"Genesis" - work in progress
colored pencil on rtist-x board
copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater
I thought that I'd take this week to talk about how I've gotten my education as an artist. I know there are many wonderful art schools and programs out there that have produced many wonderful artists . . . but I'm not one of them. If I wanted to get an art degree now, I'd never have the time with two small ankle-biters on the loose (and two dogs, too). And back when I could get a traditional art degree, I couldn't.
Imagine the scene: bright-eyed Maggie, a stellar but bored history major approaching the art department with her portfolio.
ME: Lookie. Drawings. Do you think your class . . . and I . . . we could . . . you know, get together sometime?
HEAD OF DEPT: (looking at portfolio)
ME: I'm hoping that long pause means awe of some variety.
HEAD OF DEPT: (looking at porfolio)
ME: Okay, now it's just rude.
HEAD OF DEPT: Right. These suck. Go study dead people some more.
Okay, so they didn't say "suck." They said "not sophisticated enough," which means suck. Anyway, the long and short of it was that I wasn't going to be taking art classes any time soon. So I put my art away, short of my in-class doodles, until after college. When I decided to pick it up again after I graduated, I knew it was going to be all up to me.
So tonight I want to talk about what sort of mind-set you need to have when you tackle self-teaching yourself art. And of course, as usual, this isn't the only way, it's just the way I did it (which is of course the right way, duh). On Thursday I'll be talking about resources and non-traditional learning methods that helped me.
Things You Need in Your Brain Matter to Teach Yourself Art
1. Self Confidence. No, you don't have to style yourself "Future Queen of America" (what kind of loon would do that anyway?) or strut around with a really high opinion of yourself or think that you know all the answers. In fact, two of those will hurt your chances and one of them will tick me off. But you do have to believe that you can teach yourself to be a better artist. You do have to believe that you have that better artist somewhere inside you, and that if you just rummage around long enough, you'll pull her (him) out of your innards.
2. Curiosity. If the way other artists work and compose and shape their art doesn't interest you, you might be looking at the wrong hobby or profession. A well-developed sense of curiosity about new techniques will always serve you well. Without it . . . yeah, you're one of those kids in sleeping in the back of the classroom.
3. Insanely Keen Powers of Observation. You're teaching yourself, so there's no wise Obi Wan figure here. A lot of times there will be a brilliant concept in front of you for the taking -- but no one's going to explain it to you. If you see a painting that you love, don't just love it. Deconstruct it and steal its soul. It's what I would do.
4. Constructively Critical Eye. This goes along with #!. You need to be able to look at your work with a helpfully critical eye. This takes a nice dose of #1 and #3. There's a big difference between knowing your work can be better and thinking that you suck.
unconstructive criticism: Wow. These paintings look like chimps on amphetamines painted them with q-tips dipped in curdled yogurt.
constructive criticism: Wow. These paintings look like chimps on amphetamines painted them with q-tips dipped in curdled yogurt, because I need to work on how I apply my pigment. But $%^&, look at those colors! I rock (for a chimp on amphetamines).
5. Willingness to Listen. There are a lot of blogging artists with very big brains and also a lot of generous artists who talk a lot in person. Recommendation? Don't tune them out and begin fantasizing about next time you can catch Family Guy on TV. Ask questions. Listen. Put it into practice. And then show the artist, if you can, how you've put their advice into practice -- because then they'll give you more. I can't tell you how many people told me that they gave me advice because they saw me putting other artists' advice to good use. I'm starting to get cynical myself -- a lot of people who ask for my advice do nothing with it, and it makes me feel like I'm wasting my time giving it. But when I see someone who is using other advice wisely? I feel like they're a good investment.
6. Motivation. You gotta want it, grasshopper. You have to want it enough to ride out everyone who tells you your portfolio isn't sophisticated enough, your drawings not precise enough, your colors not saturated enough, your subjects not salable enough -- because there will always be more negative around you than positive. So you have to be your biggest cheerleader.
So questions and comments in the comments as usual! For those who have gotten a non-traditional education or want one!