Drawing & Looking

Now that you’ve learned my little creativity exercises, don’t put down that pen. I mean, you can switch it out for a pencil, if you’d like, or your favorite drawing utensil, just don’t think you’re off the hook.

If you want to know what I think (and maybe you do if you’re here), drawing is the key to learning art, no matter which media you wind up using most regularly in the end. That might sound like I’m over-simplifying, but it’s really all about the line. Think of it as the beginning point or the center of the art universe. It’s the start of an idea. Where it goes from there is entirely up to you. You are the see-all-be-all, master designer of what progresses from that point forward. For all intents and purposes, you are the God of that point and that intention. The God of the line and the big boss of the symphony that extends beyond.

That’s a lot of power. YOU have that power. Not anyone else.

Knowing this, you should be pretty confident as a maker of your own art, confident in your drawings, even if you are still working on your abilities.

I say, draw all the time, wherever and whenever you can. Draw what you see, and draw what you don’t see. Draw what’s in your head, and write down your present and future ideas. Draw out your plans for your paintings, your sculptures, your concepts. Whatever it is, just draw and draw some more. It’s good practice, and it’s actually part of your job. I wish I drew more than I did and more than I do now. I would draw day and night if I could. If I wasn’t so tired and lazy, that is.

But I’ll tell you one thing. This is something I learn and relearn all the time about drawing out ideas; not every idea needs to come to full fruition. Meaning, you might think you have an awesome idea that needs to become the most brilliant painting ever executed in the history of art. It may even be pretty innovative (at the time). That doesn’t mean it must be made into a giant painting. You might want to sit with it for a minute, which is why drawing out your ideas first is pretty important. It did come to fruition after all. It was jotted down on paper (or in your sketchbook) in the first place. Maybe that’s its entire lifespan right there. Every squiggle you make isn’t sacred. Just sayin’.

To draw your ass off is to learn how to draw. You learn as you continue to do it. The more you do it, the more you’ll see what I mean. It’s a bit magical, and it stretches your brain-to-hand muscles. It makes you see more than you saw the day before. Like taking a hallucinogenic, your sense of reality starts to change.

And perhaps something that’s just as important a “teacher” in art is looking at art. I mean, LOTS of art. I don’t mean going out to a few galleries and walking by some paintings, either. I mean really looking at all the art you can, especially the work from the famous ones we all know as Masters in the museums. LOOK at it as a true study. Stand there and stare at those paintings for a good while, and come back another day and look at them again and again. Seriously. That’s how you’ll learn a great deal about painting, the application of paint, and its meaning. You gotta look beyond the picture. You must study it like an obsessed detective. Every line. Every detail. Looking is everything.

Look at paintings slowly. Closely. Step back. Get close again. I recommend a book by Peter Clothier called Slow Looking to get you started. You can apply it to any work of art, not just famous paintings. If you like meditating on art, it’s a wonderful process to learn.

Also, be open to learning from other artists. I don’t really mean the blind leading the blind kind of thing, but any artist that is farther along than you (the farther ahead, the better). Try to visit artists in their studios. See if you can watch them in the “act.” Not too many artists will allow you to watch their process, but if you can find a seasoned painter who will let you hang out with them while they’re working, that is a special fucking thing. Consider that a kind of apprenticeship because that’s fortunate. You can learn so much from watching someone else work.

Yes, there’s YouTube, and a lot of artists do demonstration videos, but I wouldn’t say that’s the same thing as being in an artist’s studio while they are actually working. Most of that shit is very staged for a camera. Remember that. Knowing someone and being there in real life is best.

Even if you can manage a studio visit exchange, that is very helpful too. This is where your networking skills will assist you tenfold. You need to be involved in a community of other artists. You need to be involved with them in real life. It’s important, and it’s just healthy.

Almost every city will have some kind of arts association. Find the biggest and most established one you can. If you’re in Los Angeles, the LA Art Association is almost 100 years strong and probably the best one you can possibly join, worth every single penny. But it is what you make of it. You can’t just join and sit there waiting for something to happen to you. Get involved. Go to all the events possible. Mingle. Meet people. Talk to other artists. Volunteer. This is also part of your job.

Even outside of the studio, you can learn a lot from other artists. Look at their websites. Look at their CVs. See what they’ve done. Get in touch. Ask them questions. Get feedback. Create a dialogue about art with them, if you can. Most serious artists like talking about art, art history, the process, materials, you name it. If they aren’t reciprocating with you the way you wish, that’s okay. You’ll eventually find artists that will.

Remember, you are a lifelong student. Even when you get to be in your 90s. Be open to learning all the time from everyone. Eventually, you will learn what advice is good and which is bogus and unusable. You will develop good judgment over time. The more you learn about yourself (and art in general), the more you’ll know where you fit in. Just trust your gut. Now that you know your core values, trust in who you are and trust in what you’re creating.

Believe in yourself (don’t depend on someone else believing in you, like Mom or Santa Claus, or whoever). For many of us, if we don’t believe in ourselves, who else is going to? If you stay aware of the fact that you need to support yourself (and I don’t mean in the monetary sense), you’ll be fine. This strong sense of self (at least as an artist) will help you endure the roughest parts of this job: the disappointment and rejection, the confusion and doubts, and the long waits between sales and mastering your skills.

Just keep looking. Keep drawing. Keep your core self strong. You’ll do great! I promise.

2 thoughts on “Drawing & Looking

  1. Hannah January 21, 2023 / 11:19 am

    “if we don’t believe in ourselves, who else is going to?” TESTIFY!

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