I want to get better at creating art in 2017. At the start of a new year I try to make resolutions which are attainable by incremental effort over a longer period of time, so when my friend Buster suggested creating a painting or drawing every day in January, I eagerly agreed.
Noah Bradley, the founder of Art Camp, published a great post about his path to becoming an artist. I felt like Noah’s early story was close to my own, except he stuck with art whereas I had let it go over the years. When my daughter Ada was born, I had some time during feeding and naps, so I signed up for the course to see if I could get better. Art Camp was useful in giving me some tools to improve my own skills, but I didn’t keep up with the work and tapered off after the first lesson.
The 2017 resolution made me spend the time to paint after Ada went to sleep every night in January. With about an hour’s effort every day, I came out with a portfolio of bad-to-rudimentary work that I’m proud of nonetheless. It’s hard to practice finishing things, so it’s extraordinarily satisfying to me to say “I’m done working on this piece, time to move on” so regularly.
Art Camp emphasizes the importance of master studies from day one. Initially it seemed like rote copying, but I came to appreciate how much I could learn by removing the need to think creatively and focus on learning the tools and ways to achieve the effects the master painters were able to use in their own works. In particular, choosing colors is very unintuitive for me and I think I came to learn a lot about how masters would get a lot of mileage out of a few colors.
As I progressed through the early weeks of Art Camp, I would tend to try a couple master studies before a work of my own to try and get a feel for techniques and approaches I could use. My original work never reached anywhere near the quality of these paintings, so having something come out of this which looks good has been rewarding.
I painted all of my work on a 9.7” iPad Pro using Procreate. Most of these were done in about an hour or so. I tended to cut myself off if I was going much longer. For example, I only focused on the face of Lady in Black with Spanish Scarf because I had less time on Jan. 6.
Faces were what I wound up struggling with the most, actually. I feel like I’m able to make a face which looks like a face, but not the specific face I’m going for. Practice helped though, I feel like my Jan. 25 study of Etude de Jeune Fille came out the closest to the original work.
Week 2 of Art Camp focused on sketching from the imagination. I was surprised by how difficult I found these, as I used to draw creatively for hours when I was younger. It’s very very difficult to come up with something interesting and focus on form and composition and technique all at the same time. But I also realized that I’ve lost a lot of the freedom and creativity that I had as a kid.
I’m probably the most embarrassed by these. It’s obvious that they’re lacking in a lot of depth, from lighting and color and general form. One of my goals in trying to improve my art is to do concept work for games I develop, so this is an area I’d love to improve in (which will only happen after I do a lot more of this terrible art first!)
I was really surprised by how much I liked still life! I set up a desk lamp on my kitchen table and arranged various things from my kitchen to paint every night. I think a lot of the experience from the master studies paid off. It was good to have practiced looking at the detail and shapes of an image in front of me in order to recreate it on my canvas.
I made it to week 4 of Art Camp, which focused on self portraits. I bought a portable mirror and painted my own face for a few days. I found this surprisingly enjoyable as well and will probably try to continue doing these. Noah made the point that it’s the most reliable way to get a model and learn how to paint faces and I totally felt like I got a lot of out these. They’re not quite right - falling somewhere in the uncanny valley of actually looking like me (Jan. 28 probably got the closest) but I think working a little longer on polishing a self portrait might get to the point where the result feels more alive.
In closing, I’ll say that it felt really good to push myself through all of these pieces. It wasn’t easy, and I looked forward to February when I could work on other things. But I tried a lot of styles and subjects I hadn’t attempted before and I think I developed if even just a little bit.
My goals to develop further are to continue regular painting (at least weekly). I want to focus on feeling more relaxed so that it feels more calming than stressful to sit down and do a painting. I think part of that is getting past the embarrassment of sharing my work (even the mediocre stuff) and accumulating enough experience that it comes easier for me. I’d love to start to develop my own unique style and start using it to do work for games. Finally, I really want to tap into my creativity more. I can’t believe it was so difficult to do work from imagination, almost certainly due to lack of practice!