How to improve your art through constraint | SHW #5
Hey artists ~
This week I’m sharing how I’ve improved my art significantly in a short period of time through constraint and focus.
For the first few months of this year, I found myself drawing all sorts of different subjects in different styles using different tools. In that time, I felt a bit lost with my art and like I wasn’t improving much.
Recently, I’ve decided to constrain how I approach my art. I’ve been focusing on just drawing people and following a simple, streamlined process each time that puts more emphasis on the drawing than the painting.
After doing this for just a couple of weeks, I feel less frazzled throughout the process and have been much happier with the results.
Why should we limit our focus?
1. It’s really difficult to become amazing at a lot of things all at once.
For most of us, becoming a generalist requires a lot of time. There are so many different skills to practice in art. People spend their entire lives trying to be the best they can be, and I’ve never met an artist that feels they’ve mastered everything and there’s nothing left to learn
Taking a generalist approach means we will be at an amateur level in all areas for an extended period of time. Our growth will be slower and it will be challenging for us to stay excited about what we’re doing.
If you’re practicing art as a hobby and you don’t really care about growth, that’s totally fine. This article will be less applicable to you. Feel free to do whatever you want!
But I know many of us are active or aspiring full-time artists, and it’s important that our skills are as sharp as they can be. If this is you, know that attempting to be a generalist will likely extend your journey to supporting yourself fully from your art.
2. Focusing will make you an expert in a particular subject.
This is pretty obvious and goes without saying.
If you focus in on a particular subject or specific skills you want to improve, you absolutely will become an expert over time.
It will take much less time for you to master one thing than it would have taken you to master that same thing taking the generalist approach.
Once you’ve achieved a level of mastery, you’ll be able to demonstrate more value to others through your art.
3. Your skills will transfer from one area to another.
It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but I believe that limiting our focus when creating can actually lead to us being more well-rounded, highly skilled artists.
There are so many subjects within art that we can learn and practice, but 80% of drawing is about observation and muscle memory.
If you’re able to observe and understand a subject mentally and consistently transfer what you see onto the canvas, you’re going to be an amazing artist. This is a skill that is used no matter what subject you’re studying or process you’re following.
So don’t be afraid to hone in on a focus area and constrain yourself. When you feel like you’ve mastered one subject, you will be able to apply those learnings to another and improve much faster.
How can we implement this into our practice?
1. Decide on your subject.
Pick a subject you want to focus on. What, you ask? It really doesn’t matter. Just pick something.
As I said, your skills will largely transfer from one subject to another, so what you decide truly isn’t important
I’ve decided to focus on drawing people, mainly because I enjoy it and already have access to a lot of resources to help me study. I also believe that the human form is one of the most complex and highly scrutinized subjects. If I can master that, I can master just about anything.
2. Constrain your process.
We also want to add some constraints to our drawing process.
I realized that if I wanted to get really good at drawing the human form, spending hours painting and rendering was going to limit my progress.
Because I want to focus more on the drawing, my process is very line-dependent. I’m trying to capture form through my line work rather than relying on painting and shading. I still add color to my work, but they’re mostly flat colors with minimal shading if I feel it’s absolutely needed.
How you constrain your process will largely depend on your goals. Speaking of goals—
3. Set measurable goals.
Setting measurable goals is so important if we want to actually achieve them, but from my experience this can be challenging to do with art.
So many of us set goals like, “get better at drawing people.” This goal isn’t measurable, so it will be difficult to create a routine around it and track our progress.
Instead of just saying you want to “get better,” think about how you will get better.
You can set goals around creating a certain number of pieces each month or completing a piece in less time.
I sell prints at the end of each month and like to have at least four pieces to sell. This is a monthly project for me that is measurable.
Whatever you choose, setting a goal will help you stay consistent and give you an opportunity to reflect on your progress and make adjustments as needed.
That’s all I have for you.
My wish to you this week is that you spend some time reflecting on the kind of artist you want to be in the future and create an action plan. The more specific and focused that action plan is, the more successful you will be.
Best wishes 💙
P.S., if reading this gave you some energy and insights, share it with a friend who might need it as well! And if you ever want to chat, you can reach out to me in my Instagram DM’s or reply directly to this email if you’re reading it there.