Welcome to May, and another May Question-and-Answer month! Today’s question is from a reader who wants to know how to draw like an expert.
That’s a good question, and one we all want the answer to, right?
We’re all also looking for an easy way to draw like an expert. Don’t deny it; I know it’s true because I still look for shortcuts!
I have bad news.
Drawing is like running a marathon. You don’t get out of bed on Monday, decide you’re going to run a marathon on Saturday. Even if you do buy the proper equipment, you won’t do very well when Saturday comes and the race begins. It takes training, discipline, and time to prepare. That’s just the way it works.
How to Draw Like an Expert
The same holds true for drawing. It takes time, training, and practice. Lots of practice!
In other words, there are no shortcuts. None.
But there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of finishing the race (or improving your artwork.) Here are a few that helped me.
Training is important in marathon running and colored pencil drawing.
The only way to draw like an expert is to train for it.
That begins with the proper tools (artist-quality pencils, good supports, and a comfortable and functional drawing set up) is only the first step.
No, you don’t have to run out and buy the best of everything. You don’t even need to buy full sets of pencils, or a lot of expensive paper. A handful of good quality colors and a pad of good drawing paper gets you started.
In fact, unless you’re absolutely certain from the start that colored pencil is what you want to do, you can learn quite well with good pencils on newsprint. You probably shouldn’t buy those scholastic pencils because they don’t perform the same as better pencils; but you don’t need to buy top-of-the-line, either.
A regular routine is important in developing drawing skills (and running marathons.)
The next step is a regular drawing routine, and the discipline to maintain that routine.
If all you can do is draw for an hour or two each week, do it. Mark that time in your weekly schedule, then guard it carefully.
Obviously the more you draw, the more quickly you’ll be drawing like an expert, but every drawing gets you closer to your goal.
So find a regular time that works for you, and draw, draw, draw.
Finding a good teacher (or trainer) helps you avoid a lot of pitfalls.
You can learn on your own—I did—but you can learn more quickly by finding a teacher to guide you. Look for a teacher who:
Is creating the kind of artwork you want to create (representational, abstract, etc.)
Works in the medium you want to learn
Knows the subject you want to learn (if you want to learn a specific subject such as flowers or horses)
Teaches in a way that makes sense to you
Is more interested in students becoming well-rounded artists, rather than carbon copies of the teacher.
Beginning artists today have a world of options available online. Tutorial videos offer a variety of instructors unheard of when I was getting started (I didn’t even have the internet!)
Make use of those resources, but don’t try to learn from everyone. At least at the beginning, focus your attention on one or two artists who fit the guidelines above, then learn everything you can from them.
Focus, focus, focus.
You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you’re just getting started, it’s probably best to pick one and focus your attention on that medium. At least until you learn enough to know whether or not it’s for you.
The illustrations in this post document my journey as a colored pencil artist, beginning with the earliest pencil drawing I have in my possession. I was 7-1/2 years-old when I made that drawing in 1968.
This drawing is my most recent horse drawing. I’ve made a lot of progress in 50 years.
I would have made progress a lot faster had I focused on colored pencil from the start. Instead, my primary medium was oil painting until 2014. I began “serious dabbling” with colored pencil in the 1990s, and didn’t switch entirely until 2017.
The lesson for you? You can learn more than one medium at a time, but if you really want to learn how to draw like an expert as quickly as possible, focus on one medium.
Have I mentioned practice?
Oh. I did?
Well, it bears repeating here. The more you practice anything, the better you get at it.
The only caveat I’d offer is that you practice the right way. If you practice drawing, but you’re only repeating drawing errors, then you’re cementing those areas into all future drawings.
And that will only hinder your efforts to reach expert status.
So draw often, but also draw smart!
How do you do that?
Work from good reference photos
Draw what you see in those reference photos every time you draw (even if you draw from the same photo over and over again)
Welcome to 2018. A new year, a fresh start in so many ways. I’ve been thinking about goal setting in a number of areas, so thought I’d welcome the new year by talking about setting goals for artists.
If you’ve been an artist for any time—and especially if you make any part of your living from your art—you’ve probably been setting goals in some form for a long time.
If you’re new to art, or new to the business of making art for a living, then maybe you’ve heard about goal setting, but never done it. Maybe you’ve never seen the point.
Or maybe you don’t think it’s important to set goals because you’re a creative, and goals are for other people.
Each one of those descriptions fits me at some point in my artistic journey, so I feel especially qualified to share with you what I’ve learned, no matter where you are in your artistic journey.
Are Goals Really All that Important?
I’ll admit it: For a long time, I was in the third category above. I didn’t think it was important to set goals, because I was an artist.
Even when I began setting goals, they weren’t all that complex, and went something like this: Finish one painting per month, plus one. Thirteen paintings a year. No big deal, right?
I still don’t set goals every year.
And I don’t always succeed in keeping goals when I do set them.
