How To Become An Artist: What It Takes To Practice Art (And Keep Learning)
TipsWritten by DesaRay MaierDisclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you buy something we get a small commission at no extra cost to you(learn more)
Becoming an artist is a major commitment. But there is no right way to learn art.
Good news is anyone can be an artist if they’re dedicated enough.
It’s a form of self-expression through a medium whether that’s two-dimensional, three-dimensional, or digital media.
A lot of people who want to explore art get discouraged before they even approach the concept. We know everyone has to start somewhere, but where exactly is somewhere?
Deciding to become an artist is the first step in nurturing your talent. If you’re having difficulty figuring out how to begin the creative process then here are some ideas to jumpstart your artistic path.
Mindset & Supplies
The first thing to think about when you begin to experiment with art is the medium you feel most comfortable with.
Do you prefer graphite or ink? Paint or pastel? Or maybe you wanna work digitally?
For this piece we’re going to focus on pencil and paper until you get the hang of things. Here’s a handy guide to help you find the supplies you’ll need to get started.
You also have to find a place to work that encourages creativity.
If you’re in an environment that’s distracting or negative it can impede your creative process.
Cleaning and preparing your workspace before you start can also help you stay on task. If everything is neat and organized around you then you’ll have nothing to distract you from your practice time.
Be sure to customize your workspace and even decorate a bit if you want some added personality.
Some questions you should ask yourself before you pick a spot to work:
Do you work best with or without music?
Is the lighting good enough?
Will anything cast a shadow on your page?
Could your work be damaged by water, animals, or anything else?
Can you store your supplies easily and safely?
Is there room to move around or will you feel cramped?
Find answers that fit best with your needs to get into the right mindset for practicing every day.
How To Practice
You have to decide how much time you want to dedicate to art and really stick to it.
The more time you spend drawing and creating, the faster you will progress.
If there’s a lot of downtime at your job or you’re on break from school then increase the frequency of your sketches.
Creating a schedule could help you track the hours you spend on certain pieces and how much you’re actually practicing too.
Of course, if you’re spending the entire session stuck and staring at your paper, then it’s not going to get you very far.
Starting a new piece is the hardest part of becoming an artist.
Even after you’ve worked with the same medium for a while there can be some hesitation when starting a new project. Overcoming the fear associated with artist block is an important step in keeping up with practice.
There’s also a theory that compares broken sleep patterns with increased creativity. A lot of artists and writers wake up early(around 3am-4am) and jump straight into drawing, painting, or anything that involves an absolute need for creativity.
This article by Karen Emslie shows one person’s experience implementing broken sleep induced creativity into their routine and a little more background information on the theory itself.
This can be especially helpful with brainstorming since it’s meant to focus on rapid output that can be edited and refined later on.
Drawing from real life is also something you should do often. In fact, it’s arguably one of the most important things you can practice.
Seeing an object with your own two eyes is different than drawing from memory. The lines are often more crisp and it clears up any perspective issues.
Always start small. Don’t jump into something too big or unfamiliar; instead practice simple and familiar things to build some confidence.
When I first started taking foundation courses I discovered I had a problem with the depth of my drawings. Instead of sketching lightly then adding layers of shading over it, I would make the outline the deepest part of the drawing.
Layering allows the color to gradually build up and mold the image you are trying to create. You should be able to get almost every value you need out of a regular HB(#2) pencil.
If you can’t then try turning the pencil on its side rather than holding it completely vertical.
Completion of each piece should always be the goal. Unless you feel absolutely stuck on a piece, in which case it’s okay to put it away and come back to it when you’ve further developed that skill.
But the more often you complete pieces and the more you get into a regular routine, the more you’ll develop the skillset required to draw awesome things.
What To Practice
Once you set up a space and feel more consistent with sketching then you’ll want to figure out what to focus on(besides drawing from life).
Sometimes it can be hard to think of a new idea or concept for a new piece, especially as a new artist.
One way to combat this is to take some exploration courses. Whether that means physically registering for a class and attending with other people, or watching a tutorial from the comfort of your home. Both are great.
For in person classes I recommend going to a community center or university and looking for opportunities there.
I took a drawing course and watercolor course at a local spot and got to participate in my first gallery showing. Opportunities are everywhere.
