Another entry on practice

[x-posted from art blog]

This is the only drawing from last night that anyone needs to care about:

It’s not that the others are bad; they’re about an accurate representation of what I can draw on any given day. But the above sketch is particularly good. I’m very happy with it, even if I did forget all my soft pencils at home so the softest one I had to work with was a 2B.

A couple of weeks ago, Erik looked at my sketches and said I should think more about shading and less about line (he has since explained that this is because I’m already getting good at line, and should broaden my practice to include more things I’m not so good at). I tried to do that last night, and it was tremendously helpful, even if I remain a contour person in general. The thing about focusing only on the contours is that this leaves me open for placement problems: all the lines look right, but the surfaces in between are just these vast expanses of uncertain size, and that makes things hang together wrong overall. But last night, when I paid more attention to the surfaces themselves, those indeterminate expanses transformed into a series of specific tones with specific shapes; everything had more of a relationship to everything else. I think that’s why the above drawing looks so cohesive. I guess it’s also why I generally draw hair a lot better than the rest of the body; the hair is tones and there’s pretty much no way to reduce it to contours alone.

This new way of drawing was rewarding, but hard to maintain. I had to really get into the zone, and once I stepped out, it was draining to try and get back in — as I found out when we broke for snacks. After the above drawing, all my other sketches came out so-so, and I was also really exhausted. As with all my other creative pursuits, I probably just have to build stamina, but for now it’s hard.

I’m so happy with this drawing because it feels to me like it’s on a totally different level from most of my previous drawings. I feel like it’s the next step up in my drawing ability, as if once I get better, that quality will become my average and I’ll be able to move up still further from there. It’s amazing to see how much I’ve improved in the months since we moved to the Bay Area. Here’s a self-portrait I did right before we left LA:

At the time, this was the best drawing I’d done. I still think it’s cute, and it has a comic-y attitude I like. But compare that to the one I did a week ago, which is itself not as good as the drawing I did last night:

Huge difference, right? (And look how long my hair has gotten!!!) I’m sure part of it is just getting more mature and sure as an artist, but I’ve also been practicing a whole lot more since our move. I started my weekly drawing class with Jeff at the beginning of the summer, took his portrait class after that, and then began this weekly uninstructed studio after the portrait class ended. So that’s about 3 hours of solid drawing practice every week, since about June. That’s not really a lot. That’s about the same time commitment I put in to yoga when I started going regularly to City, but then, I saw incredible results from that, too, and frequently marveled about it at the time. I remember writing in my morning pages something like, “If I can improve this much from 3 hours a week, how much better could I be if I put in more time?” Of course, now that I am doing ten billion more practices in my life, I realize that 3 hours a week (or even 2) is sometimes all I can give to a particular pursuit. But it is just so startling to realize what an enormous difference even a little bit of practice can make.