But I can tell you from personal experience that I accomplish more when I take the time to set goals.
Imagine that you want to learn archery. What do you need? A bow, certainly. Arrows are a must, too. There just happen to be both in Grandpa’s barn or Grandma’s attic, so you get them out. But there is no target.
“What do I need with a target?” you say. “I just want to shoot arrows.”
So you shoot arrows, but you don’t shoot them at anything in particular.
You get pretty good at notching the arrow, drawing back the string, and letting the arrow fly. Your technique gets better every day, and you’re having fun.
But the purpose of archery is hitting the target, not just improving technique. You don’t know if you’re getting better at hitting the target until you set up a target and start trying to hit it.
The target not only gives you something to aim at; it gives you a method for measuring your success and improvement.
You’re a colored pencil artist. Your paper and pencils are your bow and arrows.
Your goals are the target you’re aiming at.
Yes, you can make great colored pencil art without goals, just as you can shoot arrows without a target.
But you’ll advance a lot faster if you take the time to set up the target.
That’s goal setting.
Why You Should Think About Setting Artistic Goals
It’s a good idea to set goals on a regular basis no matter what you’re doing, but it’s doubly important for artists.
If you want to earn all or part of your living through your art, you need to have a clear idea of what that looks like. That’s your goal.
Once you know the overall goal, you can then break that down into monthly goals or weekly goals or even daily goals. You know what you need to do each day in order to reach your goal for the week, and you know how much you need to do each week to reach your goal for the year.
“But I only have a little time each week for colored pencil. I don’t need to set goals.”
Yes you do. In fact, if your time is limited, it’s even more important to set goals for how that time should be used. You can better schedule your art time, if you know what needs to be done.
How I Set Goals
Everyone sets goals differently. Some jot a few things on a pad of paper, which they keep on their desk.
Others have complex worksheets, and calendars.
There is no one way that works for everyone, so if you’re thinking setting goals is complicated and time-consuming, think again.
This is how I set goals, but I’m the first to tell you it’s only a suggestion. It may not work for you, but if it starts you thinking, that’s great.
Goal setting begins with brainstorming
I love planning. Planning is safe. I can make all sorts of grand and elaborate plans without actually doing anything but sitting in a chair, cup of tea or hot chocolate close at hand.
I spent quite a bit of time last October listing ideas I wanted to do this year. Ideas on improving the blog, launching new products, creating more art (especially creating more art.)
I spent a little time each workday reviewing what I’d already written, expanding those ideas, and adding new ones.
You can do this any way you want, but one thing you shouldn’t do is edit. This is the time for coming up with ideas and possible goals. Not evaluating them!
Evaluating ideas is the next step.
I set a specific amount of time for brainstorming. When the end date arrives, I stop brainstorming and put my lists away.
But I set a review date, usually at least a week later, but usually more like a couple of weeks or a month.
If there are things to do—like checking blog stats or sales data—I do that along with the review. I want to have the most complete information available so that when the time comes to make decisions and set goals, I can make educated decisions, and set realistic goals.
Setting goals is the final step.
Finally, I decide what things I want to do. That includes selecting the priority for the year. It might be making art, writing the next book or email drawing class, or marketing. Those are my overall goals for the year.
Then I decide what needs to be done each month, each week, and each day for the year to get those things done.
Let’s say I decide to launch four new email drawing classes this year. That means I need to launch a new class every three months.
I know from past experience everything that’s involved in creating a new class. Art needs to be made. The lessons need to be written and illustrated, then edited. I need to set up the classes themselves, so they deliver at the right time.
That information gives me a rough idea of how I need to spend my work days.
How I Stick to My Goals
Setting goals is the easy part.
Sticking to them is another story entirely.
I don’t always meet goals. The fact of the matter is, I often fall short.
But it’s a lot easier to meet goals if I break them down into bite-sized parts that can be done each day, over and over.
Four new email drawing classes a year may sound like a Lot, but drawing for thirty minutes every day, and writing content for thirty minutes every day isn’t so much.
I do the same thing for each goal, breaking it down into a daily to list that’s manageable long-term.
But the real answer is discipline. The discipline to work through each task every day, whether I feel like it or not.
The discipline to finish what I start, when starting something new looks a lot more exciting.
In short, the discipline to just
The End of the Matter…
…is that it doesn’t really matter how you set goals.
If there’s one thing most artists have trouble with, it’s knowing how to set art prices. As if that’s not bad enough, we then have trouble sticking to them.
What if our prices are too high?
What if they’re too low?
I wrestled with prices for years, so when I received the following email, it resonated!
This may be too long, but I’m going to be detailed so you see I’ve been reading on this quite a bit.
The big question is: How do you determine what to charge for your work, and stick to it? At first everything I did was laid-claim-to by well-meaning family, so it was given away. Then I made a tentative effort to set a price, but WAY under-valued my work, so much so, that had the item been purchased and shipped, I would have paid out of my own pocket!
