You probably know that copying the masters is an excellent way to learn how to make art. But did you know that’s not just limited to creating art?
Learning new skills is a skill too. When learning to play the piano, it is helpful to practice playing music composed by others. When learning to cook, it is useful to follow recipes. Eventually, you can write your music or create your own meals.
This holds for social media also. As you know, my account is about drawing exercises, which means that it would be a good idea for me to look at how successful accounts do that. What are the bigger online accounts that present drawing exercises? The answer might surprise you.
When the Draftsmen YouTube channel started, I admit that it surprised me a bit. Why were these two excellent art teachers doing that? But slowly, I realized that what they were doing was pretty clever!
These are two guys who are fun to hang out with, and they seem to be goofing off as they discuss topics. But so much happens!
For starters, they talk for one to one and a half hours, and it is just plain fun to listen to them while you are drawing. But that is not all! They open up sometimes to questions from the audience, which lets them know what students are struggling with, and they give great answers to these questions.
The stunning realization for me was that they often talk about how they experienced drawing exercises. For example, in a recent video, Marshall Vandruff said that he doesn’t like painting Plein Air, while Stan Prokopenko explained that he loved it because you are not looking at references while painting from it; you are IN the reference! You are IN the scene you are painting, experiencing it through other senses also. As you paint, you feel the breeze of air, hear the sounds, smell the smells, and all those sensations end up in your painting. Then Stan shows his tools for painting outside.
Notice that they don’t instruct you to go out and paint! You’re just listening to Stan, basically, with his enthusiasm, selling you on the idea of painting outside.
They do that in many episodes. They don’t tell you to do an exercise. Instead, they invite you to hang out with them and listen to their podcast—where they just happen to suddenly become very excited about a drawing exercise, telling you something cool about it, leaving you wondering, “can this be true?” That curiosity might tempt you to consider doing the exercise.
They do many more things. So much happens there. They enjoy each other’s company, and this is a chance for them to sit together regularly. Marshall sings beforehand to warm up his voice, which doubles as funny footage that is montaged to set the tone for the rest of the video. They can use it as a platform for announcing new courses. They can earn money by advertising other products or services. They stay top-of-mind with their audience.
(That is one trick to being productive, by the way. Do things that can serve more than one purpose. What you are reading here serves as a newsletter, a blog post and a script for a YouTube video.)
They don’t tell you to draw. They just become so enthusiastic about an exercise that you feel like trying it too.
We go onto social media to procrastinate, so we skip the videos that present a drawing exercise. “Ugh! Not now!” we think. I have that too, to be honest. You have these YouTube videos with pose reference, where you can draw along if you would just grab a pen and paper.
I also saw a popular Substack newsletter about walking in a city recently. The writer writes about his explorations of New York, which probably inspires people to also walk around their city without the writer explicitly telling them to do so.
Those are all things you can learn by studying how others do things well. What was the artist trying to achieve? How did they go about it? Why worked, and what didn’t, intentional or not?
In my videos, I think I am still making the mistake of presenting a reference for you to copy while I also draw it. You are only watching around ten percent of these videos before you go in search of something that is more fun.
I need to up my game there. I am learning from the masters!
I just came back from a short four-day holiday in Barcelona! A friend of mine had an amazing exhibit of his photography there, and we decided to stay there for a few days.
I took a notebook with me this time to write and draw. I set myself the goal of not working from reference for a change. What could I come up with from imagination? The drawing exercises will come back, but I just wanted to have some fun making cartoons for now.
Morning Pages are great for that! You start with an empty page in a notebook, and you write down the date. Then you just start writing.
The cartoons shown here came from that.
You tend to respond to what you see. I saw one of those boxes that invite you to subscribe to a newsletter. “Submit!” the box said, menacingly. “That is rude,” I thought. (Incidentally, this is also why I gently invited you to “Try It”.) And hence the cartoon.
The other one came about when contemplating making art while traveling. Around twelve thousand years ago, we started settling in villages. Before that, we were nomads. Nomads made the oldest cave paintings. They are painted on walls, and these cave paintings are among the most revered and precious works of art we currently have admired by even Picasso.
Then I thought of people who paint on walls today. We arrest them for vandalizing property. And the cartoon idea was born. Something to think about next time we see graffiti.
(I’ll tell you a little secret: cartoons are often meant to make you think. If they are funny also, that is just the sugar coating.)
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