Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Do We Stop Practicing?

There are many professions where practicing is part of the job descriptions--take musicians for instance. Musicians not only practice the music they plan on performing, but the very best practice the same fundamental scales, tonguing exercises, and breathing exercises that beginning players do. In the visual arts, drawing practice is not uncommon. Most of us keep sketchbooks and seek out live model sessions to practice timed drawing. However, live model sessions can be a rare opportunity and more often sketchbooks become a medium for finished artwork. That's not to say it's a bad thing, especially when you see the success of exhibitions like The Moleskine Project.

Artwork by Tran Nguyen for Moleskine III exhibition at Spoke Art
For someone who has become increasingly less involved with a personal sketchbook, I wonder what happened along the way that kept me from the leisurely activity of drawing for practice or just for fun. In my pre-teen years, my sketchbooks were bursting with the things that captured my imagination. It seemed like there were fewer distraction in those days. Even watching the occasional episode of Pokemon didn't stop me from drawing, but added fuel to the flame.

With the increasing demands of my "adult" life, being more deliberate with my practice could be just the thing to get me drawing again. And I think that seeing it as "practice" will prevent me from getting so involved with the crowd-pleasing details that turn it from an exercise into an art-piece. Just as a musician doesn't perform their practice routine, I shouldn't need to worry about who is going to look at my drawing practice. I might even dispose of most of these drawing exercises after each session. Yeah, I like to live on the edge.

So what does it look like to actually practice art, especially illustration? Using the classical methods found in the fine art academic tradition is a good start. Traditionally, there has been a focus on accurate observation of form and light and rendering the human figure. There's also the practice of copying the work of master artists, which reveals their technique and unique way of solving a composition. Composition is also a focus in illustration education, but in addition, conceptualization is frequently discussed because of its role in creating artwork that clearly communicates an idea or narrative.

By combining these approaches, we end up with a practice schedule that hones in on skills that, when practiced, I think would result in creating illustrations more "easily" and effectively. I think one hour a day is really all I need as long as I stay consistent. Here is the break-down of my practice schedule:

-20 minutes timed drawing
-20 minutes master-copying
-20 minutes idea-generating

Some lovely composition studies by an unknown artist.
The timed drawing would be 1-5 minute poses of figures, animals, or even objects. There are several great websites that already have a pool of images you can draw from and a timing system to keep you on your toes. As for the master-copying, these would be either a couple rough, tonal-based drawings or one 20-minute speed painting that looks at how an artist used a particular color palette or unique lighting phenomena. Lastly, the idea-generating would involve finding a topic (editorial articles are good for this) and then creating as many different visual solutions I can think of. This would be a written-process, but I just might find some winning ideas that make their way into final illustrations.

So what would your practice routine look like?

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