10 Things To Consider As a Beginner

Starting anything new can be daunting.  Learning new skills takes patience, dedication and a lot of trial & error.  It can be frustrating, time consuming and irritating – and when you don’t feel like it’s going well, most of us tend to give up.  Learning how to create art is no different.  There’s a lot of skill that goes into it.  It takes time to learn and grow, and it takes a lot of practice (and a lot of tossed out canvas panels) to really get the hang of what it is you’re trying to do.  We all realize we won’t go from stick figure artists to DaVinci overnight, but many of us just don’t hang in there long enough to realize our full potential.  Being a beginner artist can be hard! It’s even harder when you have the goal of using your skills for a professional purpose.  So besides the obvious, “just keep practicing,” what sorts of things should a beginner artist keep in mind while trying to go from beginner to advanced – and then to professional and possibly even master?  Here are 10 of my favorite tips for beginner artists:

1. Stop “learning” and start “doing!”  The truth is, YouTube is great.  Books are wonderful.  Classes and workshops are awesome.  There are so many great resources for knowledge in the world, but not one of them is worth a damn if you never put the knowledge to use.  So instead of binge watching how-to videos, how about watching 1 or 2, and then taking what you learned and giving it a shot?  We can keep educating ourselves and reading up on things, but if we never actually do anything with that knowledge, we’re wasting our time!

2. Speaking of education, classes are NOT necessary, but definitely a plus! Look, if you want to take an art class, I encourage you to. (After all, most art classes have you “doing” and not taking notes, so this is education I am DOWN to support!) If you want to learn proper techniques, tips, tricks and have someone there to guide you, I absolutely encourage you to take a class at your local art studio or wherever it is you want to go.  But listen to me carefully: you DO NOT need to take a class to develop your art skills.  It is not necessary, it is not vital, it is not even my top 10 things an artist should do EVER.  Developing art skill is about practice and dedication.  And you absolutely can do that on your own.  So if someone tells you that in order to become an artist you have to take a class (and believe me, the more you network, the more people will ask where you studied…) ignore their input.  You do you.  If you want to learn to oil paint with YouTube videos and a basement art studio, you absolutely can.  If you want to learn the technical terms and have an experienced teacher helping you out in a classroom, go for it.  But only do it if you TRULY WANT TO.

3. Seriously, start with the cheap stuff.  You do not need to be spending tons of money on the same oil paints your favorite YouTube artist recommends.  They use those so of course they’re going to recommend them. (Some even make commission, so there’s that…)  But keep in mind they are skilled.  They are established.  They probably make money from their artwork and have no problem buying the high-quality, artist materials.  But you, as a beginner – you do NOT need to be shelling out the cash for the pro quality stuff while you are learning.  Learn with the basics. Use the cheap paints in the kits at the art store.  Use classroom acrylics.  Generic colored pencils.  Regular #2 pencils.  Student quality oil paints and brushes.  Honestly, you can still get INCREDIBLE products from BUDGET materials.  As your skills develop, then you can decide if you want to upgrade your materials.  But what happens if you start with these artist quality acrylic paints, realize you hate acrylic painting (you prefer oil because of the slow dry time) and now you’re left with hundreds of dollars worth of paint? Seriously, start with the budget basics.  If you end up hating that style, you will feel MUCH less guilt throwing them away or donating them to someone else.

4. Find your “thing” and run with it!  Maybe you enjoy drawing, but also kind of want to paint, but right now you’re really into acrylic pours, and you want to try out this cartoon style later this week.  That’s great that you have the desire to do so much – but remember, you cannot be a master of all of those things.  It’s important for you to try out new styles and skills in order to figure out what you do and don’t enjoy.  So I definitely encourage that!  But somewhere along the line, you will find your “thing,” your style, your favorite subject, your favorite medium, etc.  For example, my “thing” is realistic sports portraits.  Yes I do other things and enjoy doing it, but I know that no matter what, I will always come back to creating sports portraits.  It’s what I’m best at, it’s what I love most, and it’s what has made this blog what it is.  So keep trying new stuff, but keep an eye out for your “thing!”

5. Try a variety of new things – don’t limit yourself!  Along the same lines of trying new things to narrow down your window, I don’t care if you know you want to be the world’s best landscape pencil artist – if you spend 100% of your time drawing landscapes, you are not growing!  By trying new things – styles, mediums, color palettes, subjects, etc. – you grow your skill set. And what happens when you grow your skill set? Everything gets better.  Much like how learning to read music by playing the piano made me a better cellist, learning the basics of drawing can make you a better painter.  Learning the basics of color theory can make even your black and white pieces better. Learning how to work with paints and manage fine details will make your pencil work that much more precise.  For me, it’s about 75/25 – 75% of my work is my portraiture.  My pencil sketches (color and black and white) and what I call my “thing.”  But the other 25% of my time is spent on other things – acrylic pours, abstract paintings, oil paintings and other fun projects.  Do they always turn out?  No, not always.  But sometimes they do and I absolutely make them available.  But by working on those, do I feel like my skills as a portrait artist have gotten better? Absolutely! Painting has helped me grow patience for details.  Oil painting has helped me better understand color theory.  Abstract painting has given me new ideas on how to create layouts for my sketches.  Never stop being a hands-on student.

