Thursday, December 20, 2012

Become a Better Artist Overnight

I've been told by many people how they're amazed by the speed which I learn things. Often I just say "thank you" and go about my day. But to those close to me this often starts a long winded lecture about how learning speed is not magical, it's a skill.

Part of becoming good at anything (and in this case, art) takes effort, and to do it quickly is a fairly logical process. In this article I aim to give you my steps on how I successfully learn something quickly. Basically this is a lesson on "How to learn "how to learn.""  However, because the steps have some empirical logic to them, I will start by listing the steps and then spend the next few blog posts going into detail (this is actually part of the process).

For some brief back-story: in my previous career, not only was I a manager in charge of training individuals on the standards and practices of the job, but often I was training people on materiel that I recently learned myself. In this environment it was important for me to become intimately familiar with complicated instructions quickly so I could pass them on to others. It also became clear to me that to become competitive in any industry it's important to be good at learning new things.

First, I want to state that I'm not claiming anyone can literally become an excellent artist over the course of one night. Though it is possible for you to become better overnight, keep reading and hopefully you will understand.

1. Admit you don't know everything: This is kind of the best practice moving into anything you do. No one likes a know-it-all and often (despite the name) these types of people are less informed. Like any good process to bettering yourself, the first step is to admit that you need help (AA's a great example). "I think I suck at this, what do I do." Great start, you're now open to learn new things.

2. Realize you don't know what you don't know:
Have you ever tried to cook in a stranger's kitchen, or use a friends computer? We tend to approach these things like we know what we're doing, but then there's that inevitable moment when you realize you don't know where anything is. "Where do you keep your spatula? What folder is it under?" Stepping into an environment knowing that you don't know things is the ultimate way to start learning faster and noticing more.

3. Preview the material or technique:
Now that we feel sufficiently ignorant, it's time to get started. Whether you get a Text Book, a How To manual, or a shiny piece of art that makes you jealous, the first thing you need to do is to view it completely before you start your study. Flip through all the pages and read the headings before you start to read the book. When you look at something for the first time, your eyes get wider and your brain goes into overdrive, stressing to take in as much as possible. Because of this you tend to miss important details, so to lighten the cognitive load. Previewing really helps. I'll go into the science of this in a later post (honestly, it's really cool).

4. Focus: Now that you have a brief introduction to all the material it's time for your "Trial by Fire." Start at the beginning and zero in on the most basic principle. Absorb as much as you can. Note that the material is still very new, but you need to start somewhere, so lets start now.  

5. Make mistakes (or start your Practice): If you haven't reached step 2 by now, this stage will be when you do. Now it's time to put your new technique to work. Believe it or not, the best artists in the world started as amateurs, so you can't skip this step. And please don't try to skip this step. Take on the attitude that these mistakes are good for you. Each bad drawing you make gets you that much closer to becoming pro. But it's vital to recognize a mistake when you make it. This is why getting critiques are important. Don't practice mistakes, come to terms with them and move on. I write more about this here (Break off Your Eraser)

6. Try again: At this stage you should take your time and push for perfect technique. The first time you do anything will be hard. Try and do it right at least once. At the very least you'll learn you have more work to do.

7. (My favorite step) Sleep on it: The human brain is a magical thing, and nothing is more magical than what happens when you're sleeping. During your rest the brain is making connections based on the experiences you had during the day, keeping the perceived important material and washing away the nonsense. Sleep is vital to this process, and I know it's something artist like to skip. YOU NEED TO SLEEP PEOPLE!

Repeat 4-7 until you've used up the material. And repeat all the steps for the rest of your life when approaching new studies (and even old ones).

To better explain what we are doing here, I would like you to think of your brain like a garden.These steps allow you to effectively organize the fruit and veggies that are important to you and minimize the weeds. 

We start by uprooting what's there; weeding until we have a clean slate (step 1 and 2). Then we dig the trenches and prepare the planting beds, for the plants to grow (step 3 and 4). Then we plant the seeds and add fertilizer (step 5 and 6). And finally we water and wait (sleep).

You won't have a full grown plant overnight, but you will have a healthy environment for that plant to grow quickly. There's a lot more to consider for each step here. I tried to make it as succinct as possible, but there's much more to understand to become an efficient learner. Consider this post as part of steps 1, 2, and 3, and I'll continue into more depth next week.

Thanks for reading!

Also, here is my newest work "Oracle Dogma"

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