I decided to up the price by a little, but my heart knew it was too little. My work and time and the use of top-grade supplies had to be worth more. Keep in mind, I had NO personal attachment to anything I’d created, so it wasn’t about a reluctance to let go. I read recently that “if you don’t feel just a little guilty about your pricing, then you are probably under-valuing yourself”. OK, that sounds reasonable to me, and quite true.
Recently I got my 1st commission. Yay, right?! It was from my sister, buying something for her boss for Christmas. (She had already received a special piece from me as a gift, and she loves it). I advised her of the price with a discount that brought it to $70.00. She had no problem with that, immediately agreeing. But you know what I did? I started feeling guilty! So I texted to let her know I decided to bring the price to $50. Another couple of days passed, and now I’m doing 2 versions for her boss! She didn’t ask for, nor expect, any of these perks.
So the struggle continues. Each family member will get one free piece of art, so I feel it’s absolutely fair to stick to my pricing decision, allowing them a reasonable discount on future orders. How can I overcome this personal feeling of guilt, and be firm with the pricing?
Change some of the personal details and this was my story! (Who am I kidding? I still struggle with guilt over prices!) What about you? Do you have a similar story?
How to Set Art Prices (And Stick to Them)
As difficult as it seems when you’re in the process of setting prices, it can be simplified immensely if you’ll do a little bit of thinking before tackling prices.
Change Your Mindset to Answer Most Questions About Setting Prices
I spent years thinking my art wasn’t all that good and that I wasn’t good enough to charge a lot (ironically, I’m going through the same thing now with knowing how to price classes, etc.)
Most artists are their own worst critics, and I would also go so far as to say most artists are their own worst enemies. We simply do not value our skills and artwork properly.
So you need to get past that idea if you find yourself devaluing your work, your skill, or your time. You may need to remind yourself frequently, but it is well worth the effort.
Once you get beyond that, there are some basic methods for figuring out how to price your work.
No Formula to Set Art Prices Works For Every Artist
You need to find the formula that best suits your business plan and personality.
Let me describe the three most basic—and most frequently used—pricing formulas.
Option 1: Supplies + Time + Margin = Price
This is basic. You should be selling your work for no less than supplies cost you. Otherwise, it’s costing you to make and sell art.
Step 1: Cost of Supplies
Some of that is easy. The cost of the paper is easy enough.
But how many colored pencils? How do you include the cost of erasers, and other tools?
One way to deal with this is to look at the price for open stock pencils, then add up all the colors you think you’ll need. The cost of buying those colors is the cost of supplies for each drawing.
Another method is to look back over the last two to five years. How much did you spend on supplies each year? How many drawings did you do? Divide the total cost of supplies by the number of drawings and that’s your average cost per drawing.
For example, you spent $1,000 on paper, pencils, and all the accessories. You produced 100 drawings. 1,000 divided by 100 equals 10, so you averaged $10 worth of supplies per drawing.
The equation looks like this:
$1000 divided by 100 drawings = $10 of cost per drawing.
If you produced 20 drawings, you spent an average of $50 in non-canvas supplies for each painting.
$1000 divided by 20 drawings = $50 of cost per drawing.
The average cost per drawing is the absolute least you should charge.
It’s a good idea to know how much you spend on average per drawing because it gives you a place to begin calculating prices. But unless you multiply that figure by 20 or 30 (or more), you’ll still not be charging a reasonable amount for each painting.
Step 2: Cost of Time
The time you spend painting is also something to consider. It should be factored into the price of your work, too, and is probably the first thing I started considering when I got serious about pricing. I decided my time was worth $10 per hour, then began tracking the amount of time it took to complete each artwork.
This calculation gives you a clear and easy-to-determine number that is directly affected by the size of the work. If it takes ten hours to finish an 8×10 and 25 hours to finish an 11×14, you can easily calculate prices for each size. At $10 an hour, the 8×10 “costs” $100 and the 11×14 “costs” $250.
$10 multiplied by 10 hours = $100 for an 8×10 drawing
$10 multiplied by 25 hours = $250 for an 11×14 drawing
As you can see, you need to charge more than $10 per hour to get what I would consider a reasonable price for your work.
Step 3: Setting Up a Margin
The margin is the profit. It’s what you make over the cost of supplies and time. It’s known as the mark-up in retail. For a lot of retail businesses, mark-up is around 50% of the total cost. In other words, the retail price is double the cost of buying the item wholesale.
For the artist working on that kind of margin, the cost of the drawing is double the cost of supplies plus the cost of time. My 8×10 is now $220 to $300 and my 11×14 is now $520 to $620.
If that all sounds too complicated—and it can be very complicated-=-there are a couple of easier ways.
