One of the things I do to improve my skills is to make painting studies. A study is a practice piece that you can do to better understand how to paint or draw a certain subject. In this case, I wanted to learn how to paint a wave. As a reference you can use a photograph or paint from life.
This is a timelapse video of my study in Photoshop, where you can see the steps I followed.
Doing studies can help you when you are making your own illustrations or even painting a bit from memory. The more you paint, the more familiar you will become with how the colors and light behave with this object, and you might start to notice common patterns.
Doing studies can be overwhelming, and if you do them randomly it can even become counter-productive. Here are a few tips that help me get the bet out of my study practices:
1. Start with a theme that you love.
You are more likely to stick to this practice if you are actually enjoying it. Until it becomes a habit, choose subjects that you actually like drawing, and little by little you can start to introduce more complex things that you think you should practice but you dread to. Combine themes that feel like a "must" with themes that feel like a reward!
Beaches and pink sunrises are two of my favourite themes, so for my first studies I focused on them.
2. Set realistic or achievable goals for yourself.
When I saw amazing artists on LinkedIn posting painting studies every day I told myself "I'm going to be like that!" but of course it only lasted five days before I felt overwhelmed and stopped doing studies completely. If you're not used to doing something, it will take some time to build this new habit: be patient with yourself and pay attention to your health. Otherwise, you might burn out or overwhelm yourself and abandon your project completely.
It's absolutely possible to do a study a day, but if you're not used to it, I think it's better to start with a more achievable goal that fits your schedule and lifestyle. Maybe once or twice a week, or even once a month. Any of those is better than doing a very intense couple of days and then dropping it forever.
3. Have a clear learning goal and timeframe for each practice session.
The point of a study is not to create a perfect piece, so something that helps me a lot to actually finish them is to set a time limit. I usually do half an hour or an hour. This is also because one of my goals is to increase my speed.
Other than that, I alwas have a specific goal for each study session. A painting has many, many things that we should pay attention to: color, perspective, lighting, anatomy, composition, storytelling...but for studies, in my opinion, the best thing you can do is pick one or two and focus on them only. So before you start your practice, ask yourself: what am I practicing today? If it's color for example, forget about getting your perspective or anatomy perfectly, or choose a reference that won't require you to do a lot of extra work on things other than color.
4. When you become discouraged, look at your old studies.
You will have good days and bad days. When I feel insecure about my art, I look at older drawings -not extremely old, but maybe from a year or two back-, and I usually can see that I've improved. Sometimes I can feel a bit ashamed of my old art, but that's only a sign that I'm more skilled now and I can recognize small mistakes that I wasn't able to see before.
5. Find someone to practice with.
For some people it works really well to have an accountability buddy. It can be a friend that also likes to draw, or even has a completely different project. You can talk once a week or once a month and tell each other where you are with your goals.
It can also be an online community, like a forum or a Facebook group. Some groups I like are:
BiocommHive. If you like scientific or medical illustration
Character Design Challenge. If you like character design- there is a prompt every month to create an original character.
Virtual Plen Air. A group to share paintings based on Google Street View- this is perfect for studies!
Joining a group will also expose you to different art styles and maybe give you some inspiration.
Something else you can do is simply set yourself a schedule to post on social media. That way you have some sort of accountability, and sometimes people will give you spontaneous feedback, especially if you ask for it.
I hope you found this helpful! If you decide to give studies a try, feel free to share them or tag me on instagram @cristinagraphics, I'd love to see what you come up with.
If you have any questions about art studies, illustration or drawing software, don't hesitate to reach out. I'd be happy to help or answer your question in a future blog post or video.