If you’re an artist – if you draw or paint regularly – you will probably at some point have asked yourself the question of how to get better.
The simple answer is, of course: Practice!
While it’s true, it’s somewhat of an oversimplification. If you want to make the most of your time, if you want to get better fast, you need to ask yourself what the most efficient way to practice drawing and painting is. Because after all:
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
The Two Ways To Practice To Improve Your Art
What I’m alluding to isn’t the specific things you should study while practicing your art – like anatomy, perspective, lighting etc. You can read about those things in detail in my guide on how to draw ANYTHING here.
What I’m talking about is two general approaches to practicing:
As you’ll see, both of these methods have merit and none is inherently better than the other. Let’s look at both in detail:
1. Dedicated Practice
Practice is when you devote a specific amount of time to the sole purpose of getting better at drawing. Dedicated practice is when you use that time to learn how to draw or paint one specific thing in particular.
So let’s say you want to learn how to draw heads. Dedicated practice would mean that you sit down and just draw heads (and heads and heads…) for a while – and nothing else. The extent of your dedication is measured by how many heads you draw.
You can dive deeper though. If you’re trying to draw heads, you will obviously need to be able to draw its features: The eyes, the nose, the lips, the ears… That means you would sit down and draw lots of those elements in different perspectives, too.
For example, here are two pages like that I did last year when I was trying to do just that: learn how to draw faces.
If you take this approach to the extreme, you can do something like Todd McFarlane describes in the video below (starts at 1:24):
Todd McFarlane is the creator of Spawn, if you didn’t know that already. He’s a super talented comic artist and an all-around great guy.
In his early days he was basically SUPER dedicated and learned to draw the human body piece by piece. He sat down and only drew forearms for a week. The next week he would draw upper arms etc.
It’s a tedious process, but it obviously payed off in spades for him in the end.
2. Finishing Projects
The other way to practice your art is to finish personal projects.
That means, instead of doing page after page of committed disciplined practice drawings, you draw or paint complete and detailed pictures. Big projects that take a lot of hours and grit to finish.
While doing this takes away precious time you could use for dedicated practice, finishing projects teaches you lots of things, too. In the end that’s what you probably want to do as an artist anyway: Draw and paint beautiful pictures! If you plan, execute and finish big projects, you are basically learning by doing – doing what you want to be able to do in the end anyway.
One caveat though: There’s a right and a wrong way to approach this.
If you just go at it and create finished pictures at your current skill level, you won’t really improve much. The trick is to
a) draw projects that push yourself
b) purposefully practice the specific pieces you need to be able to draw that image.
That means that if you were trying to draw a picture of Batman punching the Joker (who wouldn’t want to draw that?), you would do some practice pages beforehand. But instead of just practicing eyes or something, you would practice exactly what you needed to be able to draw: Batman in a certain pose and from a certain perspective, his fist, Joker’s face and his expression while getting punched, etc.
This way you also learn a lot. It’s essentially the same method as the first one, but you practice in a more deliberate way – by drawing exactly what you need to learn for a specific project. Draw enough of those and you’ll be a pretty amazing artist, too.
What Is Better? Dedicated Practice Or Finishing Projects?
To get to the bottom of this, let’s list some pros and cons of both approaches:
1. Dedicated Practice
it makes you good fast
it builds your visual library
improvement can often be noticeable quickly which makes you feel like you achieved something and really got better
it can be boring
can feel like something you have to do instead of something you really want to do
2. Finishing Projects
is often more fun than dedicated practice
it doesn’t get boring that quickly and you still learn a lot
adds more variety to your practice
leads to finished pictures you can be proud of, instead of throwaway practice pages
might make you a more well-rounded artist because you might practice stuff that you otherwise wouldn’t practice
it may take longer to get good in general
it lacks focus – you’re not getting really good at drawing a specific thing very quickly
the positive effects may not be lasting because you don’t repeat what you learned regularly, if you draw a lot of very different pictures
So, what’s the verdict? Which approach to practicing reigns supreme?
Conclusion – How You Should Practice Drawing And Painting
You probably guessed it: Like I already said at the beginning: Neither of both approaches is better.
Both of them have merit. And while it may seem that based on the pros and cons I listed I prefer the second approach, I still understand that regular dedicated practice is necessary, if you want to be the best artist you can be.
If you just draw finished pictures, you will learn a lot, but you probably won’t get better as quickly as you could.
If you just practice deliberately though, you will probably get bored quickly and end up not having anything to show for it apart from some random practice pages. No finished pictures whatsoever.
The solution is to do both: Paint your finished pictures, but every now and then allot some time to dedicated practice. That way you will get the best of both worlds: You will get better quickly, but you will have fun doing it and also create some (hopefully) stunning pieces of work to put out in the world.