So your best bet is to build your own experience of what’s wrong in your work.
In my experience, I have come to learn how my brain can trick me by exaggerating what’s good and discarding what’s wrong. But usually the gold lies in my errors! Once I see them, most of the work has been done: I set myself on the right track and I find solutions. And sometimes I find not only one solution but a multitude of creative ones.
Regarding the importance of a problem-oriented frame of mind in all fields of knowledge, I recommend reading Beau Lotto’s book Deviate as an introduction.
Before I delve further into problem-solving….
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I promise to reply. I will be continuing this article shortly by a second article on a precise case study involving problem-solving. So you know concretely how to transform your practice into something useful.