Ok, so, studies. I have been asked about this before, and it seems like a nice subject to talk a bit about. In this journal I will share 3 questions that can help you set up your own effective studies, as well as sharing some key words that I like to use to structure my own studies. So without further ado, let’s get going!
Study of her Workstation by Truc Bui side34 . Image used with permission
How to set up Effective Studies
First off, in art we say ‘to do a study’ where in most other subjects we would say ‘to study’. For example, an artist might say to her art friends “I did this study of values yesterday night” while an engineering student would say to her classmates “I sat all night studying linear transformations in R3-space”. However if, they were talking to their moms they would probably say “I painted all night” and “I was studying math all night” respectively, making the first mom frown with worry and the second shine with pride. The effort and critical thinking in both cases should be the same though.
Secondly, while art is a visual subject, not all art related studies yield a good visual result. It’s of course more fun if it do, and as I explained in the previous entry, it might be a good idea to make your studies presentable once you are done with them, sometimes a good study could just be careful reading and reflection over a chapter in an art book.
Three Questions to get started
And now we’re ready to begin with the useful stuff. One of the greatest pitfall with studies is that as a green artist it can be hard to know how to study effectively. Most likely you see other artists do it, and you’re being told to do it, and so you just do what you see other people do. If you really want to study effectively though, it’s important to think critically about why and how you are doing what you are doing. Personally, I use three questions to help myself setting up personalised studies to address nothing that I want to study. Here they are:
- What is the goal of the study? Or, what do I want to learn?
- What process should I use? Or, how do I learn this stuff?
- What is redundant in my suggested process? Or, how do I get rid of unnecessary obstacles while I learn this stuff?
Ok, so number 1 seems obvious, but it’s easy to underestimate the importance of a well defined goal. If you only say; "I’m going to do a study of this master painting” you haven’t specified what you want to learn. A better example would be ‘wow, I love how Leyendecker handles the shapes of light and dark in this illustration. I want to break it down and learn how he does it”. Mindless copying is the last thing that you want to do. A lot of good artists do master studies, and they usually end up with something that looks like they only copied, but that’s just because you can’t see their thought process in the result of their study. That being said, I myself could probably benefit a lot from doing more observational studies and less analysis of things.
Study by Concept Artist and Illustrator Truc Bui side34 . The result is stunning, but can you guess her thought process as she studied this? Probably not, but I know she wasn't just trying to get a good painting to show off (in fact, I had to ask her to upload it online just because I wanted to feature it here). Image used with permission.
Question 2 is there to define the outlines of the study. Good things to include here is stuff like process and subgoals. For example “I’m going to collect reference of interesting reptile skulls, and then sketch to learn new things and shapes for skull structure”.
The third question is there to streamline the process somewhat before you begin. If you do a study of something, you want to free up as much brain power as possible for the learning that thing. If you want to study architecture, but can’t draw well in perspective yet, then it’s probably a better idea to draw orthogonals and focus on the proportions and details rather than being frustrated about perspective. Or, if you’re new to digital drawing and want to sharpen your linear, probably better to do that study traditionally. If you want to sharpen your digital skills, set up a study focusing on only getting used to that instead. I for example, are way more comfortable working with lines than with paint, so the only painting related studies I do are the ones where I try to learn painting.
These guys were based on reference photos you can easily find on google. The goal of this study was improved markmaking and strong shapes of light and shadow a la Layendecker, so I saw no reason to complicate things further by doing my own designs or light setups.
The most important thing though
Now that we have gotten this far, it’s time to tell you take everything I’ve written so far quite lightly. Don’t spend hours writing a document detailing how you are going to study something just because you read this, I don’t. I just think that these are three useful things to keep in the back of my mind. The most important thing for studying is to be playful and have lot’s of fun. Look at kids, they learn by playing, why should’t we? However, even kids have structure and rules in their games, a game where you can do anything and there’s no challenges is a boring game.
Not everything I call a study has some advanced plan attached to it. Last summer I was usually too tired in the evenings to do anything deep, so I just prepared sheets of reference in bulk during the weekends, so I would always have something to draw. Planning can eat up your brain energy even before you start to study, so don't overdo it. Or alternatively, plan a study for tomorrow the last thing before you go to bed. Having everything roaring to go from the moment you sit down at your workspace can be a boon to your motivation!
That concludes this Bi-weekly! I felt like we didn't even scratch the surface about what I think about this subject, but I hope you are encouraged to try to customise your own learning process from now on. Remember to always ask and answer your own questions, not the questions you think you are supposed to ask. And have fun studying stuff (if you're lucky you get to do it your whole life)!
Thank you for reading, and as always, any feedback or thoughts are welcome.