6. Be ready to sketch at any time! This goes for pencil sketchers, of course, but really it goes for anyone who isn’t sitting at home 24 hours a day with their art materials in hand.  Have you ever had a moment of inspiration strike you so hard that you absolutely want to remember to do this later?  I know I have – usually around 2pm every day – while I’m at work.  Rather than lose that mojo, that idea or that plan, I keep a small pad of paper (usually a small sketchbook) near me in my purse all the time.  Have an idea?  Rough sketch it out, jot it down, whatever.  You have no idea how many times I’ve flipped through that and come across an idea I had completely forgotten about, only to have it turn out to be one of my best works in a while.  Be ready all the time – sketch whenever the moment strikes.  30 seconds could be all it takes to spark something huge! And FYI – even while writing this blog, I jotted down three ideas that came to me.  Taking my own advice here!

7. Don’t be afraid to use reference photos!  I work in realism.  Reference photos are TOTALLY necessary for me and what I do.  I learned to draw by recreating album covers in my sketchbook.  Reference photos are so great, and they make it so easy to do things at your speed. If you want to learn to draw dogs, searching for pictures of dogs will have you going forever! Find a few, and just get to sketching.  The more you practice “drawing what you see,” the more you will start to see how things are put together – musculature, how the fur grows, how their faces react to certain things – and then you won’t need the reference.  Or hey, If you see something you like, take your own reference photo and recreate it.  Reference photos are a great learning tool – and something I still use regularly. 

8. …but don’t RELY on the reference photos. Reference photos are great for learning. They are amazing when you’re doing something very specific. But remember, you won’t grow outside that comfort zone unless you venture out. Now of course, if someone wants a photo realistic portrait of their son, obviously a reference photo is necessary. But if what you have in mind hasn’t yet been photographed, you have two options (and neither is “oops, oh well!) You can either a) go out and create reference photos yourself with a camera and some Photoshop, or b) just use the skills you have developed from using reference photos for so long and create the composition freehand. Either one is a great option. And sure, sometimes it will be an epic fail, but that’s art!

9. Don’t be afraid to share! Share your work! I don’t care if it’s a success or a failure, sharing your progress and what you’re doing is great!  Inviting critique and feedback is vital to growing as an artist.  Will a negative comment or two hurt?  Sure.  But sometimes you need to hear those things to get better.  I’m not talking about “haters,” I’m talking about your artistic cousin telling you “hey, you need work on your shading – this is very flat.”  That’s helpful!  Now also, sharing your work is how you spread your name.  So again, if your goal is to start selling your work, sharing your progress, success, failures and learning experiences is how people are going to get to know you.  So no matter where you are in your development as an artist, please share your work with us!

10. And finally – don’t let time or lack of results get you discouraged.  No one goes from elementary skill to Rembrandt style painting in a few months.  It takes years to reach true peak potential.  Many of us never even reach our peak.  Or just when we thing we have – we do something that makes us realize we can be even better!  And for every ultra successful piece, I hope you realize that for most of us artists, there are about 12 failures before it.  There are so many sketches I’ve done that have taken 2, 3 sometimes 4 drafts just to get it right.  This is why commissions take time and art turnover isn’t instant!  If I let every failed attempt discourage me from creating, I would have quit a long time ago.  Keep working.  Don’t get discouraged.  Your work will not be perfect right away, and it probably won’t ever truly be perfect – you will always have growth ahead of you.  But if you let the little frustrations get you down, you’ll give up long before you see what you can do!

I truly believe anyone in the world has the ability to be an INCREDIBLE artist.  Some may learn faster than others and have natural talent, but there is nothing about art – just like there is nothing about science, athletic skill, music or any other subject – that can’t be taught.  Everyone will learn at a separate pace.  Everyone will hit milestones at separate times.  What comes naturally to Joe may not come naturally to Tim.  What Tim is really great at may be a lost cause for Sharon.  But what Sharon loves to do most may be the last thing in the world that Joe would ever consider doing.  Art is a personal journey, and no matter where you’re coming from, what skills you already have or what you eventually want to accomplish, we all start somewhere.  So I invite you today – get started!

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