These are very helpful for people who don’t have a large amount of time to spend in a classroom, or for people who can’t commute or just don’t have time for classes.
You can work remotely and on your own time by studying from a guy who really knows art.
Proko’s figure drawing course is the perfect chance to start thinking about art realistically while also experimenting from imagination.
The series will teach you to break down complex figures into easily reproducible shapes to help fine-tune your fundamentals.
Keeping a level of fluidity within a pose is huge part of creating a realistic drawing. Especially when drawing people.
By breaking down each image into parts & shapes you’ll learn how to rebuild the pose yourself, even from your imagination without a reference.
We wrote a detailed review of the figure course which includes some background info plus details on the structure of the course.
There’s also free videos on the Proko YouTube channel that might provide more insight into what it offers. But no question the Proko series is an excellent answer to any new artist who’s wondering “what should I be practicing?”
References are very helpful for beginners(and pros too!)
It’s important to use references to pinpoint anatomical aspects of a drawing and to learn to draw from something rather than just from your imagination.
References help you refine and experiment with personal style.
Looking at other artists’ works can influence your piece and spark creativity or give you new ideas to try.
The most obvious form of reference is direct observation. This means you would be drawing from real life. I’ve found this is the easiest way to really nail down perspective and speed up the learning process.
But you can also study from photographs which are certainly better than nothing!
If you want great reference photos to work from then have a look at our list of free websites that offer thousands of totally free reference pics for artists.
Keeping your practice work closer to realism is easier when you have other objects to compare against. So remember to keep practicing from life and from reference along with your imaginative work; both are very important for growth.
Another thing to keep in mind is that art should be fun, but it should also be challenging.
The only way you will get better is to try things you haven’t done before. This is extremely important if you get bored easily and need to be able to work on multiple projects at once.
Experimentation also allows you to keep progressing and widening your skill set.
If you usually stick to more traditional mediums then try moving into paints or even digital work.
Fiber arts are also very fun and stress-free to learn inbetween larger pieces.
Let others lead by example. Check out your favorite artist’s social media and examine their progression through different mediums and styles.
Seeing others attempt something new could help you do the same.
Mixed-Media art is also very popular right now so if you’re not comfortable jumping straight into another form of art you can try slowly adding in new mediums.
Some common pairings are ink and watercolor/gouache, fiber and resin, or alcohol markers and colored pencils.
If black and white feels too boring then it’s worth eventually adding color. Before transitioning into the world of bright hues it’s important to know a little bit about color theory.
This means learning about the color wheel and which colors go best together in order to create a sense of cohesion throughout a piece.
A normal color wheel includes the primary colors(red, yellow, and blue), secondary colors (violet, orange, and green), and the tertiary colors (red-violet, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, and blue-violet).
Complementary colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel.
These make each other pop on the page when placed near, next to, or on top of one another.
For example, red and green aren’t paired together “just because”.
They force your eyes to focus on the object that uses those colors.
It can also be difficult if you’re working with basic shades of brown or white. In that case you have to look at the undertones in the pigment to see what shade works well with other colors you’re using.
If you’re brand new to colors you can also try doing a color study. As a beginner it can be hard to to decide the exact colors you want on a piece or what you want the focal point to be.
Sometimes it’s easier to have a copy of the color wheel on hand.
A color study is a way to practice laying down colors without potentially damaging or dulling out a piece. This way, you can explore a variety of color options before actually adding any color to your project.
But ultimately art is just about practice, repetition, and being willing to try new things.
The only thing it takes to become an artist is one trait: tenacity.
The more you practice, the better you will get.
Being an artist is about experiencing new things and about individual creation. If you keep trying new mediums and new techniques you’ll learn to incorporate more of them into finished projects and round out your skill set.
The biggest thing when practicing art is to never give up. If you just keep practicing then it doesn’t matter how old you are, where you are in life, or how much time you’ve been at it.
Just keep practicing and trying to improve every single day. The results will follow.
Author: DesaRay Maier
DesaRay Maier is a freelance journalist with a love for art from southeast Michigan. She specializes in a multitude of mediums including ink, watercolor, and mural painting. She's currently working on a new set for her local theatre company. You can follow her here on Instagram.