How Can I Improve at Drawing and Painting? + An Artist's Year in Review

April 2017: Every detail was researched from the anatomy down to the scales on the mermaids tails.

April 2017: Every detail was researched from the anatomy down to the scales on the mermaids tails.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

It really bothers me when people say that they can't draw. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record. I have talked about this before. I recently read an article about how mindset influences success. Specifically, it discusses the benefits of having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. So, what does that mean exactly? 

A fixed mindset means you believe talent or intelligence are fixed qualities you are born with, and if you're not born with a specific talent, you will never be good at it. You believe success is a result of talent, not effort. Example: I don't draw because I'm not good at it. I'm just not as talented as you are.

A growth mindset means that you believe talent and intelligence can be developed with hard work and deliberate practice. You see failures as learning opportunities. They are stepping stones along the path to achieving your goals. Example: I'm not good at drawing faces. I'm going to draw 100 of them and when I finish I'll be much better at it.

Practicing Growth Mindset

If you need help with your growth mindset, a book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle puts this theory to good use and dives into the concept of what deliberate practice looks like. I have not read it myself, but heard it recommended in an interview on Stories Unbound with children's book author Mike Sundy. It's on my list of books to read very soon.

If you need proof of this theory in action, illustrator Kelley McMorris created a Tumblr called Anyone Can Improve at Drawing where you can find an endless list of real life examples of how artists can improve with practice. Check them out and submit your own!

A Year In Review

With the SCBWI Austin conference approaching I wanted to look back on where I was at this time last year when I registered for my first conference. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a 5-month-old baby who didn't take naps and needed me to hold him all day long. Always the multitasker, I decided that if my hands were occupied, my brain needed to be busy too, so I spent that time watching the entire SVS Learn course library in preparation.

I arrived at the conference with a portfolio that was bursting at the seams with every children's book illustration I had ever created – all five of them! – and walked away with my very own mentor. Having Marsha available to me has been invaluable. I still cannot believe my luck.

I have spent this year blogging, reading art books, co-working with my mentor, taking online illustration and storytelling classes, listening to kidlit podcasts, attending SCBWI meetings and open critiques (even if I have nothing to be critiqued), and most importantly making art daily while my toddler naps. It has been a lot of work, but I have learned so much and I couldn't be more excited about this year's conference.

The Big Secret to Improving at Art

Reflecting on the last year, I think the most valuable lesson I learned from my mentor was to make art every day. The images at the top of this post were each done about a year apart. Pretty crazy huh?

So here's the big secret:

The only way to improve at art is to make a volume of work. Experiment. Make mistakes. Challenge yourself. Solve problems.

That is basically it. If you make the commitment to work on your art daily (or whatever it is you want to improve at), you may not see obvious changes from day to day, but over time the improvement will be clear.

This is good news and bad news. It's bad news because it takes time, effort and dedication. But it's also good news because making art is what we love to do. If you are already doing it, just keep doing your thing and know that you are on the right path.

April 2016: Note the forced stylization to compensate for lack of anatomical structure. Everything is generic (trees, grass, road, sky, clothing, bike) because nothing was researched except for the helmet because we have one of those. I opted not to include the rest of the bike because drawing bikes is hard!

April 2016: Note the forced stylization to compensate for lack of anatomical structure. Everything is generic (trees, grass, road, sky, clothing, bike) because nothing was researched except for the helmet because we have one of those. I opted not to include the rest of the bike because drawing bikes is hard!