Your New Year’s resolution is “practice more”? Make it happen with these tips and tricks on how to practice art and animation.
Note: The following tips are about how to practice and not specifically what you should practice or how to draw. There are plenty of great “how to” videos out there that you can refer to for learning, as well as loads of practice exercise lists filled with prompts – for example, our article on 51 Great Animation Exercises. But here we’re just providing you with general practice tips that can be applied to pretty much anything you want to get better at. So, give ’em a try!
Why practice matters
If you want to become an artist, animator or illustrator, there is no way around tons and tons of practice. There are two simple reasons why this is a marathon and not a sprint:
- It’s much better to learn in small chunks. If you try to learn too much at once your head will not be able to process it all.
- Repetition is how the brain learns best. You need to practice the same thing many times so the neuron connections in your head become stronger.
Real work isn’t the same as practice
Sometimes it’s very easy to get stuck on your skill level – even if you are using your skill every day working as an animator, illustrator, artist or whatever it is you do.
The problem is: Working on a project is often not the same as practicing. In most projects and jobs you are doing the work that you are already good at. While this will still make you faster and give you a better routine, you will eventually get stuck on your island of expertise.
Conscious practice sessions in which you tackle new challenges can help you to grow your skills in new directions. The more you know, the more jobs you can apply for.
Oh and also, doing something the wrong way a thousand times, will also get you stuck.
Tip #1: Be specific
Vague goals are very intimidating. If your goal is “learning how to draw”, you are setting yourself up to never be satisfied.
First of all it takes months, no years, to “learn how to draw”. Also, you can’t even really measure if you have achieved it. The point where you think that you know how to draw good enough, might never come (and that’s a good thing – even professional artists constantly seek out new challenges).
So what should you do instead? Identify what exactly you need to improve! Or if you are at the very beginning think about what a very small first step could be for you.
If you want to learn how to draw, you could start with the anatomy of the head. Or figure drawing proportions.
If you want to learn animation, you should start with simple exercises like the bouncing ball.
If you already started learning a skill you need to find out what your weaknesses are. Just ask your fellow artists, a teacher or a mentor if you aren’t sure. Or pick a new software that you always wanted to learn.
Bottom line: Set small, but achievable goals and practicing will be a lot easier for you!
Tip #2: Make your progress visible
Don’t practice on loose paper. Always use the same sketch- or notebook or put your work in a binder. This way you can see your progress, which feels very satisfying. Also you can always compare your old work with your new work and really see how far you have come.
Tip #3: Establish a habit
Practicing is a whole lot easier if you manage to make it a habit. This way investing time in building your skills will become second nature to the point where it feels strange if you miss it.
But I myself have failed to establish daily or weekly rhythms for my practice sessions – here is what I do instead:
At the beginning of the week, put your practice sessions in your calendar as if they are actual appointments. This way no other appointment can take their spot and you can always pick a time that fits best into your current schedule.
Tip #4: Log your practice
To really get better at something you’re going to want to challenge yourself and practice what is hard for you. To do this it may be helpful to make a plan of what you want to practice when and use this list to keep yourself on track.
Probably the easiest form of practice logging you can do is to simply write out your goal at the beginning of your practice session and make note of the result at the end. How did it go? Was it as difficult as you anticipated? What areas did you struggle with the most? What do you need to improve? Questions like these will help you clearly see what you need to aim for in future practice sessions.
If you really like logging, you may want to try documenting your findings in greater detail. What materials did you use?How did you set up the software interface to be how you like it? It may also be useful to write down the steps of how to do more complicated tasks that you’re learning. This way, you won’t have to keep these steps in mind and can refer back to your notes when you’re trying to remember how to do these tasks months later.
All of these tips that we’ve given you so far, you can accomplish with just a pen and paper. But sometimes it’s helpful, and a bit more fun and motivational, to use certain tools that were designed specifically with your goals in mind.
Tools that help you practice
Tool for timed figure drawing sessions: Line-of-action.com
51 Animation Exercises to help you become a better animator.