Japanese artist Hokusai said this on his death bed, “If Heaven had only granted me five more years, I could have become a real painter.”
Hokusai’s quote applies equally well to art students, amateur artists, and full-time artists. Learning about art is a life-long pursuit; an artist is forever a student.
Here are a few things that I find helpful, when a student of the arts truly wants to learn, and become a better artist:
1. You will learn faster without an ego.
I read an article recently which talked about quieting that inner voice. Those are the thoughts that immediately begin to form arguments when you are presented with something new and different from what you are used to, or maybe with what you think is beneath you.
Ultimately the end decision of what to do about that new information remains up to you, but being humble enough to listen till the end might lead you down a new path of discovery. Learn to listen and allow yourself to be taught.
2. Discipline yourself—draw or paint daily.
When you are younger there are many distractions, when you are older there are many responsibilities. You have to make the time to work daily.
Man on Train by Gil Robles
Some artists are lucky enough to make art their livelihood, others work in obscurity. Either way, you are a creative person and an artist forever. So make the time to be you. A sketch book is an artist’s life line. It’s portable, and useful for making quick notations. It keeps your hand moving, your eyes focused, your thoughts active and helps you to remain inspired.
3. Use every opportunity to work from nature.
Working from imagination is fine but imagination is fed by what you experience in the real world. If you only work from imagination you will be rehashing the same information over and over again. Life will continually show you new things—use it!
4. Don’t be afraid to go backward in order to go forward.
As a student I had great instructors who taught what they knew but there will always be more to learn, whether it’s drawing from casts, working from life or rethinking the way you work.
Zuccotti Park Performers by Gil Robles
Consider the things you may have missed. No instructor can show you everything; at best they can help set your feet toward a path of continual growth. Don’t be afraid to try something old that maybe new to you.
5. Surround yourself with inspiring art and artists.
Irwin Greenberg said, “Find the artists who are on your wavelength and continuously increase that list.” Learn from the masters, learn from artist alive today whether its someone you may never meet in person or it’s a close artist friend. Visit museums and galleries. Buy books and magazines, take classes.
Embrace the life of a student, no matter your age or ability, and you will become a better artist.