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  1. #1
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    Roundtable: HOW-TO learn? An open discussion of techniques for learning art

    I'm starting this thread because a lot of the generous artists who leave critiques around these boards often give great advice about what a person ought to study, but there's not really a whole lot of talk about HOW to go about making a good study.

    What is it that you personally define as being a good study? What differentiates a good study where the artist is gaining a wealth of knowledge by hammering out the rough spots in a study, and when said artist is gaining nothing from a study?

    In other words: How do you determine if a study is a good study, or not good? When one is useful, or not useful.

    I've heard a lot of people say that "there is no such thing as a bad study, drawing is drawing" but I beg to differ. I believe that some studies are just time wasters, and you're better of scrapping that study and starting a new one at a certain point.

    What are your thoughts and feelings?

    Please share, and everyone is welcome to join in!

    Last edited by Sepulverture; January 26th, 2010 at 12:34 AM.
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  4. #2
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    Oh. I was expecting an answer to the question.

    ...I'll wait.

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    Well, I'll start with a broad answer to a broad question:

    Quote Originally Posted by Sepulverture View Post
    HOW-TO learn?
    I approach learning with a quote that is attributed to Confucius:

    “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”

    This isn't a step-by-step list, but rather a reminder that there are always different approaches to the same thing. Some people seem locked into thinking you have to approach this thing in this way or that thing in that way but never think to approach this thing in that way or that thing in this way.

    If you're trying to learn perspective, for example, you're not stuck just reading books (reflection). You can also try looking at perspective drawings from other artists and either replicating them or overlaying perspective lines (imitation), or you can try setting up the perspective points on paper or draw on sheets of glass like the old masters and work it out yourself (experience). Heck even if you feel you really understand perspective it may be worthwhile to try other approaches if you never have, you may gain some deeper insights you had no idea about.

    Now onto the question about studies:

    Quote Originally Posted by Sepulverture View Post
    What is it that you personally define as being a good study? What differentiates a good study where the artist is gaining a wealth of knowledge by hammering out the rough spots in a study, and when said artist is gaining nothing from a study?

    In other words: How do you determine if a study is a good study, or not good? When one is useful, or not useful.
    A good study, in my opinion, is one that is as brief as possible. Study only what you need and no more, no sense spending time studying things you already know and are gonna work out time and time again outside of your studies. You're making a study because you need to solve a problem, so do exactly that and don't let anything else distract you.

    Brief studies are good because:
    • If you were in the middle of something (like a bigger art project) you can get back to it.
    • If the study didn't help you, then you're not out much in the way of time and effort.
    • If you need to do more studies then you have plenty of time to do so.


    Also, there is no shame in taking "shortcuts" for the sake of learning. Some studies require more setup than others, for example if you wish to study the effects of coloring a line drawing then you'll need such a drawing before you can color. So go online, find a nifty line drawing, download it or print it, and color that. You're not making art, you're making a study, so do what you've gotta do and toss the study when you're done.

    -My work can be found at my local directory thread.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sepulverture View Post
    Some topics I would like to see covered are HOW-TO get a good start learning about art history, a topic which is grossly under-discussed here, but pays exponentially when studying.
    How-to learn art history.

    This is how I learned art history, which was more for self-improvement and build personal knowledge in art.

    I grew up in an area where study and art were not the top of the list in life for those around me, nor was it readily available for me in high school, so what I did was read encyclopedia printouts from a cd-rom on information about the different movements in art history, focusing on the Impressionists. When I was able to afford it, I'd go to bookstores (borders) and look through their art books section and make a list of the books I wish to purchase in the future.

    Whatever I could find on the topic of art history I'd read. Then I would analyze the paintings in the books and study from a book on color theory, complimentary colors, and why the paints as a whole work. How the colors harmonize with one another and what the artist's intent with the brush strokes and color variation to creation dimension balance.

    I kept on reading, analyzing, and after years & the advent of the internet, I was about to read up on more, thus expanding my understanding. Reading discussions on painting theory and art, I'd found I had come the same conclusions as those whom studied in MFA programs and went to college to degrees and was able to hold my own in conversation about those topics intelligently.

    This is just me, since I was self-taught 98% of my artistic journey.

    Learning about art history takes the desire to want to know, and the drive to keep at it. Starting anywhere in the long history of art will have to lead you to the beginnings. To get a well-rounded sense of art history, your mind has to be open to the legitimacy of all fields of art history and their contributions to the greater whole.