Cost of Supplies + Cost of Time = Price for the Drawing
Pricing by the Square Inch is a Simple Way to Set Art Prices
When you set prices by the square inch, you determine the area of each drawing by multiplying the length by the width.
Multiply the area by a dollar amount. If you charge $5 per square inch, the price for an 8×10 is $400. Charge $10 per square inch and the price is $800.
Ideally, you should charge enough per square inch to pay for the cost of supplies and the cost of time.
I used this method for years because it was easy to calculate. I needed only a calculator to make a quote for any size.
The problem with pricing by the square inch is that your price list will include some price jumps that look extreme. While the prices for small pieces look reasonable, the prices for larger pieces quickly climb. Remember that 8×10 that we charged $5 per square inch for? It cost $400. A reasonable price.
A 16×20 at the same rate is $1,260. Over triple the price.
If you stop and think about it, that’s not really an unreasonable jump. The 16×20 has four times the surface area as the 8×10. But most people don’t think that way. They see the 16×20 as double the size of the 8×10, so the price jump looks pretty big.
Even though I understand why the numbers jump as they do, I eventually gave up on the Square Inch Method some time ago. Here’s the method I now use.
Pricing by the Unified Inch Produces More Consistent Art Prices
With the unified inch method, add the length to the width. The sum of those two numbers is the number on which you base the price.
Instead of getting 80 square inches for an 8×10, you have 18 unified inches. An 11×14 has 25 unified inches, and a 16×20 is 36 unified inches.
The unified inch sum is multiplied by the cost per inch.
You’ll have to charge more per unified inch to get a reasonable price. $5 per unified inch is going to put your 8×10 at $90. At $10 per unified inch, the price is $180 and at $20 per unified inch, it jumps to $360.
Overall prices with this method appear to be more logical, too. The jumps from one size to the next aren’t as dramatic. At $20 per unified inch, an 8×10 is $360, a 16×20 is $720, and so on. The increase looks more logical, and is less of a shock to potential clients.
And once you get accustomed to calculating this way, you can still quickly quote any sized artwork with nothing more than a calculator. You don’t need complicated price charts to know what a drawing will cost, no matter what size it is.
So I’ve Set Art Prices; How Do I Stick to Them?
No matter what method you use to calculate prices, sticking to those prices is where the rubber meets the road. If you don’t follow your own rules, you may just as well not have rules.
If you have trouble sticking to your prices because they feel too high for you, reconsider how you’ve set them. Believe it or not, it’s better to start out with your prices a little bit too low than too high. If you set prices low, you have room to increase them, and customers feel they’ve made a good investment.
If you set prices too high to start with, then reduce them later, customers who bought high may feel cheated.
Or you may simply need to re-evaluate how you view your art. It’s entirely possible that the problem is internal. In that case, go back to the mindset section and review that.
What Should I Do If I Like to Reward Customers with Discounts?
Rewarding clients who buy more than one thing is a great idea. It shows them you appreciate repeat business for one thing. It also gives them a reason to buy from you again instead of going to another artist.
There are a couple of ways to reward clients.
A discount if they pay the full price up front is perfectly acceptable. I give portrait clients who pay in full up front a 10% discount. That gives them a price break, eliminates billing problems, and leaves both of us feeling like we got a good deal.
Also consider a discount if a client purchases more than one piece at the same time. 10% is a good starting place, but it could be more. Just don’t make such deep cuts that you end up giving too much away.
My favorite discount is the “collector” discount. A portrait client who orders a second commission gets an automatic discount. After they’ve purchased two portraits, they get a significant discount for any subsequent portraits. Think of this in the same way you think of frequent flyer miles—only better! This discount should be more than the other discounts you might offer, since you’re dealing with someone who is giving you more of their business.
I Want to Reward Clients Who Refer Others
Great! This is a wonderful way to encourage satisfied customers to bring others to you.
Let current or new clients know that for every paying client they refer to you, you’ll thank them with a reward. It could be a set dollar amount to be applied to their next purchase, a size upgrade, or something else that works for your work and the people who buy it.
The advantage to offering discounts is that it gives you a legitimate reason to give people discounts, but also sets guidelines for you, so you’re not giving away too much.
But you must decide in advance what discounts you’ll offer, when you’ll offer them, and how clients earn them. Having these details written in stone (so to speak) makes it easier to stick to the prices you set for your art.
Whatever method you use to price your art, make sure you add the price of framing to that. That’s a must. You can include shipping in your cost if you wish, but framing should always be extra. Why?
Because the price of frames varies so widely from simple and inexpensive to very expensive. Making framing extra also gives your client the option to choose the type of frame they want.
Vickie’s experience with her sister reminds me so much of myself. I ended up giving a lot of stuff away because I could never settle on a price and stick to it. Even now, after over forty years as an artist, it’s difficult not to feel guilty.
So the best pricing advice I can give you is this: You have a product someone is willing to get in exchange for money. Whatever pricing method you use, set your prices so they are fair to both your clients and to you. Both of you should go away from the sale satisfied.
