5 Steps to become a better artist

Lloyd Metcalf

Lloyd Metcalf All artists struggle to improve and it can really feel like we have hit a wall sometimes. I was flat against the wall until I did these 5 simple things that helped sling shot my ability forward.

The Struggle is real

Many artists face this struggle and frustration. A place of stagnation finds you even though you might draw and draw. Still you think you SUCK!! Many artists will try new paints, new materials, new paper, but in the end, you are facing the same frustrating issues in your work with dead results.

Some of the following tips are the basics and may be common knowledge, but I present them for the struggling artist that may not realize there are solutions. Perhaps it’s something no one has ever told you before. I wish I had heard about this MUCH earlier in life.

  • Get a crappy sketchbook

This is something many artists overlook. The value of a lousy sketchbook. In a world full of $50 moleskins in coffee shops, artists might feel like every single doodle needs to be a masterpiece. At $50 for 20 pages, anyone would feel that pressure. Find a cheap crappy sketchbook that can travel with you. Better yet, recycle old paper stapled together. Whatever you do, don’t make it something you are emotionally or financially attached to. Bound books do make it more likely that they travel with you. The pressure of only drawing on fine paper removes the freedom to experiment wildly without pressure.

  • Don’t show anyone what you have done

For an artist trying to “get their name out there” this might seem counter intuitive, but it isn’t.  This new crappy sketchbook is for you ONLY, and not a showpiece. This is your thought train, your study notes. Like a writer’s outline, nothing that goes in this will be a finished product. In order to improve and make use of your time with pencil on paper, you must be able to do it without pressure. you MUST be ok with failing so you can learn and grow.

  • Draw what you see

This is probably the BIGGEST one of all five. It’s shocking how many artists both pro and amateur don’t do this. The thing that has helped me improve my work more than anything else, is simply looking at something and drawing it on paper. It seems dumb, it seems lame, it seems boring… but it will help you grow by leaps and bounds in very short order.

Staring at people can become uncomfortable, so draw anything in front of you. Fire hydrants, plants, dogs, work into drawing people when they aren’t looking. If you are extremely uncomfortable drawing people in public, find a life drawing session or class nearby.

If you are still on edge about this, pull up sites like quickposes.com or simply google an arbitrary topic, then draw the first 3 things that pop up. Remember though, that drawing things from the computer screen is about half as effective as drawing something you are standing in front of. Do this daily and you WILL become a better artist – without question. Don’t draw from your imagination, draw things in front of you, then later apply that knowledge to fantasy images.

  • Don’t mindlessly draw

I spent many many many years doing this, and I wasn’t improving or doing anything other than enforcing bad habits and spinning my wheels. Mindless doodles are fun if nothing is going on. I get it. When you do it you are MINDLESS in your doodle. start becoming MINDFUL if you doodle. If your pencil is on some paper draw something in front of you instead of drawing loops or that same old eye you always do. Draw the edge of your desk, that paperclip, the buttons on your monitor, your foot. In short order, you will be able to do this while talking on the phone, or whatever it is that led you to doodle.

When I did this, I would find myself ruining my actual drawing sessions. I would automatically start making lines and shapes before I had a plan. Mindless work had reinforced this habit of unfocused art.

  • Do it everyday

Ok, I am guilty of not doing this. So many things come up in life but really, I am making excuses. I played Minecraft for a full 20 minutes today that I could have been drawing something.

Looking at something and drawing it in your crappy sketchbook without the intent of showing anyone, will become automatic before long. Every time you do it, you are adding to your muscle memory and your visual library (something you can call on when no reference is available). Every stroke may reveal a little “swoop” shape in hair, a turn in finger placement, or a neat thing to shade that will stick in your experience.

But I want to paint!

Drawing is at the core of all these things, so drawing should be part of your life. Painting is just drawing with paint. Drawing is the boiled down version of representing something on a support.

There is also a solution for painters though. Recently I slapped some gesso on pages of a multimedia sketchbook. Then I can just plop down and paint something that is in front of me. I do it with a minimal palette or even a monochrome one. I don’t intend on showing anyone what I paint, and use it in the same way I do my crappy sketchbook.

Follow these 5 steps and you will likely improve, I certainly have.

Do you have further tips? Do you have something in your crappy sketchbook you HAVE to share? Pop it in the comments below!

Now go DRAW!




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