    You may never favor one part over another, but you must study every aspect in some fashion to get a clear picture.

    But, this is just me.

    "Everything must serve the idea. The means used to convey the idea should be the simplest and clear. Just what is required. No extra images. To me this is a universal principle of art. Saying as much as possible with a minimum of means."
    -John Huston, Director
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  9. #5
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    Great start guys! Let's keep them coming!

    Personally regarding HOW-TO learn I would have to agree with Anid Maro about studies needing to be brief, although I tend to think that a mixture is absolutely necessary.

    I think somewhere along the lines of "I just did 3 quick line drawings of this piece of drapery, now I ought to sit down and do a longer rendering of it to get a more rounded understanding of this thing I just drew".

    It took me a while to see this, but there was a period earlier in my development where I made a truck load of progress in a very short time, and on reflection I realized that it was because I was mixing methods a little bit. Quick Quick Long Quick Quick Long. Something like that.

    I also realized that for myself if I simply push and push and continually study that I will not learn as much as if I do a series of studies, then completely forget about drawing for a day or two, or if I did a lot lot of studies, even several days while I digest what I just studied and try to observe the things I just studied in real life. If I spent the last week studying drapery, then It typically would do me well to spend the following day or so sitting outside somewhere and just watching peoples clothes to see how they react to different movements. I also spend a lot of time standing in front of my mirror with some loose garments on making the same idiotic pose over and over again just to watch how the folds in the clothes react.

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    Great info here so far , lots of stuff to think about for my own work. I can't really add much here about studies that hasn't been said, just my own experiences with master copies. Measure. For a really detailed copy that's been the single most important thing, and whenever a copy has gone off the rails it's been because I didn't quadruple check everything and ended up with an arm too long, the head in the wrong position, that kind of thing. That alone is just good practice for copying though... I know a study, whether from life or from another painting, has been successful only when I can replicate what I've learned from imagination. That means waiting a day or two after finishing and then hitting the sketchbook.

    With art history, I had a survey course or two to point the direction initially so that helped a lot. Learn what the major periods in art history are, and don't just study the works themselves. Take a lot of time to learn about the time period, the political and religious climate, anything to put the art in context. Aside from reading books though, it's been tremendously important for me to talk to other artists. Read blogs. I've learned so much about art history just from Stapleton Kearns' and James Gurney's blogs it's ridiculous.

    That's all for now, I'll post again if I think of anything else. I'm still trying to learn all this as I'm going along as well, so Anid, Sepulverture and Omen, thanks so much for sharing all that so far.

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  13. #7
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    SIdharth - Those are some good points, and I'm glad you covered them. Measuring is something that always gets me in trouble, albeit something that I'm beginning to tame.

    I'm also glad you mentioned the need to talk to people, because that's a point I was going to cover.

    My introduction to art history was rocky at best, and I think that it has influenced my willingness to sit down and learn it by myself even up till now. My intro to art history was through my hischool Art History teacher. She was an egotistical nut from my hometown who was highly biased towards the traditional Indian art of the Native American tribes that once occupied the land that my hometown is situated on, and for some reason or another she was utterly obsessed with cave art from eons ago. Like caveman wall-scrawlings and the like so when we talked about all the periods of classical European art it was in passing at best, and eastern art? Forget it. Then when asked about those topics she would almost look down on you like she was saying "yeah it happened, big deal? We have cave men to talk about you dolt". I think her heavy handed and biased approach to art history really soured my interest in learning about it until much much later.

    The point is that when you begin studying about it you ought to make sure that you are learning from a variety of different sources. At the time I genuinely had no idea about the importance of many of the art movements in western art history, and still am quite ignorant of it. Had I realized the importance of art history at the time, and simply gone to the college campus which was only a 15 minute walk away from my highschool i could have gained a great wealth of knowledge by talking to the professors there who I have since gone back to discuss things like perspective and rendering with (and both of the professors there have been super gracious in their willingness to take their off time from class to sit down, talk about it, and even gave me FOR FREE a copy of a fantastic text book that gives a good general introduction to art movements, and some techniques in drawing).

    Talking to people is a great way to get started, but make sure you talk to a variety of people to make sure you're getting the whole story, not just their take on the story.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sepulverture View Post
    Talking to people is a great way to get started, but make sure you talk to a variety of people to make sure you're getting the whole story, not just their take on the story.
    This is actually a very important aspect of learning. One has to understand how strongly interpretation comes into play. Truth be told, there is more information about any subject than could be taught in the amount of time anyone has to teach or could be learnt in the amount of time anyone has to learn.