Today, I want share four colored pencil lessons I’ve learned over the years (some of them the hard way.)
This isn’t going to a long technical article. Instead, I want to share a few things I had to learn through experience with the thought that it might help you avoid those same pitfalls.
When I first began doing art, I was a toddler drawing on brown paper grocery bags with Crayola crayons. The big ones. Anyone else remember those?
Then I graduated to paint-by-number sets and started learning oil painting. I painted every set involving a horse, and painted some of them twice.
For many years, oils were my only medium. Then I started going to horse shows and trade shows with my art. Three days away from the studio seemed like a vacation at first, but the more shows I attended, the more I realized I needed something to work on during the slow times. Enter colored pencils.
4 Colored Pencil Lessons I Had to Learn the Hard Way
In my naivete, I thought colored pencil work would be the same as oil painting. Just drier.
Did I have a lot to learn!
Following are the four lessons that made the most difference in my attitude toward colored pencils, and in the quality of my work.
Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.
Colored pencils are a very deliberate medium.
Colored pencils are not very much like oil paints. Yes, there are some similarities, but the differences are many.
The main difference is that colored pencils are a slow, deliberate medium. Not like oil painting, where you can thin paint to a transparent glaze, brush it on in ten or twenty minutes and be done. No. Glazes are possible, but if the drawing is very big, it can take a day or two to do one glaze.
I gave up on colored pencils as a medium many times before finally learning there are very few shortcuts that also produce the kind of drawings I wanted to draw. If I wanted to do colored pencils, I had to work with them the way they are, rather than try to make them behave like oil paints.
TIP: If you’re interested in producing a lot of work fast, find a medium other than colored pencils. If you really want to create great colored pencil art, slow down and take your time.
It’s more difficult to cover up mistakes with colored pencils than almost any other medium.
It’s easy to cover up mistakes with oil paints. If the paint is still wet, just wipe the mistake off and repaint. If the paint has dried, paint over it with an opaque color, and keep painting.
You can’t do that with colored pencils. Nope. Most colored pencils are translucent. You see whatever is under the top layers even through several layers.
They also tend to “stain” paper. Once you’ve put color on paper, it’s next to impossible to “wipe it off” and get back to the color of the paper.
Especially if you layer with heavy pressure.
This old drawing is from my early years. I drew the neck incorrectly, and tried to erase the mistake, then cover it over. Nothing doing (at least not then.)
I could fix this mistake now. I’ve learned how to do that. But I’ve learned it’s better to avoid mistakes whenever possible.
Working slowly and carefully with colored pencils results in fewer mistakes (usually) and more finished pieces.
I’m one of those painters who dashes the first layers of color onto the canvas, then refines the painting layer by layer.
I can’t do that with colored pencil because it’s so difficult to cover up mistakes.
It’s far better to take my time from the start to avoid as many mistakes as possible. That begins with a drawing that’s as accurate as possible, even if that means working on the line drawing a week instead of a day.
Then a careful transfer to the drawing paper, followed by careful stroking throughout color application.
Yes, I have to make an effort to slow myself down. Repeatedly. It’s my nature to want to finish things quickly, and I still wrestle with the fact that I’m drawing with a pencil, not painting with a brush.
One way I’ve learned to do that is to make very deliberate strokes, such as those shown above. When I catch myself hurrying, or stroking carelessly, I force myself to slow down.
Is it easy? Nope.
Is it necessary? Absolutely. I’ve spent too much time fixing errors that could have been avoided with a little more carefulness. It really is faster to work slowly.
TIP: Draw even color from the very start of each drawing and each layer will be the best it can be. When you find yourself rushing, take a break. Or at least a deep breath.
You don’t have to draw every hair or every blade of grass .
One of the reasons I decided to try colored pencils in the first place was that I thought they’d be great for details. I love drawing details, especially the long manes and tails of horses.
And since I started drawing landscapes, there’s all that grass to draw.
But I eventually learned, you don’t have to draw every hair or every blade of grass to create a believable drawing.
This drawing from 2005 would have looked just as believable had I started the foreground with a base layer of green, then added directional, grass-like strokes in a few places. Instead, I drew every blade of grass. An unnecessary expense of pencil and time!
I’m the first to admit this is still a struggle. I want to draw every blade of grass and every hair in a horse’s mane. It’s so much fun!
But it’s also unnecessary when you can get excellent results without drawing every detail.
Besides, it’s far too easy to turn your drawing into a maze of details that distracts from your art, rather than making it better.
TIP: Start drawing with a base layer of even color, preferably a mid-tone. Add details along the edges between changes in value or color, or “clump” hair, grass, and other things into groups, rather than draw every hair or blade of grass.
Learning These Four Colored Pencil Lessons Turned My Art Around
They can turn your art around, too.
