Learning how to draw and/or paint can be a long and occasionally challenging process. Even after about four and a half years of regular practice, there are probably more things that I don’t know about making art than there are things that I do.
Still, as well as having the awesome experience of creating lots of art, there are also a surprising number of fringe benefits to regular art practice that have relatively little to do with the actual act of drawing and/or painting.
1) You see everything differently: I’m not quite sure when this happened, but one thing that I’ve noticed after I started my regular art practice is that I look at everything in a totally different way to how I used to. This is probably a fringe benefit of learning how to copy photos, old paintings etc… by sight and from making still life paintings.
Because copying images by sight requires you to think of the picture you’re copying as being a 2D representation of a 3D image, you quickly learn to see other drawings, paintings and/or photographs in a slightly different way. Likewise, if you’re drawing or painting a still life, you have to work out how to mentally convert a 3D object into a 2D image.
As well as being a good way to learn, it also affects how you “see” things too. If, say, you see a beautiful sunset, then your first thought will probably be “how can I re-create this as a drawing or a painting?“. You’ll look carefully at the colours (and work out exactly what they are), you’ll mentally convert the scene in front of you into a 2D image and you’ll pay surprisingly close attention to the outlines of the surrounding scenery.
In addition to this, you might also find that you’re able to “read” images and video a lot better than you used to. This is really hard to describe, but I can’t imagine ever being without this really cool skill.
Not only that, optical illusions will seem a lot less “magical” than they used to be (since you’ll understand the rules of perspective that many of these illusions exploit). You’ll also instantly notice the colour scheme of every advert, piece of food packaging or DVD cover that you see.
Likewise, with enough art practice and learning you can also often instantly tell what materials were used to create any picture that you see (eg: watercolour, digital, oil paint, woodcuts etc..). You might also find yourself spontaneously trying to re-create the image in your mind in order to learn how it was made. You might also start automatically analysing the artist’s style to see if there’s anything in there that might be worth adding to your own drawing or painting style.
I couldn’t do any of this stuff before I started practicing art regularly, but now I can’t even imagine not being able to do any of this. It’s almost like I’ve gained an extra sense.
2) Culture: When I began practicing making art regularly, I wasn’t interested in learning about anything other than drawing techniques. I thought that studying historical works of art was a “boring” or “snobbish” thing to do. What an idiot I was!
Within about two or three years, I had a vaguely decent knowledge of European art within the past 500 years and a vague knowledge of 19th century Japanese art. I knew the difference between impressionism, pointillism, chiaroscuro, fauvism, ligne claire, Pre-Raphaelite art, art nouveau, ukiyo-e etc… and some of the history of each of these art forms. I knew how to recognise paintings from several old artists from sight alone.
Ironically, most of this sophisticated cultural knowledge came about out of sheer laziness. Thinking of new ideas for daily drawings or paintings can occasionally be something of a challenge. So, once I’d got vaguely good at copying from sight and had remembered that most old paintings aren’t covered by copyright, making studies of old paintings was something that I did when I was uninspired.
But, of course, I had to find interesting-looking old paintings first. This usually involved internet research and, out of curiosity, I’d also start reading about the artists who originally made these paintings. Without really intending to, I ended up learning a lot about the history of art and also realised that it was a lot more fascinating than I had thought.
3) Transferable skills: You’d be surprised at how much else learning how to make art will teach you.
For example, even a basic knowledge of perspective and composition will probably mean that you’ll also be able to take better photos than you used to. Even if you don’t understand all of the technical details of photography, your photos will probably still look at least mildly better if you make art regularly.
Likewise, a basic knowledge of colour theory (eg: how colours interact with each other) can occasionally be useful. Even if it’s just working out what kind of outfit to wear, or pointing out why a film poster looks so dramatic – you’d be surprised at how often even a basic knowledge of colour theory can come in handy.
You’ll also learn something about pretty much everything that you draw or paint for the simple reason that you’ll probably have to study it carefully in order to work out how to draw or paint it.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