    Period.

    As a result, material has to be compressed somehow. Some people will try to cover everything briefly while others will focus on the "most important" parts and cover them in depth. Some people have learned so much that they have to cut the material down, some people never learned anything beyond the short-hand version they were taught. At any rate you'll never learn the full story from one person, or even several, or ever.

    But at least you can be aware of this fact.

    If you're taking an art history class and your instructor spends a lot of time talking about the Renaissance, find out why. Look at the other courses that instructor teaches, find out what degrees they hold, and maybe just ask them upfront. Maybe that teacher got their masters/doctorate degree by writing a paper about the Renaissance, maybe they just really think art from that era is the bee's knees, maybe the university told them to focus on the Renaissance, or maybe they were taught to believe that Renaissance art is the most important art evar.

    Once you know why your instructor teaches what and how they teach, you can put it into a context. This will increase your knowledge of the era, it will help you understand how we understand the era today, and it will keep you from getting confused if you ever hear contradictory information.

    This of course goes beyond art and classrooms. It really gets down to something called critical thinking, which when I went to school was oft spouted but rarely taught.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anid Maro View Post
    This of course goes beyond art and classrooms. It really gets down to something called critical thinking, which when I went to school was oft spouted but rarely taught.
    I feel critical thinking when it comes to art history, or the understanding and analyzing of anything, comes down to the individual and their desire to learn and the need to understand. Critical thinking, was the end result.

    I grew into a researcher and critical thinker out of necessity due in part that, in my life, there was no one to ask the questions, or who had the answers, so I had to search, research, theorize, and breakdown both mentally & emotionally any information I came across in a rational fashion without any kind of emotional bias. Facts alone had to be adhered to for the understanding of the information I was reading to be put to practical use.

    Ex. I, before I grew into my knowledge, disliked most painting styles beyond my person bias which was Impressionism. Realism felt too static, cubism felt too unnatural, surrealism was just people on drugs or severally bent in their perceptions, romantism was repetitive.

    BUT, after I studied them, and I did for the sake of a well-rounded understanding of history as a whole, I started to accept the values in each form and the technique in each.

    Even in pop art, which I actually tried some years ago (there were Humphry bogart stamps coming out from the US postal service and I decided, since I worked in a mail room at the time, to use the cancelled stamps to create a pop art cover for one of my 11x17 sketchbooks) & I found that it looked interesting.

    All art, in all its trend, has a value in its creation. The end result might not be to a person's liking, but, if you go through the process of creating it, you'll learn a technique that will benefit your chosen style of expression.

    Last edited by OmenSpirits; December 23rd, 2010 at 11:34 PM.
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    Just taking admission in eductional institute is not more than enough. One must dedicate himself thoroughly for the purpose of study and fulfill all the requirements of shool teachers and administrations.

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    Good to see people still discussing in here! Let's keep it going!


    Quote Originally Posted by libsonluv View Post
    Just taking admission in eductional institute is not more than enough. One must dedicate himself thoroughly for the purpose of study and fulfill all the requirements of shool teachers and administrations.
    Can you elaborate on that?

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    Quote Originally Posted by libsonluv View Post
    Just taking admission in eductional institute is not more than enough. One must dedicate himself thoroughly for the purpose of study and fulfill all the requirements of shool teachers and administrations.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sepulverture View Post
    Can you elaborate on that?
    Well, at risk of stepping on Libsonluv's toes, I have an elaboration for that. If there's anything I say that you'd wish to correct Libsonluv, please do.

    If you really want to learn, you have to take your own initiative. It's not just enough to show up for class, do the assignment, and get your credits. There just isn't enough time in getting a degree from start to finish for you to really learn everything... heck there probably isn't enough time in your life.

    One semester isn't enough for an Art History course to teach you all the artists you should and want to know, it isn't enough for a Figure Drawing course to make you the Michelangelo of anatomy, it isn't enough to make you the Cezanne of colors, it isn't enough to make you the Mucha of design.

    All a one semester course can hope to do is teach you enough to pique your interest and cause you to study the subject further on your own. If you take multiple courses on a single subject, all that can hope to do is merely make you adequate at the subject. Being good takes years of effort beyond the classroom, being great can take a lifetime.

    -My work can be found at my local directory thread.
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  23. #13
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    I Love this thread so far. It would be cool to open in in the art discussion or lounge just because it would get a ton more answers and then put the good ones back in here

    But anywayz, amazing advice everyone. Already picking up so much

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