I try really, really hard to draw every day because I know it’s the only way to improve. Some days I feel like crap and I don’t feel like drawing. Drawing is hard. Sometimes it makes my brain hurt, sometimes my arthritis is really bad and it makes my joints hurt, sometimes my drawings look like crap, sometimes I draw the same things over and over and I still can’t get it right. But when I do get it right, when it does look awesome, I am completely over the moon and it energizes me to make more.
I have been doing two types of practice drawings for the last few years: drawing from reference and master studies. The two types of practice help me to practice different parts of my style. My goal is to be somewhere between realism and simplified forms.
Drawing from reference
I keep my practice drawings from reference in my primary sketchbook. Most of my references for drawing come from photographs. Although I know I really need to draw more from real life, I feel like it is so easy to find a photo of whatever I want to draw.
Google images and Pinterest make this incredibly easy as there are a gazillion photographs on the internet of anything you can imagine. The added benefit of Pinterest is that you can keep a catalog of photos in different folders. I have folders labeled “skulls” “bunnies” “women’s faces” etc. in my Pinterest account. Drawing from reference photos helps me to draw more realistically, otherwise my drawings look more like cute cartoons. I would like my images to have accurate shapes and rendering, but photo-realism is not my ultimate goal.
Drawings from photos
Drawing from life
I am heavily influenced by traditional and neo-traditional tattooing, graphic arts, and illustration. I am interested in maximizing the “readability” of my images. This means that the image may have detail, but you should be able to tell what the hell it is from across the room. So, I do master studies of works by tattoo artists and illustrators to learn how they simplify objects to make them more readable. I also study the decorative elements of their designs. A good drawing is not just about making accurate shapes, and effective rendering, but a pleasing composition.
In a master study, I simply copy the drawing. I keep these drawings in a separate sketchbook I call the “copycat” sketchbook (hence the cat sticker on the front) to help remind myself to not use these drawings in finished works (but I do reference these drawings when I am coming up with my own versions). The master copies I do take less brain power to execute, so I end up doing more of these when I am tired and don’t feel like drawing. Recently I have fallen in love with traditional tattoo peonies and it has been fun to make several master copies of tattoo artist’s work and learn about their construction
Master studies of traditional tattoo designs
Regardless of the type of practice I am doing, I try to repeat the process several times on the same page. If you fit all of the repetitions on the same page, you can watch your own progression of improvement from the top to the bottom. This provides some good evidence of the importance of practice and increases my motivation to keep at it.
Practicing bunnies and flowers in my sketchbook for my most recent linocut print. Notice how these bunnies gradually get better the more that I draw them?
When will I reach my 10,000 Hours?
Have you heard of this 10,000 rule? The idea is that in order to be really good at something, you need to put in at least 10,000 hours. Day jobs, families, life stuff all make this difficult for those of us who are not full time artists and need to have a day job. I find that I only have about 2 hours of free time per day after I get home from work. It is very easy to get discouraged about making any progression with so little free time to work with. But I think it’s best to view the learning of art skills as a marathon and not a race. And some of us just have to run slower, but we will still get there.