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How to learn art on your own
Letter #43: Course updates, tattoo designs, and a freebie for beginner artists.
Only 10 percent of art school graduates go on to become working artists. And only 16 percent of working artists have an arts related bachelors degree. At least this study says so. Meanwhile, art educations are some of the most expensive ones out there.
So…. Just how necessary are they? 🙄
Speaking as someone who both has traditional degrees of various kinds, and has learned at lot on my own: Probably not very.
I’m sure an MFA is perfect for some people. And I have nothing against traditional education, per se. What I, personally, am not so great as is all of the waiting. Waiting to apply. Waiting to (hopefully) get accepted. Waiting for the course to start. Waiting for feedback on my assignments. Waiting for the next assignment. Waiting for the course to end so that I can move on to the next thing. I’m just too impatient and independent for traditional education. (How did I get through 3 years of college? By also building a blog, and playing a lot of video games.)
The vast majority of the skills I’ve build my career upon, I’ve learned on my own, and mostly for free. Including art. There’s no degree needed to pursue an art career, or to exhibit, or sell your work. There’s no special, secret knowledge guarded by gatekeepers. Anyone can learn art, for free, on their own, and be just as successful as someone who went to an art college.
Because with art, what matters is your body of work, and your willingness to put it out into the world. That’s it.
How do you learn art on your own then? There are, of course, a host of problems that come with that too. Like: “Where do I start?” “What should I practice?” “How do I practice efficiently?” “Where can I find quality learning resources?”
When I set out to teach myself art a few years ago, I searched for “self-taught artist curriculum” online, and I found, among other things, this website. This is what most pre-made art curriculums out there look like. They contain EVERYTHING you might POSSIBLY want to learn as an artist. Or they are tailored to a very specific type of artist (usually a concept artist, digital illustrator, or animator.) Does EVERY artist need to know human anatomy? Three-point perspective? Or even color theory?
No. Each artist is different, and has different preferences and needs at different times throughout their journey.
There’s also the specific problem we face as beginner artists: We don’t yet know what we want to do, where we want to go, or what we need. We might feel, as I did at first, like we should learn a little bit of everything. Become a “well-rounded” artist. And then we realize that a lot of the stuff on those pre-made curriculums, we absolutely hate doing. And when we hate doing something, we lose motivation, and then we eventually quit.
I’ve committed to practicing art several times throughout my life. All of the times that I’ve quit, it was because of overwhelm and a sense of dread. Practicing felt like doing boring homework. I hated drawing figures. I hated drawing architechture, or cars, or flowers. It wasn’t until I ignored all of the well-meaning advice from other artists, listened inward, and allowed myself to draw and paint what excited me (birds and animals), that I could stick to a regular practice and enjoy it.
So to wrap up:
Yes: Anyone can learn art, for free, on their own. With the right strategy and plan in place, I believe it's the best way to do it, because it’s flexible, it’s individualized, and it takes less time than traditional education.
Does that mean it’s easier? No. That’s why I wanted to give self-taught artists a resource to help them through the process.
Introducing: DIY Art School - a free, 10-day email course for artists who want to learn art on their terms, without going into debt. 🥳
This is what I’ve been working with all week, and I’m so happy to finally get to offer it to you. I hope it will be a helpful resources to new or aspiring artists who feel like I did: motivated, but also overwhelmed and confused about where to start and how to grow.
One email a day, for 10 days, filled with my best tips, advice and resources for self-taught artists. If you want it, sign up here:
It’s been three weeks since I last write here. That’s due to a combination of needing some time off, and needing to get a few important things done. One of them being the big update of my bestselling course Pencil Sketching For Beginner Artist, which I spent a few weeks of July expanding and moving to another course platform. The other being this free email course that I’ve just released. Now that they are done and launched, I can relax and get back to my normal rythm of weekly painting, writing, and video making. 😌
Last weekend, I started work on designing my next tattoo. I’ve been wanting a magpie to complement the crow I currently have on my right forearm. And I figured, “Hmm… I’m a bird artist. I should be able to do this…” I am not a tattoo artist though, which is a specialized art form. So I’m hoping for a local tattoo artist to make something great out of my sketches and references.
This is what I came up with: (mockup illustration in Procreate)
I tried a few other poses, (so hard to choose), but the real-estate of a forearm is pretty limited. This one ended up fitting the best, and also matching the crow nicely. I had a lot of fun with it. Kind of want to start designing a lot more future tattoos for myself… 🙄
Digital illustration and tattoo design are really not my fortes though, so the next step is to collaborate with a tattoo artist and book the appointment. Can’t wait to finally get my magpie. 🖤
Some favorite things
Once there were wolves, by Charlotte McGonaghy. Completely spellbinding novel about humans vs. the wild. Adored it.
Jonna Jinton’s latest video:
The storytelling and visuals in this made me cry multiple times. She's outdone herself, I think.
Re-read Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir. A sci-fi that’s still one of my top 5 books of all time. When I finished it the first time, I sat with happy tears in my eyes and held the book to my chest for five minutes, cradling it like a baby. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.
So vibrant in color, they’re practicaly mouthwatering. (No, for real. I almost drool while looking at these.) And how does she do those brushstrokes that look exactly like feathers? I’m in awe.
This Breath of the Wild classic guitar cover, by Sam Griffin: (That also made me cry, cry, cry because I can’t handle the BOTW soundtrack. 😭)
Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, book 1), by James Corey. Oh wow, I had a lot of fun with this. You know that feeling when you read something you really, really like? And then find out there are 8 MORE BOOKS like it, and they’re all supposedly really good? I’ve got space opera for many months to come. 😌
Again, I’m drooling. My body can’t handle wild, messy, buttery, luscious, luminous, divine oil paintings like these. I can’t stop staring at them.
Baldur's Gate 3 released yesterday. The long-awaited sequel to one of my favorite games of all time. People say it “sets an impossible standard for other role playing games going forward.” And I get to play it today. I’m practically shaking with anticipation. 😂