I want to take a moment to discuss something that I often hear people say. So often in fact, that I very nearly read it daily on art forums and chats. "I don't have talent." or "I wish I had talent like you." Well, I'll let you in on a little secret: talent is a lie. Yes, I said it. There is no such thing as talent. No one woke up one day, decided "I'm going to be an artist!" and painted their masterpiece. Not Picasso, not Michelangelo. Not a single one of the great artists in history.
You could argue about right- versus left-brained people, and say that you're just more in tune with the left hemisphere of your brain, but a quick Google search brings up numerous reports about the myth of right- versus left-brain. While the two hemispheres do have unique properties, they share information so much that we as a species use both equally. (here's a link to just one article from Psychology Today). You can even see how silly your argument sounds when you look at a famous artist/inventor: Leonardo da Vinci. Are you going to argue that the Renaissance Man himself was predisposed to be better at art because he was more right-brained? But what about all of the mathematics that went into his inventions? He was talented because he worked hard to be talented. Take a look at that study of the bones in the arm. That is called a "study" for a reason, and da Vinci did hundreds of them. These studies are the key to his talent.
A New Definition of Talent
You're probably sitting there thinking I'm crazy. Of course da Vinci was amazing! He was a genius! And while you're absolutely right, there is something else going on that makes artists so talented. I'll even argue that this should be the new definition of "talent," or at least how you should perceive talent. Instead of some intangible, magically innate ability, talent is your drive to practice. In athletics, it's what keeps you running those laps even though it feels like a thousand degrees outside, it's the belief behind the weird motivation posters you see at gyms and on the Facebook pages of your health fanatic friends. In art, it's the same thing. Instead of just driving your body to it's limits, you're also pushing your brain's creative muscle. It's the desire to draw every day, no matter what. Your talent burns inside of you and forces you to get that image out on the paper or that shape into the clay. Even if you don't have this crazy inner burning to draw, being able to motivate yourself to improve every day is still your talent speaking to you. All you have to do is put in the time. Just like working out strengthens your body, practicing your art will strengthen your talent. And just like in athletics, the exercises you will do while you're learning, and even when you are at a professional level, will be relatively boring. And even though you will fail often, if you stick with it, you will have people telling you "I wish I had talent like you."
You need to listen your internal desire to improve and shut out any negative thoughts. Yes, your art will look like a child's when you first start, but just like a child, your creative ability will grow if you correctly foster it. Talent is practice.
If Practicing is the Key, How Often Should You Draw?
In college, my professors all gave their students sketchbooks. Just the standard, run-of-the-mill, black hardcover sketchbook. The exact same kind you can find at your local craft store. I actually love them so much that I still use the same kind today. (in fact, the first draft of this blog post was written in one!). Our professors instructed us to fill up our sketchbooks by the end of the semester, or at least come very close to it. If we do some math (groan! I know, I know...), we can figure out how many pages per day we would need to fill to get an A in the class. An average semester lasts about fifteen weeks, or 105 days, and the current sketchbook I'm using has roughly 100 pages, we can easily determine that we should do at least a sketch a day for each class. But, as my professors liked to repeatedly tell their students, filling up the sketchbook was a bare minimum!
Let's take a look at another number I only recently heard, this one from a much more pop-culture source. You'll probably laugh, but the cool thing about art is that you are always learning, and knowledge doesn't always come from sources you expect. This tip comes from animator Ross O'Donovan (aka RubberNinja) on an episode of Game Grumps. (for those of you left scratching your head, Game Grumps is a comedy gaming channel on YouTube). In an episode featuring Ross drawing Pokemon, he mentioned that he kept reading how artists should strive to fill up a sketchbook a month. Thankfully, Ross does the math for us this time, continuing on to say how a sketchbook a month comes out to be about only four sketches a day. While this number is a lot more than each of my professors required, it's still very reasonable. Keep in mind, these are sketches and practice, not fully rendered pieces!
My personal routine is to try to finish a rather large piece a week and then at least a sketch a day. I work on commissions most of the day during the week, then in the evenings doodle whatever silly thing I want. I'm usually sketching for fun while my other half and I watch whatever TV series we're hooked on that week. Even though completing a large art piece a week might not be feasible, you still need to push yourself to try. I highly suggest drawing while doing other things like watching TV! It definitely helps make some boring studies fun.
Other artists will suggest a doing certain number of hours of drawing a day, or doing even more sketches than Ross's four, but the question of how often you should draw really boils down to "as much as possible". The more you draw, the faster your talents will progress. Aim for that sketchbook a month. Make art your priority. I know it seems like a lot of work, and that's because art IS hard work. You have to practice everyday; you have to push yourself. But just like that silly workout motivational poster above, all that hard work is worth it. know it seems like this blog turned into a rant about practice, but that's because I don't believe in any innate talent. Hard work, dedication, and your drive to improve are what make you talented. You are talented. You just need to put in the effort to unlock it!