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On Art

How to get better at drawing

  1. Just start drawing.
  2. Don’t stop drawing.

Just start drawing

This, in theory, is the easy part. It’s especially easy for children. Older, less naive, people find that they make excuses when they should be drawing. Whole careers have been wasted simply through the inability of someone to start something. Pure procrastination. Fear of failure. Waiting for the right time, the right mood, the right milestone. Just start drawing.

Don’t stop drawing

When an artist says “I’ve been drawing since I can remember” what they really mean is, “I never stopped drawing.” They didn’t stop drawing when their mother stopped putting their drawings on the refrigerator. They didn’t stop drawing when they didn’t win a prize in their school’s student art contest. They didn’t stop drawing when they got a real job. Don’t stop drawing.

I promise you that if you do those two things that you will get better at drawing. You will be better every day. In ten years you will be better than you are today. It doesn’t have to be hard work, but you do have to work it.

This is the advice I want to give to everyone about everything. There are no shortcuts. The people who you think are inherently talented: just started and never stopped.

Just start. Don’t stop.

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On Art

The Best Art Instruction Manuals: Creative Theory

Over the past two years I’ve been working through a series of books on Art, from histories to theory to manuals. I’ve decided to share some of the best works that I’ve come across. This page, A Very Artistic Library, will be an up-to-date list of recommendations for people who want to learn more about how to create art.

A Very Artistic Library

These are the books that I’ve recently read that address my creative issues. I think I’ll be reading them more than once. I’m spending all this time trying to figure myself out. I’m trying to get out of my own way. I’m trying to harness whatever muse, genius, or creative spirit it is inside of me that will take me where I want to go. And, as I’ve told myself for the last 20 years, trying to figure out what I mean when I tell myself, “let go.”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

A 12-week program to get your mind together as it relates to creativity. I’ve worked through it twice last year. I’ll be picking it up and working through it again and again.

Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff

Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Time and again I’ve heard people talk about flow. This was the book that started the discussion of the experience.

Choose Wonder Over Worry by Amber Rae

I heard Amber Rae on the Your Creative Push podcast. She discussed what she called her Multiple Personality Order. I realized that I needed to read this book. I didn’t want to read it. The first chapter was a struggle for me. I had to drag myself through the book, because it was so relevant.

Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham and Pema Chodron

I originally read Sakyong Mipham’s Running with the Mind of Meditation book last year. I purchased this one without realizing that it was by the same author.

Tales From Both Sides of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga

I purchased this book first. It was one of the blurbs on the back that sold me: “…the idea that we all have ‘multiple minds’ operating as a ‘confederation’…” It was too relevant to pass up.

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On Art

Drawing on Escher on Drawing

If you’re ever feeling that you’re not good enough, remember that no artist thinks that they’re good enough. Here’s a quote from M.C. Escher, one of the finest draftsman you could encounter.

“Good God, I wish I’d learn to draw a little better! How much effort and persistence costs to try to do it well. Every once in a while the stress of it all drives me to the point of a nervous break down. It is really strictly a matter of persisting tenaciously with continuous and, if possible, pitiless self criticism. I believe that to produce prints the way I do is almost strictly a matter of wanting so terribly much to do it well. Talent and all that is really for the most part just baloney. Any school boy with a little aptitude can perhaps draw better than I; but what he lacks in most cases is that tenacious desire to make it a reality, that obstinate gnashing of teeth and saying, ‘Although I know it can’t be done, I want to do it anyway.’”

— From a letter by MC Escher to his son November 12, 1955.

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On Art

The Best Art Instruction Manuals: Painting

Over the past two years I’ve been working through a series of books on Art, from histories to theory to manuals. I’ve decided to share some of the best works that I’ve come across. I’ll be adding all of these, and future works, to my Very Artistic Library page. It will be an up-to-date list of recommendations for people who want to learn more about how to create art.

A Very Artistic Library

Art Manuals: Painting

Learning to paint — how to make a compostion, sketches, different painting techniques, tools, supports, etc. These four works give a comprehensive review of painting, from painting what you see, to painting what’s impossible to see, to explaining what it is that you actually see. These are the books that you should pour over, read repeatedly, and constantly review year after year.

Alla Prima II by Richard Schmid with Katie Swatland

Richard Schmid breaks down the components of the craft, techniques, and process of painting. It’s no longer in print, but if you can find it, it’s an excellent resource.

Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist by James Gurney

Imaginative Realism isn’t about painting aliens and dinosaurs and dragons. OK, it isn’t just about painting aliens and spaceships and dragons. It’s also about painting real things that you’re unlikely to see: ancient civilizations, historical personages, and extinct animals. And to top it off James Gurney reviews what you’d need to consider in the process of getting work done — everything that I learned in Commercial Art — thumbnails, color studies, drawing from photographs, and more.

Sci-Fi & Fantasy Oil Painting Techniques by Patrick J. Jones

Patrick Jones gives us another comprehensive look that serves as a complement to Imaginative Realism. While James Gurney explored the traditional process, Patrick Jones gives more detail for working from photos and using digital painting.

Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney

Color and Light is well worth the price if all you take away from this book is the understanding of the following gem: “Under normal lighting conditions, the rods and cones cooperate to give you an interpretation of reality.” but the book contains so much more and many more gems just like it.

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On Art

The Best Art Instruction Manuals: Drawing

Over the past two years I’ve been working through a series of books on Art, from histories to theory to manuals. I’ve decided to share some of the best works that I’ve come across. I’ll be adding all of these, and future works, to my Very Artistic Library page. It will be an up-to-date list of recommendations for people who want to learn more about how to create art. I’m kicking off the series with Drawing.

Drawing is the first skill that you need to learn as an artist. Initial sketches are used in every other art: painting, stained-glass, jewelry, sculpture, and more. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition by Betty Edwards will teach you how to learn to draw what you see. If you can’t make art in simple black lines then it makes it so much harder when you try to add value, shape, and color. Drawing Atelier by Jon deMartin will teach you what you should’ve been taught in art school: the process that classical and master artists used to create their drawings and a good foundation for creating thumbnails and sketches that will eventually become other works of art. These two books together will help you create the drawing for your painting; what the Renaissance artists would have called the composition or cartoon.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition by Betty Edwards

Drawing Atelier by Jon deMartin

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On Art

Being Bad

I don’t think I’m getting my thoughts out properly. It feels like there’s a gap between what I want to say (portray, write, etc.) and what I actually say. I’m clumsily groping for the words to express what I’m trying to say. The solution: allow yourself to do things badly.

  • Make 1000 bad drawings
  • Paint 1000 bad paintings
  • Write 1000 bad blog posts
  • Play 1000 piano songs, badly

It’s not that I’m setting out to make anything that’s bad, but that I’m making things and allowing them to be bad. The only way to get better is to allow yourself the opportunity to do bad work.

I forgot that I was doing this (this blog; this artwork; etc.) for myself. Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly crafted for display to others. Sometimes it’s more important to get the ideas out as they happen. That’s the reason why I promised myself to do 50 posts in a year. Some of it will be rushed, premature, poorly thought out, but the main goal is to just get it out. This isn’t a place to withhold.

Doing something badly isn’t a waste of time. The biggest unknown challenge for an artist is to get good before they realize that they’re doing it badly. That’s why so many people give up art when they’re still children. They realize that they’re not very good. People who do art well into adulthood blissfully keep making art until they’re well past the point that they realize their childhood art wasn’t very good. They’ll look back at their early art and think to themselves, “I can’t believe I thought that was good.”

The hardest obstacle to get over is for an artist is to not be very good; to know they’re not very good; and yet still need to do art, to know that they need to do art to get better, and to know that they won’t get better without doing the art that they know will be bad.

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On Art

Podcasts for an Aspiring Artist

I’ve been listening to a wide variety of podcasts since I began my art reeducation. Here are the best I’ve found so far, related to Art and the creative process.

Your Creative Push

Your Creative Push is the podcast that pushes YOU to finally pursue your creative passion, whatever that passion may be.

If I could only listen to one podcast, as an artist, it would be this. Every interview gives you some small insight into being creative, whether the episode’s guest is a musician, writer, visual artist, or some other type of creative professional. As you listen to the artists speak about art you’ll notice some very distinct patterns and trends about how different types of artists generally approach art in the same way, with similar creative methods (inspiration, flow, etc.).

Tides of History

Everywhere around us are echoes of the past. Those echoes define the boundaries of states and countries, how we pray and how we fight. They determine what money we spend and and how we earn it at work, what language we speak and how we raise our children. From Wondery, host Patrick Wyman, PhD (“Fall Of Rome”) helps us understand our world and how it got to be the way it is.