Whether you have to learn through experience or can learn by example, you will sooner or later have to learn a lot of lessons about colored pencils. It is possible, but be warned. It will take time.
In fact, it’s a life-long journey.
There is, after all, always something new to learn, isn’t there?
Looking for More Specific Lessons?
A few years ago, I did (what was, for me at that time) quite an experimental drawing. It was a smaller than normal landscape, on a surface I didn’t regularly use, but I’ve never forgotten the lessons I learned because of that drawing. Read the full article.
I want to talk about time today, and I want to talk specifically to everyone who thinks they don’t have enough time for art.
Or enough time to give art the time it deserves.
Finding Enough Time For Art
I always look at the reasons people give when they unsubscribe from my mailing list. Why? The reasons people unsubscribe are as useful in determining what I’m doing right—or wrong—as compliments and encouragement.
But they’re also sometimes the spark that leads to a new discussion.
That happened recently. A reader unsubscribed because he or she didn’t think they had enough time to do the tutorials and other things presented on this blog. My impression was that they didn’t have time to do everything so they chose—for the time being—to do nothing.
I’m not criticizing this person. I understand getting so overwhelmed with a subject that it’s easier to set it aside. Been there, done that. Lived to tell about it.
I also understand life getting so overwhelming it pushes things like drawing aside. That has been my struggle more than once!
Having said that, I’ll also say the comment took me back to those days when I used to share this former reader’s feelings.
So it’s time to talk about time and how we use it.
Speaking From Personal Experience
Let me begin by pointing a finger at myself with the hope that it will help you.
Back in the days when I was an oil painter, I firmly believed I needed at least an hour to paint. An uninterrupted hour. It took time to set up for painting, and time to clean up. Depending on what I was working on, it might take 30 minutes to clean up. That meant that if all I had was an hour, I’d have less than 30 minutes painting time.
So if I didn’t have at least one hour, I didn’t bother. The result? I never had enough time to paint, and most projects didn’t advance as quickly as they could have. Many projects didn’t get finished until the due date and some were overdue.
What’s worse, I felt guilty every day I intended to paint and failed. Hurrying through projects just to finish them on time left me guilt-ridden, too. Clients paid good money for portraits. They deserved the best, didn’t they?
A personal challenge to paint one ACEO a day for an entire year showed me how much painting could be done in twenty minutes or less.
It also revealed how much time I wasted because of my perception of time.
I Don’t Have Enough Time
For a lot of artists, perception is the biggest hurdle. After all, if we believe we don’t have enough time, then we don’t have enough time—even if we do.
If you think you don’t have enough time for art—or enough time to give it the attention it deserves—I encourage you to take a look at how you perceive time.
Available time varies from one artist to the next. Family responsibilities, an outside job, outside responsibilities, health, temperament; they all play a role in the time you have for drawing.
If you find just one or two simple things that help, would you be interested? Then you’re in luck!
Ways to Make Enough Time for Art
Draw as Much as Possible
This may seem self-evident, but I’ve noticed a tendency to put other things ahead of art. It starts innocently enough. A blog post needs to be written. A sick cat requires extra care. It’s laundry day. Then the yard needs attention.
A day or two goes by without drawing. Then a week. Maybe two. Pretty soon, I’m bemoaning low production.
Remember, I used to think that if I didn’t have an hour for art, I had no time for art? It’s not true!
On hold with a long-distance telephone call? Sketch on a notepad.
Waiting at a doctor’s office? Take out that little drawing pad and start drawing.
How about that long drive, when hubby has fallen silent. Where’s your drawing pad? (Make sure hubby is driving and not you!)
Carry Basic Drawing Tools All the Time
I once heard someone say that the thing they did that helped them get so many excellent horse photos was to take their camera everywhere. “No camera, no photo,” they said.
The same applies to art. No drawing tools, no drawing.
Keep a small sketch pad and at least one pencil or pen with you all the time. I have a small spiral bound pad of writing paper in my purse, along with at least three pens.
No purse and no field kit? A lot of modern phones now have sketching apps on them. If your phone didn’t come with one, find one. You can learn to sketch with a phone and the sketching is just as helpful as drawing on paper.
One thing that really helped me understand the value of every minute—besides that painting challenge I mentioned—was setting short time goals. I started doing this to get over the hurdle of getting started every day, but it also helps me use time better.
Here’s how it works.
I promise myself that if I draw for fifteen minutes, then I can quit. For some reason, it’s easier to get started if I know I can quit after fifteen minutes. What usually happens is that I end up working for an hour or more, but even if I don’t, I’ve met the goal and can move on to something else without feeling guilty.
But it also helps me do more drawing. I’ve learned over the years that I can do a complete drawing in fifteen or twenty minutes.
Take this plein air drawing, for example. It took less than half an hour, and I drew it while waiting in the car. It may not be a masterpiece, but I was pleased with it, and I’d turned time spent waiting into into time spent drawing.
