March 14, 2014

How to Make Better Art: 10 Ways to Develop a Creative Routine + Get Better

Kitty N. Wong / sketchbook portrait of woman in gouache with pencil and pink background
Say Lou Lou. 2014.
Pencil and gouache on sketchbook paper. Made just before bed, my most creative time.

The only way to get better at something is to practice it, and to practice regularly you must create a routine and stick with it. During the last year or two working as an artist and illustrator these are the top 10 habits I've learned so far to help me develop my craft.

1. Don't apologize for your work. I know its tempting because your work won't be as good as you want it to be yet and you don't want anyone thinking that's all you have inside you. You have so much more you want to express, I know! But fight it, if you don't believe in your work how can other people? If it's not as good as you want, re-work it until you can accept it. Share it and then leave it at that, don't make any excuses.

Kitty N. Wong / Seth Goldin quote in pencil
2. It's OK to make ugly stuff. Experiment in your sketchbook or scrap pieces of paper for even less pressure. It keeps your work fresh and you can find and explore new directions. Continually experiment. Try something that might not work, that's what making art is.


3. Draw from reference, always. Or at least practice so much you won't need to but I still always find figures look strongest if drawn from photos or real life. I usually take photos of myself in the poses I'm looking to draw, it's faster (and less distracting) than scrolling through all the Google image search results for "girl crossing hands holding chopsticks".

Kitty N. Wong / sketchbook pratice of girls on cheap paper
4. Find Inspiration. This goes hand in hand with experimenting.  I collect any images that strikes me and then draw from them during my night-time-sketchbook-time, I've found most of my best work is often from developing ideas I've started during this time. Find inspiration in your real life, go to galleries and museums in your city, flip through magazines, go to the library, walk around, be observant, find everything that is beautiful and let it flow through your work.

5. Keep a schedule. Separate your time, don't let it all blend together and all drag out. As a freelancer I struggle with this one and it's my worst habit. But I've found for me the hours before lunch are best for getting shit done, especially tedious and uncreative things like email. At night, I'm much more creative, I tend to leave starting new paintings, experimenting and creative development to this time. I find even 20 minutes of sketchbooking before going to bed helps me get new ideas.

Block out time for: experimenting / emails  / promo / networking / inspiration gathering

6. Keep going and don't judge a piece mid process. Don't stop now! It's just going through an ugly duckling phase. Almost any piece can be salvaged. Experience is knowing how to fix a piece to be presentable to a professional standard and being able to hand in every assignment instead of giving up when a piece takes an unexpected turn from what you imagined in your mind's eye.

7. Try using larger sheets of paper/other materials. My natural impulse is to work small. I'm still secretly scared of messing up giant sheets up pristine expensive watercolour paper. But as you get better try going bigger, it'll free up the way you work. Use whatever materials you have around to paint one, cardboard is especially great.

Kitty N. Wong / Gustave Flaubert quote
8. Draw everyday.  Progress is slow and making art is an endurance act. The more you draw the better you will get, it might not be apparent from one day to the next and some days will be better than others but when you look it at it all together you will be a much better artist than you were a year ago after having made 365 things all of varying and maybe questionable quality.

9. Everything is a learning process. Not just the art making, but everything that goes along with it too, the small things like how to scan your piece, how to present it, how to talk to people about it and you will get better at each one the more you do it and it'll make your art better for it.

10. Don't be embarrassed, take every opportunity even and especially if they seem terrifying, embarrasing or if you don't think you're ready. As a teenager, my friends and I took to the habit of referring to every situation as "embarrasing", as in "Oh we had to go to the mall today, it was so embarrassing".  And even though it was a joke, it stuck with me. More than I like to admit, I have a hard time taking risks because I didn't want to "embarrass" myself, but no! Trying things is not embarrassing. And while failing might be embarrassing to yourself in those few moments, I promise noone else is keeping track. So don't say thanks but no thanks to this greatest gift that is life, elegance might be refusal in dress but it's no motto to live your life by.

What are some important lessons you have learned while practicing your craft? What is it that you are practicing? Do you want to be a better writer? A better artist? A better financier? Share with us one important lesson you've learned this year!