I believe that to understand art you need to understand the period in which it was created. I started listening to Patrick Wyman with his The Fall of the Rome podcast as I was researching Roman Art. He does an excellent job of helping you to understand the events that lead from the fall of Rome to the rise of the Modern era, beginning with the Renaissance, from both the large scale view and the view of what the history would look like to someone living in that time.

Philosophize This!

Beginner friendly if listened to in order! For anyone interested in an educational podcast about philosophy where you don’t need to be a graduate-level philosopher to understand it. In chronological order, the thinkers and ideas that forged the world we live in are broken down and explained.

Another thing that I believe is that you also need to understand what people were thinking about, and what questions they were asking, to understand why they were creating art. Stephen West covers not only the content of the various philosophies, but also why they were important and how they influenced each other.

Invisibilia

Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Invisibilia — Latin for invisible things—fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.

In the Modern era the artist’s state of mind is more important to the understanding of art than ever. The current seasons are hosted by Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin for National Public Radio, previous seasons were also hosted by Lulu Miller.

The Renaissance: A History of Renaissance Art

A podcast devoted to the art and artists of the Renaissance.

At the juncture of art and history Dennis Byrd presents podcast that’s very informative about art and artists (and some other people who were influential) of the Renaissance. It hasn’t been updated since mid-2017 just as it was getting into the Northen Renaissance, but the content is evergreen. I’m looking forward to future updates.

The Art History Babes

Four fresh Masters drink wine and discuss all things visual culture. Regular episodes: Discussion and critical analysis of art historical topics fueled by alcohol. Art History Babe Briefs (Art History BBs) : quick, to the point art history facts minus the expletives. Hot Takes: The Babes mix it up, chatting about topics outside the realm of art history & making connections to visual culture.

I started listening to this because there are few Art History podcasts out there. They’ve won me over. Excellent discussions of Art on topics from Edmonia Lewis to Art of the Sublime to F*** Gaugin.

The Jealous Curator: Art for Your Ear

ART FOR YOUR EAR brings you stories from some of my favorite contemporary artists. When I studied Art History, the best part was, well, the gossip. I loved finding out why artists did certain things, what was going on in their personal lives, and behind-the-scenes details about other artists they knew and worked with. This podcast is exactly that … inside-scoop stories from the artsiest people I know. You’ll hear first-hand from these talented, successful, full-time artists (who also happen to be regular people with hilarious stories) BEFORE they’re in the Art History books. – Danielle (aka The Jealous Curator)

A down-to-earth podcast featuring interviews by Danielle Krysa with contemporary artists. One of the nice things about this podcast is that it often shows the side of being an artist that’s grounded in normal day-to-day life (being a parent, being a friend, etc.).

Artist Decoded by Yoshino

“I started this series as a means for exploration, an exploration of self and an exploration of the perspectives of other artists. This series is an unabridged documentation of conversations between artists. It’s a series dedicated to breaking down the barriers we tend to set up in our own mind. I want to inspire future creatives to have the courage to explore and experiment. This is about making dreams a reality and not about letting our dreams fall to the wayside. My intention is to give my audience a sense of real human connection, something that feels rich and organic. When I was thinking of a title I thought of the word ‘movement’. In relation to the Renaissance period in art, my goal for this program is to signify a rebirth of consciousness towards the way we look at contemporary art.” – Yoshino

Yoshino’s podcast leans towards the more mystic, spiritual, theoretical, and psychedelic aspects of being an artist.

Medieval History for Fun and Profit

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the middle ages but were afraid to ask! Two professional medieval historians answer questions from the audience about anything and everything to do with the middle ages. Did they know about other kinds of sex? How long would I really have lived? Who was the best medieval? What were the best swearwords? Listen and find out…

I started listening to this when I started learning about Medieval Art History. I keep listening to it because it’s entertaining and I like the Medieval period. Dr. Alice Taylor and Dr. Alice Rio answer user questions about what life may have been life for everyday people.

Myths and Legends

Jason Weiser tells stories from myths, legends, and folklore that have shaped cultures throughout history. Some, like the stories of Aladdin, King Arthur, and Hercules are stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories you might not have heard, but really should. All the stories are sourced from world folklore, but retold for modern ears. These are stories of wizards, knights, Vikings, dragons, princesses, and kings from the time when the world beyond the map was a dangerous and wonderful place.