And maybe a saleable piece. Who knows?
Don’t Think You Have to Do It All or Do It Right All The Time
It’s all right to doodle.
It’s also all right to take your time. Just because some people can do complete drawings in an hour or master a skill in a week doesn’t mean you have to. If it takes you a month to work through the steps of a single tutorial, then do it! It’s better that you advance a step at a time (yes, even small steps) than not advancing at all.
Draw as Much as Possible
I know I already said that, but it bears repeating.
It doesn’t matter how many goals you set, or how good your intentions to use time better. If you’re not drawing, none of those things will help. The point of being a artist is making art.
So make art as often as you can!
Do You Still Believe You Don’t Have Enough Time for Art?
I hope not!
I hope you’ll pick one of these tips and put it into practice. Remember, it’s not important that you do everything. It’s more important that you just do something.
This week, I’d like to address two common colored pencil problems. Most of us deal with them at some point in our work with colored pencil. My guess is that they are constant struggles for some of us.
But problems need solutions. So I’m going to share some of the things that have helped me overcome these two common colored pencil problems.
2 Common Colored Pencil Problems
How Can I Finish More Drawings?
This is probably one of the biggest obstacles for colored pencil artists—and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been using colored pencils. The nature of the medium means that it takes a long time to do a drawing. Even small ones. It’s next to impossible to “dash off” a drawing in twenty minutes if you love detail (and a lot of us do—that’s what attracts us to colored pencil!).
When I first started drawing with colored pencil, I thought I could do the same types of work I’d been doing with oils. Large portraits full of life and detail.
I quickly learned that if it took twenty hours to finish a portrait in oil, it would take at least 40 to finish the same portrait in colored pencil. It was more likely to take 60 hours or more.
So I scaled back my expectations and reduced the size of my colored pencil work. I started doing more 8×10 or smaller works. I did some miniature work and drew a few ACEOs (art cards, editions, and originals).
So that’s my first tip. Do some small work. You don’t have to do miniature art, but it is a lot easier to finish something that’s 8×10 or smaller. The more works you finish, the more confidence you’ll gain in your ability to finish drawings. As you gain confidence, you’ll be better able to do larger work.
Other Tips for Getting More Work Done
Something else that has worked well for me is having more than one drawing going at the same time. If I get tired of working on one, I switch to the other and work on it for a while. I’ve devised a method for keeping all current drawings in view by mounting them to precut mats and back boards and either displaying them on shelves around the house or hanging them on the wall where I see them. Two are hanging above my head as I write these words.
Keep works in progress to no more than three or four. Any more than that and you risk overwhelming yourself!
You need patience for most of life. Raising children. Learning new things. Living life.
You definitely need patience with colored pencils!
So how do you develop patience?
In all seriousness, it takes patience.
I tell you that not to be funny but to encourage you to start small. Don’t expect a huge amount of patience overnight.
When I’m learning something new or doing something difficult, I limit the time I spend on that activity. For example, most of you know that I write in addition to doing art. You may also know that I went through a long dry spell in 2014-15. Nothing was happening and I got impatient with that creative silence.
When I started writing again, I no longer had the patience—or maybe endurance would be a better word—to write for long periods.
So I started doing 15-minute timed writings. I tried to do at least one 15-minute timed writing every day in 2016. No, I didn’t succeed every day, but I made more progress one timed writing at a time than if I tried to force myself back into the old schedule.
What does that mean for you?
If you lack the patience to work on a drawing for long periods of time, don’t. Start with shorter segments of time. It might be fifteen minutes or twenty. It might be only five minutes.
Why does this work? It’s a lot easier to start something if you know in advance you have permission to stop after a short while.
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself working past that time limit on some days. That’s great!
Eventually, you’ll discover you’ve developed the patience you need to work on a drawing longer each day. The bonus is that you’re also likely to discover you have the patience to work on drawings long enough to finish more of them!
What all this comes down to is knowing where you are currently in your artistic journey, and knowing where you want to be. Without a known—and achievable—destination, you have nowhere to go and no reason to start out.
But if you don’t know where you are presently, it’s very difficult to map your journey, even if you do know your destination.
Both of the “problems” I’ve talked about in this post can be overcome. It just takes a little bit of time and effort. Begin by assessing the problem, then identify possible solutions, then implement them.
And if you have to implement one little step at a time, that’s all right. The fact is, that’s perfect. None of us learned to run first when we were toddlers. We learned to toddle first.
What’s true for toddlers is also true for artists.
I’ve been an artist for a long time. Long enough to have learned many lessons that come only with experience.
Long enough to also know that there are many things I could have learned from other artists had I known where to find those artists (I started before the days of the internet).
Most of those tips have less to do with art than with attitude. They’re the sorts of things we all need to be reminded of periodically.
Be prepared to persevere.
