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Tip of the Brush


Kate Barker — May 10, 2019

Everyone has their own way of doing things. Artists, I feel, are especially intrigued by the process of their fellow peers, be they fine artists, musicians, or even comedians.

I really enjoy throwing myself into whatever I'm doing as an artist. Even as an environment artist, 3D work is one of the many artistic outlets I've had over the years. But, throughout all of these mediums, there is always the focus on self-improvement. I've found a few things that really help me out of a funk, and into continually creating the best art, worst art, or just all the art that I can. Not every idea is a winner, but every idea is worth exploring until you can truly find the things you like.

In online drawing communities, I found three key rules for improving, and they are the rules I most take to heart. To get better, you have to:

  1. Draw from Reference,
  2. Draw for Discipline, and
  3. Draw for Fun.

Dinosaurs definitely qualify as "fun".

Sometimes these lines intersect, but you still need all three to continually get better. How much of each definitely depends on the person. I know artists who never draw OCs (original characters), but are amazing at analyzing form. I've seen people who draw all the time but never improve; and I know artists who have great art and stories to tell, but are unmotivated to complete their tasks. Mix these with any small-to-heaping piles of stress, inhibitions, or life commitments, it's easy to fall off the horse.

When I find myself out-of-sorts, especially after big life commitments, I've leaned into the Discipline aspect to get me back on track. For me, discipline is the first component of the other two. If I'm not getting everything out of me, I don't know what I even want to draw, or get better at. "But artists always have ideas!" you cry. Sure, but discipline helps pinpoint the ideas that I really want to draw. I can't just draw every showerthought that goes through my mind, and I certainly can't sketch the same anime character I've been drawing since 7th grade.

Pictured above: not the same anime character I've been drawing since 7th grade.

Enter: Don't Break the Chain.

This activity is as simple as it sounds: do something every day, for certain amount of time, and mark an X off on your calendar. Eventually you'll see your own progress, right in front of you. It's self-motivating and, sometimes pressuring, like a friend that holds you accountable while you write your dissertation.

In 2015, fresh out of undergrad, I imposed my first Don't Break the Chain on myself, along with a few other rules. I had to draw an art card, every day, with pen (no pencil or erasing). If I made a mistake, I could flip the card over and try one more time, or commit. I only allowed myself an hour to work every day.

Day 1 turned into Day 60, and finally to Day 210. Around Day 120, I broke free of my own rules and let myself spend more time on the art as I was getting better. Shown here is just a sample of the cards I created. You can see how a stack of 60 watercolor cards feels really rewarding, I even had to get a binder to start keeping them all together.

Through this process, I learned a lot about watercolor, and even better, I could physically see improvement from card 1 to card 210. So when 2018 rolled around and I finished graduate school, I knew I needed to resurrect my daily drawing motivator.

#DrawEveryDay started and my only "rule" this time was to draw for about an hour in my sketchbook. One of my art goals is to fill an entire sketchbook in a year, and I wanted to try for it. With a more freeform #DrawEveryDay format, I was able to incorporate all kinds of mediums, explore styles, and try my own art ideas like Inktober and stickers for friends.

For me, I found around 200 days to be when I felt "on track". It's helpful to remind myself that I can put those daily habits into anything, including long-form projects or larger ideas. For this past year's #DrawEveryDay, I wanted to learn how to draw plants better, and I started to incorporate succulents and foliage patterns into my work.

There is no definite "how many days should I be doing this". Even if you just target the Discipline rule of the three, you hold yourself to a higher standard. Sometimes you get burnt out, or you miss, but the belief that I can fill up an entire block of days, cards, or sketchbook, is something I look forward to when I need a good reset. If you're looking to challenge yourself on a manageable scale, I recommend Inktober (31 days of drawing prompts, traditionally in ink, every October). It's a great way to engage with all the artists making inky goodness, while also being a neat smaller-scale challenge.

I strongly believe that pushing yourself artistically in every way is key to improvement. Don't be intimidated by past work, even if you put hundreds of hours into it. Get out there, make fun art for you, and you just might surprise yourself. If you spend the time and stay disciplined, there's no upper limit to what you can improve.

Kate Barker is an environment artist that hails from the good 'ole state of Texas. She spends far too much time watching and analyzing kids cartoons and anime. In her free time, she enjoys watercoloring and making stylized environments. Check out her personal work on Instagram.