Similar to understanding what was going on in people’s daily life (history) and what was going on in their minds (philosophy) I think it’s also important to understand the stories that they told each other (mythology and fiction). That’s where the Myths and Legends podcast comes in.

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On Art

This is not hand soap

People think in symbols but the symbols in our mind are not the actual objects themselves. That is to say: when you think of an apple, that apple is not real. This is the treachery of symbols. The symbols in our mind don’t always match the reality of an object. We think we know how to use an object based on the symbol in our mind that we apply to it.

This leads to encounters with objects like this:

We automatically interact with an object as if we know what the object is based on the symbols in our mind. It’s second nature.

This object is perfectly functional: push on the top; liquid squirts out. But good design isn’t just designing an item that functions. It’s designing for expectations. No matter how well designed a widget may be, people expect certain things in certain contexts. They expect certain interactions to produce certain results.

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On Art

Neanderthal Art?

Neaderthals lived in Europe and parts of the Middle East approximately between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago. We’re discovering that they are more like modern humans than we previously thought they could be. How to Think Like a Neanderthal gives a good overview of what we currently know. Neanderthals were social, cooperative, family-oriented, planned ahead, and displayed mechanical skills. They made tools, wore clothes, used fire, and possessed some form of language.

The fact that they possessed language, no matter how simple it may have been, is interesting. Language is a symbolic communication system. In the strictest sense, a symbol is a (sometimes arbitrary) mark, sign, or sound that is understood to represent some other thing. If Neanderthals had language then they must have been capable of thinking in symbols.

They were capable of thinking in symbols, but did they create art? They certainly made artifacts. They made stone and composite tools; we have evidence of fire-making. We also have indications of artifacts that we can intuit no useful purpose for: lines carved in stone; lines incised in avian bone (raven’s wing with seven regularly spaced notches). We can’t say that these markings were symbolic, but we can say they were most definitely done purposefully.

We know that they gathered pigments (black manganese dioxide and red ochre), but we don’t know if it was for what might have been body art or for what may have been medicinal purposes. The evidence for painting is slight. One contender for a potential Neanderthal cave painting exists in Spain. It shows a series of mandorla shapes with lines drawn across them. These works are dated to the time and location where Neanderthals may have coexisted with early Modern Humans, so it may end up not being work by Neanderthals at all.

It’s still possible, it may even be likely, but we currently have no conclusive proof that Neanderthals created anything that modern Western culture would recognize as art.

Neanderthal art resources:

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On Art

The Naming

It didn’t start with Ursula LeGuin, who says in The Wizard of Earthsea that discovering someone’s true name gives you power over them. Since ancient times people would have a secret name, known only to those closest to them. This lives on in our middle names, and every child knows they’re truly in trouble when their mother uses it. To the Ancient Egyptians, the name (ren) was a part of your very soul. When captured by the cyclops Poylphemus in the Ancient Greek epic, The Odyssey, Odysseus claimed his name was Outis (meaning “No one”). It is only after Polyphemus, deceived and blinded, learns Odysseus’ true name that he is able to curse him, and delay Odysseus’ return to Ithaca (yet again). Even in the bible, Adam gives names to all the animals and God gives him dominion over them.

And so it is in Art. The graphic designer Robin Williams in her book, The Non-designer’s Design Book tells us the story of her discovery of the joshua tree. The gist of it is this: until she learned of the tree by name, she never really saw it before. And she came to learn that joshua trees were planted extensively throughout her very own neighborhood. Until she learned their name, they didn’t exist.

The same is true for anything else. We typically draw things using symbols: tree, car, house. Using other symbols for the parts: eyes, nose, lips. From plants and animals, to anatomy, to machines. Once you name something you have a handle with which to grasp it. Look at drawing a spider…

A child’s first attempts at drawing a spider might look like a dot with some legs.

…and they learn that spiders have eight legs.

…that spiders have eyes.

…spiders have fangs.

…legs have joints.

…the body has two main parts, the cephalothorax and the abdomen, and all the legs attach to the cephalothorax.

…spiders have two smaller grasping legs, called pedipalps; and the fangs really have two parts: the chelicera and the fang.

…and so on, until you’ve learned enough about spiders that you can draw them 99% realistically. Until you can name, very nearly, all of their parts: pedical, coxa, trochanter, spinnerets, etc.

Repeat ad nauseam until you can draw the entire world.

But, you can’t know everything. You can’t know all the names.