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7 Science Hacks to Master Drawing in Less Time

learn to draw with science

We all want to be better artists.

But the truth is wanting to be a better artists is not enough. You'd be wise to have a method to your madness.

I spend the last month researching master artists on how they would learn to draw if they had to do it all over again.

Fundamentally they say the same things and I decided to find out if science agreed with them.

First things First - Your Mindset & The Basics

I don't want to be cheesy.

But the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. You need to start small. Nobody ever started out as an old master. Unless you're one of those people who simply loves drawing you'll need to slowly build up your discipline.

You will notice that if you start thinking about big and ambitious projects it'll be much more difficult to stay motivated.  This is why it's important to stay in the present and work on 1 challenge at a time.

Having said that let's get to the real meat of this article.

learning curve

hypothetical learning curve

1. Trick your analytical brain

learn to draw betty edwards

Picasso

Betty Edwards had a problem. She couldn't figure out why some of her students had trouble learning to draw.

Which Edwards believed was not some mystical talent you are born with.

One day on impulse she asked her students to copy a Picasso drawing upside down. To her suprise suddenly her students had improved. Why? 

With the Picasso drawing flipped upside down the students no longer recognized objects but saw what shapes the picture was made of. The brain had switched the way it dealt with the problem.

Mark Crilley too mentions this in his video about how to get better at drawing. This is something he didn't even realize is a thing.

Edward's research, combined with the preliminary work done by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roger W. Sperry discovered that the brain as a whole participates in most activities. But there are some activities, such as drawing, where you need just 1 mode without significant interference from the other. 

2. The Jasin Method

The Jasin Method

Sycra Jasin's

Repetition sucks, but it's necessary for growth.

Practice fundamentals and make tiny experiments in a short window of time side by side. Embrace the randomness. You will learn faster and if you improve faster, you will enjoy "boring" repetition.

This is exactly what Sycra Jasin recommends with his "iterative drawing". In his video he explains how to approach rote learning in a constructive way. With each tiny experiment he quickly sees what works and what doesn't and is able to build upon the experience. 

A 2010 John Hopkin's study too shows that people learn faster if into their routine variability is introduced.

3. The Emotional Anchor Technique

the emotional anchor technique

 A bit cliche, but I started drawing in my teenage years to impress a girl. I noticed a correlation between my ability to focus on drawing and how emotionally invested in it I was.

Because of that I would intentionally look up the cheesiest love songs and listen to them on repeat so I could focus and get my drawings done. A friend of mine would only draw when she was sad or angry.

Although we like to think of ourselves as highly rational people we are not. Emotions make the world go round.

So why not use them to our advantage?

Josiah from Jazza Studios recommends his "inspired practice". Much like Sycra he explains the benefits of iterative drawing but adds his own twist with simple psychology: You are more likely to practice things you are passionate about.  

A 2014 Harvard University study confirms the importance of emotions in decision making and an ever increasing amount of studies in the field. Normally emotions come first. Followed by the "rational" reasons we make up to believe what we feel.

4. "Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal"

steal-like-an-artist-by-austin-kleon-cover

This quote by Steve Jobs, attributed to Pablo Picasso says something important. Austin Kleon in his book "Steal like an Artist" reiterates it.

The sad or happy truth of the world is that we would be a blank canvas wishing for something to appear out of the void if we tried to draw purely from what's within.

Truly original work is hard to come by and is normally a rare biproduct of derivate work. So let's intentionally look for inspiration from the outside. Art books, movies, music, family or nature.

Numerous artists encourage taking inspiration from artists you admire or to study the old masters.

Steal and copy whatever you like and make it your own.

We have evolved to learn from what we see.

Mirror Neurons - Mirror neurons are a class of neuron that modulate their activity both when an individual executes a specific motor act and when they observe the same or similar act performed by another individual.

5. The Ghost Technique

the ghost technique

The ghost technique is based on the phenomena of people being able to push themselves to new heights when competing against the "Ghost" version of themselves.

Think of it as an updated version of the croquis.

Before Roger Bannister, everyone thought the sub 4 minute mile was impossible. He achieved this feat on 6 May 1954 with a time of 3 min 59.4 sec. His record was broken 46 days later and many times after that because now people believed they could.

What do you believe is impossible?  In any case we often underestimate our potential and overestimate the time it takes to get there. 

Josiah from Jazza Studios talks about  "developmental practice".  Basically he draws the same thing a few times with each iteration having a decreasing amount of time to complete. You start with 20 minutes, then 15, then 10 and finally 5. This forces you to get out of your comfort zone and work with more meticulous precision. Building rapidly on prior experience.

  1. A Harvard Business Review study implies you can also use your future self to stop smoking, eat healthier or save money.
  2. Comfort Zone: Model or metaphor?

15 min

15 minutes elephant

10 min

10 minutes elephant

5 min

5 minutes elephant

6. Practice before sleeping

sleep tight

A 2003 study shows us that sleep is important to solidifying motor skills. Which.. well doesn't come as a suprise to anyone.

But...

The more important finding, however, is that on top of your regular practice, you'd be wise to supplement it with a practice session before going to bed.  

I have done this with juggling, football, dancing. Guess what, you can also do it with practicing your fine motor skills like drawing.

7. Draw while lucid dreaming

Now this isn't easy to achieve  but for those who have learned to stay conscious during dreaming they could potentially get in more practice this way. Simply 16 hours not enough for you? Win some time by practicing while you sleep.

silver sand surfer

Portugal Sand Sculpture Exhibition

Frankly, I never use this time to draw. I tend to fly or surf sandwaves with my bare feet. What would you do?

Dr. Erlacher research discusses this in the Harvard Business review. Saying that although the science on this isn't definitive yet there is substantial proof that something is going on. From athletes to people giving speeches, supposedly any task can be practiced.

Wrapping it up - Bonus Science

If a lot of experienced artists say the same things, it's probably a smart idea to pay attention.

As this MIT study suggests, when it compared master and novice artist brains.  The fMRI scans showed that master artists use less of their brain. The activity is focused in the pre-frontal cortex while novice artists tend to use much more of it and the activity is spread out.

This is what Jeff Watts refers to as not having to think when he draws.

Interesting, huh?

So maybe we just need to relax, and like Betty Edwards suggests, try to disassociate from what we see.

Have you noticed any of these things in your life?

About the author

John Thatch

John Thatcher is a computer science educated artist. He uses technology to solve artist problems. His friends don't like it when he speaks of himself in the third person. But John does it anyway, because he's a rebel.

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