I don’t know about you, but when I started painting, I thought all I had to do was paint the portraits and get them in front of people. They’d sell themselves and they’d sell themselves quickly. I’d be an overnight success.
The overnight part? Let’s just say I’ve been painting for nearly forty years and I’m still waiting for the overnight success.
Making art is not easy, even when you love what you’re doing. Building a livelihood around it is even less easy. Even when it’s your passion.
The real secret to success is getting up one more time than you’re knocked down, plain and simple. The world doesn’t owe you a living. Neither do the people around you. You may be the most talented artist since Rembrandt, but even he persevered.
Keep going. Be persistent.
Develop a thick skin.
From the first drawing you draw to the last, there will be critics. You will have to learn to deal with people who criticize your work, your methods, your marketing—probably even you. They are as much a fact of life as the sun rising in the east. Learn not to internalize it.
How? Ah, that’s the hard part, isn’t it.
The thing I did that helped me most in this area was deciding with myself what I wanted to paint, how I wanted to paint, and for whom I wanted to paint.
Once those things were settled in my own mind, the criticisms that came because I was painting horses or painting them too realistically or painting for clients didn’t matter. Sure, they still sometimes stung—especially those delivered by artists whose work I admired but whose vision was different than mine—but they didn’t sting as much.
You may need to make the same decisions.
Then go forward with confidence.
Learn to learn from criticism.
Some of the criticism may be warranted, so you can’t automatically discard it all. When an artist whose vision was similar to mine commented negatively on something I’d done, I paid more attention. Maybe they were right.
If a client had a complaint, I definitely paid attention to that. After all, they were paying me for my artistic skill. If they weren’t happy, neither was I.
But I still had to learn to be gracious.
I also had to learn to analyze those criticisms at face value and glean the comments that improved my skills as an artist and in dealing with people (and let’s face it, most of us like nothing better than to shut ourselves up in our studios and make art). Toward that end, I asked myself
Was the critic an artist more skilled than I?
If so, is this criticism a learning opportunity?
What can I learn from it?
Was the critic a client?
If so, is the complaint legitimate?
How can I improve the painting?
In other words, find ways to learn, to improve your artistic craft. Make every criticism an opportunity to learn and grow.
Draw every day.
Don’t fall into the habit of thinking you need to wait for inspiration to strike before you make art.
Don’t accept the lie that you need large chunks of time, either.
I’ve lived both and know they are not true. The best way to be an artist is to be an artist. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you have the time or not. Even if it’s just a few minutes to sketch on a napkin, make use of it. Nothing is more discouraging than waking up one morning and realizing it’s been a year since the last time you drew something.
I didn’t have to hear this very many times before I got tired of hearing it. Sick and tired!
But you know what? It’s true! When I came to grips with that realization, I also discovered just how valuable goals can be.
And easy. Start small. The first time I set painting goals, I decided to paint one painting a month plus two for a year. I was painting evenings and weekends then, doing art shows and horse shows when I could, so painting time was limited.
But it worked and for years, I created at least twelve paintings a year. Most of them portraits.
You might also try a time goal. Maybe 15 minutes of life drawing every day. Or even just 5 or 10. Keep a small sketch pad with you and sketch in doctor’s offices, while waiting for your order at a restaurant, or wherever you happen to be. Make it a habit! Have fun with it!
Develop a system to monitor goals.
Goals work best when you have a way to track your progress. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it needs to BE.
A calendar is great for this. One with big squares for each day works for me. Find a method that works for you. Decide how much time you want to paint each month, then decide how much you need to paint each day to reach that goal. For each day you paint, record the amount of time you spent. You’ll be surprised how quickly the time adds up.
For some projects, I keep a spreadsheet.
The important thing isn’t how you monitor your progress; it’s THAT you monitor your progress. Seeing how much you’ve done toward a particular goal is a great way to get or stay motivated to keep up the good work.
Don’t let your goals rule you.
You may be thinking this is a contradiction. It’s not.
Life happens. There will be days when, despite your best planning and intentions, you just can’t paint or draw. Don’t let it stress you out. That’s part of the reason I like weekly and monthly goals in addition to daily goals. If I miss a day, I can make it up somewhere else and the weekly or monthly goals provide the incentive to do so.
For the longest time, my art was my small business and I treated it that way. Every line I drew was for a portrait in some way. I never drew for fun or just because something interesting caught my eye and wanted to be drawn.
Don’t do that!
Whether you paint for personal pleasure or as a livelihood, have fun. For some, creating art will become like a job and will require you treat it like a job, maintaining regular hours and behaving like your own employee.
If that describes you, try not to lose sight of the joy of painting (as I did). Keep in sight the reason art drew you in the first place. Take time to nurture that, to grow it as you grow your career. You won’t regret it.
By the way, it doesn’t hurt to learn to have fun apart from your art, too. We all need down time to refresh and revitalize.
Which of these resonant most with you? What advice would you add to the list?