5 things I learned after drawing for 1,000 hours in one year
In 2019, I decided that my only resolution would be to draw for 1,000 hours. In late 2018, I had just read Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work,’ and although I don’t really remember anything from that book, I got inspired to hone my art skills.
I’ll be honest with you. I started drawing back when I was twelve years old, but never really made much progress. I saw some improvement when I bought my first set of markers, but that was mostly because I stopped using cheap colored pencils on printer paper to make some art. Then, later on, when I first moved to the US in 2016, I got myself a copy of “Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain,” which helped me start seeing for the first time in my life. However, I was one of those people who draw for a couple hours, finish a piece in one day, never looks back at it and doesn’t draw again for a month. I knew these habits weren’t good, but drawing was exhaustive - it felt like for each drawing I made I needed to rest for a week. At the same time, I got frustrated with my own lack of skills so I preferred to read books about drawing than to actually draw - seriously, I’ve got a serious art book problem here.
Some of the art I used to do. Fashion designs in 2009, faceless people in 2010, and pencil colored fashion in 2011.
So, back to late 2018. That year, I decided I wanted to improve. I was aware of that 10,000 hour rule and I thought that I should honestly just reset my personal drawing clock to 0 hours and start from scratch - with that logic, I’d be a drawing master within 10 years. I set for 1,000 hours a year because that was 20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year - or 4-hour daily practices Monday through Friday. I printed little calendar sheets and created a color code: for every day that I practiced art, I would make a cross with a colored pen. Red for 1 hour practices, orange for 2, green for 3, blue for 4, and pink for 5. I never needed to go above five because honestly I don’t think I’ve ever drawn that much in a day - I literally can’t.
2019 started and I was pumped. I have a YouTube channel (Portuguese only, sorry) so I was going to make videos every month about my progress. I was so motivated to improve that I decided to make a list of things I wanted to focus on. Drawing four hours a day is a lot, so I needed to make lists to know what to draw. In January, I focused on faces. For some of you, starting with faces may sound easy, but I was the kind of person who would only draw women staring blankly to the imaginary camera with a half smile. I sketched a lot with a purple pen on a sketchbook copying all the faces I saw on Pinterest and did several illustrations on Procreate. I still wasn’t very comfortable with Procreate, but slowly I made some progress. In February, I focused on whole body poses - I needed to break my habit of drawing fashion illustration. In March, I worked towards creating characters and backgrounds to those characters. The months went by, and I kept on drawing. Even though I wasn’t hitting my four-hour practice every day, I was close, and that taught me a few things.
What I learned:
The first one, was that I had more willpower than I imagined. By simply deciding to draw more and creating the time on my calendar, I was able to break a habit that had been haunting me since I was twelve years old and realize there are way more hours in a day than I thought.
The second thing I learned is that the only way to improve your drawing is to draw more. Yes, this is not news, but it honestly shocked me. Drawing more and more gave me the freedom to explore. I realized that not everything I make needs to be Instagram-worthy and sometimes drawing just for the practice is super important. For the first time, I started to redraw things that I didn’t like instead of moving on with another piece. Redrawing bad illustrations proved to be a great learning tool.
The third thing I learned was the importance of reference. I thought that to be a good artist you needed to come up with every single detail in your own head. Characters needed to come alive out of thin air! It wasn’t until July or August that I realized how crucial research and references are. I was able to create much better and believable pieces because I had the reference for it. Drawing became almost like a collage: a picture here for a pose, a picture there for a haircut, another one for a jacket, sandals, and on and on.
The fourth thing I learned was how to study art. I started following a lot of artists that I like, and started being critical of their work. I would “steal” elements that I really liked from a bunch of artists to create my own style (see the book Steal Like an Artist for more on that). I followed a few of them on Patreon so I could actually see how they make their pieces and that completely changed how I study illustration. Now, I mostly study by following tutorials of particular artists, not by reading books, watching videos on “tips to draw,” or taking online classes.
The fifth thing I learned was how to use Procreate. I didn’t know how to fully use the app going in 2019, but now after watching a lot of videos, meeting the folks who created the app at Lightbox Expo in September, and actually reading their user guide, I consider myself a pro. I have a theory that to make good art you need three things: patience, a trained eye, and knowledge of your tools. I guess I never gave myself the time to actually hone in a medium - always used cheap watercolors, never learned how to do light and shadow with markers, don’t know how to use colored pencils, and never tried gouache. Procreate is the easiest and most intuitive digital drawing app out there - and honestly the best. If you’re thinking about starting with digital art, look no further.
The last thing I learned this year (I know I said it was only 5 things, but surprise!) is that you never fully learn how to draw. Drawing is a skill that keeps on giving - you can always improve on something or learn something new. It’s never boring because it’s a constant challenge but always rewarding because you can you track your progress so easily.
Even though I didn’t fully complete my 1000 hour challenge (I wouldn’t even know because I stopped counting in August) and don’t plan on continuing it for next year, I think it fulfilled its purpose. Throughout 2019, I saw more progress in my art than in all the past ten years. If you don’t believe me, just see it for yourself.
Above: my last drawing from 2018 vs. a revised version of it from December 2019.
Now, what’s your resolution for 2020?