Can Art Skills Atrophy? – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Can Art skills atrophy article sketch

Although this is an article about artistic skills and art practice, I’m going to have to start by talking about my webcomics and about computer games for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Even though my “Damania Reappears” webcomic mini series will be appearing here every night for another week or so, I’ve already got started on the next comic – this will be a horror comedy comic (featuring the characters from my mini series) called “Zombies Again!”. Expect to see it begin about a week and a half before Halloween.

Anyway, when I was making the second page of this comic, I included a call-back to one of my other comics from 2015. This was one of the comics that I made when I got back into making comics occasionally after a long comic hiatus in 2014.

The shocking thing was that when I compared my comic page from 2015 to my one from this year, I noticed that the old comic had much better shading. I took a look at the other B&W comics I’d made this year, and the same was true for them too. I had actually got worse at drawing in black and white, even though most of my art starts out as a B&W drawing before I add paint.

Although, I could explain it by saying that I took more time with the comics I made in 2015 – this didn’t discount the fact that my upcoming Halloween comic contained some fairly basic contrast errors (which I later had to correct in MS Paint after I scanned the relevant pages). These were the kinds of basic mistakes that I just wouldn’t have made in 2015 – since I’d have paid much closer attention to the number and position of blank, shaded and dark areas in each panel.

Of course, back in late 2014 and early-mid 2015, I was absolutely fascinated by black & white drawing. I practiced a lot and considered it to be one of the “coolest” ways to make art.

Then, in late 2015, I discovered the joys of limited palette painting – this had all of the advantages of B&W drawing, but it resulted in even cooler-looking paintings. So, naturally, I started focusing on this instead – in fact, the majority of my more recent paintings use a limited palette of just four watercolour pencils.

I guess that returning to black and white drawing again is sort of like returning to the “basic” version of a computer game after you’ve got completely used to playing a particular fan-made modification for it.

Presciently, I actually had this exact experience shortly before starting my upcoming Halloween comic. I’d been using a mod called “Brutal Doom” for “Doom II” quite often for the past few weeks, only to play a fan-made level that was designed for the original un-modified version of “Doom II”. Suddenly, I found that I wasn’t quite as good at playing a game that I usually consider myself to be fairly good at.

So, have I lost these skills? Is it even possible to lose skills through a lack of practice?

Personally, I’d say probably not. Whilst it is true that skills tend to recede into the background if they aren’t practiced regularly, I’d hardly say that these skills are lost. They might temporarily degrade slightly, but you just need to take some time to re-acquaint yourself with them.

Not to mention that, although you might not instantly be as good as you were – you will still probably be much better than someone who has never practised these skills. After all, you’ll probably still remember something.

To use yet another personal example, I produced relatively little art in 2011. When I finally decided to practice every day in 2012, my art looked fairly similar to my art from 2011. I hadn’t exactly got better, but I didn’t really get any worse either.

Of course, this probably all depends on how long you have spent away from a particular skill – and your reasons for not practicing it. One thing that probably helps with skill retention is to keep practicing related skills whenever possible.

For example, although I’m not as good at black & white drawing as I was last year – my practice at painting and other types of drawing have meant that my actual drawing skills haven’t stagnated or degraded, even though I’m not as good at the techical aspects of creating striking black & white images as I used to be.

Likewise, although I seem to be less eager to write fiction than I was five or six years ago, I was still able to write an interactive story last Halloween within the space of about five days. Although my writing style hadn’t really improved much, the fact that I practice non-fiction writing (eg: these articles) every day, meant that writing large amounts of fiction in a relatively short time didn’t seem like the large task that it might have done if I’d given up writing altogether for the past few years.

Even with other skills, I haven’t lost everything. Whenever I’ve picked up a guitar after years of not practicing, I’ve found that I can still actually remember and play a few of the many things I learnt when I was a teenager (eg: the intro to both Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” and Iron Maiden’s “Fear Of The Dark” seem to be permanantly imprinted onto my brain).

So, if you’re going to be abandoning a particular skill for a while – then it can be a good idea to practice related skills wherever possible. But, even if you don’t, you probably won’t forget everything.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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