Hey anon! This is a pretty expansive question to prepare for a long reply.
What is drawing so much every day like for you?
I’m going to disclaim here that this is about my personal practice and is my own opinion. Everyone is different and your mileage may vary.
Art is my job, so I treat it as such. It’s a fun job which I’d rather do more than anything else, but it’s still a job, and I need to work hard at it. So at minimum, I’m trying to do 9-5 (a normal full time work shift) every day, making an 8 hour work day. Weekends included. Realistically, this ends up being more like 10-12 hours so that I have time so sketch and doodle personal stuff as well. I do this because it’s what I love, and I’d rather do art than watch TV, play games, etc. Of that, maybe 10% of the art I do actually ends up being shown to anyone/posted online (other than in my online sketchbooks which I sometimes update).
This isn’t what everyone wants to do, and art can be rewarding on many different levels, whether you draw half an hour a month or a few hours a day around your day job. But that’s what it is for me.
When I was starting out, I split my time in half with doing studies and
doing imaginative work. So in an 8 hour day, that’s about 4 hours on
each, which suddenly seems a lot less daunting than drawing for 8 hours
straight. Nowadays professional work takes up a lot more of my time, so I have less time to study/paint personal work, but that’s a pretty different topic so I won’t cover that here.
In order to improve at anything, you need to learn your fundamental principles and train yourself. Think of this like you’re an athlete – you spend maybe 10% of your time competing, but the other 90% of your time is spent training. If you only ever did the competing, you’d never get anywhere – you need to build those muscles first! When you’re starting out, I’d recommend spending about 50% of your art time studying and about 50% applying those studies in imaginative sketches.
Anthony Jones has a really great video about studying here which I highly recommend.
The great part about studies is that you don’t need to be “inspired” to do them. It’s all about the learning process. So even if you’re not in an “art mood”, studies can help get that out of your system and inspire you to make your own work, as well as helping you improve.
What do I study?
Life drawing and painting is pretty much acknowledged to be the best way to study drawing. Try to go to local life drawing classes, or failing that just draw your own face, hands, feet, etc, or anyone who will sit still for you. Or even if they won’t ; )
Here’s a self portrait from last year, and a life drawing and painting that took a couple of hours, along with some hands which I think were about 5 minutes each. If you have a good life drawing instructor they’ll help you improve and give advice. Try to vary your lighting, subject matter and the length of time you spend on pieces – we do everything from 2 minute gestural drawings to hours-long poses in our life drawing classes. Jana Schirmer is great inspiration for life paintings.
Your fundamentals are equally important. This means studying the concepts of anatomy, light, perspective, composition and form, among other things. I do a variety of stuff but most of it is basic practice and studies from books.
I highly recommend studying from the following books for starting out:
Michael Hampton’s Figure Drawing Design and Invention
Bridgman’s Guide to Drawing from Life
Vilpuu’s Drawing Manual
Loomis’ Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth
Scott Robertson’s How to Draw
Colour and Light:
James Gurney’s Colour and Light
Lastly, studies from master paintings and photographs.
important thing with all your studies, but particularly those of other
paintings and photographs, is that you are not copying but rather
observing and learning from your subject matter. I like to focus on one
or two things in a painting or photograph and analyse it – the colour
palette, lighting, composition or material rendering, for example.
you are going to do studies of paintings, do them from established
masters. These (on the left) are from Winterhalter and Rubens. Studying from
photographs (and film stills) can be helpful for mood, lighting and tone
that you wouldn’t see in painting from life. You should avoid
tracing (though do measure and check your study against the original),
and colour picking (though again, you can colour pick to check your own
colours against the original). In general, try to treat a photo or
painting you are studying from as if you were studying from life.
How do I think of what to draw?
Now we come to the other 50% of the time.
My general advice is: draw what you want to draw, especially when you’re starting out. There’s no faster way to lose motivation than drawing things you have no interest in. You should try to push just a little outside of your comfort zone bit by bit. That’s where studies come in – realise that you’re bad at something, and study until you’re better, then apply your studies to your artwork.
I draw things because I want to bring a certain idea to life. This idea can be triggered by anything, from a moment in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, a shot in a film, a flash of colour in a bird flying by or an interesting piece of information in a book. Sometimes you won’t even really know where an idea came from. Inspiration comes from everything you observe or consume in your life, and this will shape what you want to draw.
The study process and the imaginative process are interlinked. I have a
huge folder of images I find inspirational or appealing/helpful in some
way, varying from fashion, other artworks, compositional film shots,
anatomical poses, lighting, pictures of animals, master paintings etc.
Try to gather things you like in one place, whether that be a Tumblr, a
pinterest, or just a big ol’ folder on your hard drive. When I was
younger, I’d print out things that I liked and stick them on my wall. I
still do that, but I’ve run out of wall.
You should be inspiring yourself by studying the things you like, and then apply them in your own drawings. Deconstruct why you like it, and how you can use it in your own work. Sketch a lot – you don’t have to finish everything you start! Try to take some pieces through to completion, but don’t be afraid to abandon something if it’s not working (do try to figure out WHY it’s not working, though).
In addition to studying, use reference. I like to think of using reference as a shortcut around studying that you can use in a pinch. Not sure how to render satin and you’ve got a client piece to get in tomorrow? Get a reference – then after you’ve finished the piece, do some studies of it then see if you can draw it from imagination.
Don’t neglect your health.
Being an artist is hard and can be punishing to both your physical and mental health. Please look after yourself. Here’s some things I think are important.
- Try not to compare yourself to other artists in a derogatory way. Yes, take inspiration, but don’t beat yourself up because you’re not as good or don’t have that style. Everything comes in time.
- Try to avoid jealousy and envy of other artists. Likewise, if you find yourself doing well, try not to be egotistical in comparing yourself to others. I find that just talking to artists helps with this – drop your favourite artists an ask or an email. Even if they don’t have time to reply, it’s usually a pleasant experience for both parties.
- You need a bit of overconfidence to keep your motivation up, and a lot of self criticism to make sure you don’t stagnate. Try to keep both in equal measure.
- 90% of the time your art won’t be good enough to you. This is normal. Keep going.
- The other 10% that you like, you probably won’t like in a few months time. So just keep making more!
- Get critique. Take critique well (don’t take it personally). Critique will help you improve. Critique is also subjective, so take it with a grain of salt.
- Keep yourself in good shape physically – make time to eat well, exercise, and sleep, as well as watching out for your posture in your chair and the health of your wrists. This is incredibly important.
- Don’t let art have a negative impact on your mental health. Some of the points I’ve mentioned cover this already but also: make time to socialise and relax. Only do as much as you can. Have some other hobbies. Try being part of an art community – posting art online and receiving feedback can be both motivating and comforting.
- Be proud of yourself. You deserve it.
this is far, far too much for me to do but the tips are really great.