If you follow the steps below, you will be surprised by what you can do by the end of 2021. That’s a big promise but I think you’ll agree by the end it’s reasonable. We are going to make a monthly plan and I’m going to show you the things to put into your plan depending on your experience level.
My old approach
Here’s how I used to approach improvement: do some drawings. Be unhappy with them and try to see what was wrong and see a lot of problems.
I’d then maybe look up some random tutorials or books about all those things to try to quickly fix all my problems in the next drawing. Then I’d see all those same things wrong still and be unhappy with the result.
I wasted years spinning my wheels like that – don’t do that in 2021! That’s not how people who are serious about achieving anything difficult go about it, why would it work like that for drawing?
Why this happens
When you’re learning about a drawing principle, your knowledge feels like it goes down at first because you realise how much you don’t know. Then it increases quite nicely as you investigate further. Often you might have learned a lot of the main ideas within a few weeks.
The problem is that your skill level doesn’t change at the same pace as your knowledge. There is a period where you know what to do, but cannot yet do it. That is a very difficult time, because it feels like there is something wrong with you. In some areas of learning, once you know how to do something in theory, then you can also do it in practice. Drawing is more like a sport, where the skill is quite slow to develop. Once you have a breakthrough with your practice, your skill level can suddenly increase rapidly. The amazing thing is that your skill level can end up exceeding your knowledge because you find yourself make marks or observations and not being entirely sure why they work so well!
But that period where your skills just don’t seem to be changing causes a lot of people to give up, thinking that they don’t have the talent to learn this skill. If only they persevered with the exercises and gave themselves a bit more time with it, they would find a breakthrough was just around the corner.
A better way
Plans sound boring, plans are for renovating a kitchen and having a big wedding or something. I don’t want art to require an Excel sheet and strategy document. But firstly I’m not talking about planning out the creation of your artwork – that process can stay expressive and spontaneous. I’m talking about learning drawing and painting skills. The learning process is a different, kind of complicated long-term project, so it needs a bit of a plan. And I’m not talking about full on project management, just knowing what you’re focused on and then sticking to each topic for enough time and effort to get through the initial confusion part to the actual improvement part.
So check out this planner. It’s super simple. It’s not supposed to be rigid and control what you do, it’s supposed to just be a reminder about what one or two topics you are focused on each month, and to stick to that focus area for enough time that you can really learn that thing.
The topic should be specific. So rather than “I’ll do anatomy this month”. How about, I’ll learn about “the skeletal landmarks and major muscles of the back” this month.
Then for that topic in that month, you can set yourself a goal. The goal should be realistic, so rather than, ‘I’ll be amazing at drawing backs by the end of the month’, it’s more like ‘I’ll be able to pick out the muscles on a muscular model’s back in different poses by the end of the month’.
Then there’s boxes for each day of the month that you can cross off for every day you practise. You want to see most days being crossed off, build up a nice streak of days, or at least try not to have 2 consecutive days without a cross. Once you are practising intelligently, the only other requirement is consistency.
What to put in the plan
So what you put in to the topics every month is going to vary a lot based on where you are and where you want to get to.
If you are a beginner learning to draw figures this year. The best thing to do is our Fresh Eyes challenge, so drop everything and do that if you get the chance (sign up to our newsletter to learn more about enrolment). But other than that, here are some ideas for topics to go into all those months.
Perspective. If you don’t know much about perspective, it is worth spending some time with it. We have some good tutorials on 1, 2 and 3 point perspective and eye level and horizon line on this site. I would say rather than developing your perspective knowhow with more and more advanced perspective, you want to get a good intuitive skill with basic perspective. So if you can end a perspective focused month with the ability to intuitively draw a box quite well or maybe create a street scene with different buildings from your mind, that’s a good goal.
The figure’s landmarks. If you’re a beginner and interested in drawing people, learning to find the main landmarks on the figure is a great place to start. We have a beginner series on this site if you haven’t seen it.
Observational skills. Very often when drawing from life, you need to be able to gauge how far something is from something else, or what the angle is between two points. At first, you can do that manually by holding up your pencil, and with time you can increasingly learn to do that intuitively. You could practise that with the figure’s landmarks or with other objects. Here’s a tutorial to get you started.
Gesture. This one is for those who have a little bit of experience with their figures. This is a broad topic and sometimes can be a bit vague. You might like ot check our our Gesture Series, if you haven’t done that already.
That anatomy area you’ve been avoiding. Yeah you know what I mean. There’s that area of the figure that you don’t tend to draw or leave out, or you don’t really know what’s going on in there in terms of anatomy and you’ve been avoiding it.
Line Quality. Using simpler marks, i.e. C shaped curves, S shaped curves and straight lines only, with more confidence and finesse. You could focus on emulating the mark making of your favourite one or two artists, studying their drawings.
Some other topic areas would be simplifying values, shape design, colour and light, composition, drawing from imagination, a particular material like drawing digitally or painting with gouache. The possible topics are sort of endless in art, but hopefully those have given you some ideas.
I would suggest being clear and specific about the first 6 months of the year, and then scheduling a mid-year review where you set out the second 6 months. You will probably learn a ton in the first 6 months and that will change what you want to do in the second 6 months.
I would also suggest you keep your goals really reasonable because things don’t change in a matter of weeks. You will be really impressed with what you can do if you stick to this for a year though, we tend to overestimate what’s possible short-term but also under-estimate what’s possible long-term.
And finally, if you’re early in your learning journey, it’s a difficult and confusing time, but the rewards are also huge. You can see real transformation in that medium to long term across 1 to 3 years. To learn more about the learning process, check out our guide HERE