Practice, practice, practice - - you read it everywhere, it is the key to improving your skills as an artist. But in order to practice, you need time and time is hard to come by. There are a million things that need to be done everyday ranging from doing the laundry to making a living. When is there time to practice?
One thing that I have found helpful is to carry some paper and some type of drawing instrument with me and just sketch whenever there is down time. I sketch on commuter trains, when I am by myself in a restaurant, when I am waiting for the computer to upload, download or some other task that takes time.
This practice has benefited me in two ways. First, I have seen a noticeable improvement in my art skills. Second, what had been wasted time is much less boring than it used to be. Train rides are not as long as they used to be. Doctors and dentists don't keep me waiting as long as they used to do.
So what to draw? You can draw what is before your eyes. I once saw a video in which the popular artist Thomas Kingkaid said that he always carried a notebook in order to be able to sketch anything interesting that he chanced upon. But the places where I do my sketches are by definition boring places. There is a limit to the possibilities inherent in the inside of a railroad car. Also, people tend to become nervous if a stranger is staring at them.
Consequently, I usually rely on my mind for subjects. I draw sketches of people that I have met over the years or places that I remember. In addition, I try to work out problems such as how the eyes look when a face is turned in a certain direction.
I will concede that such memory-based subjects require some knowledge of the rules of proportion and perspective. However, doing these sketches has helped me understand the practical application of what heretofore had always seemed like academic theory.
To supplement the memory-based subjects, sometimes I turn to the photos on my smart phone. I have included in my phone's photo gallery images of a number of people and places that have meaning for me or which I have found interesting. These photos can be used as subjects. Be careful not to drain your phone's battery, however.
These sketches are not meant to be works that anyone would hag on their wall. They are just quick sketches - - often I will do a half dozen in a sitting. As above, they are intended primarily to improve my skills. Since they are not intended to be seen by anyone, I can relax while doing them. As a result, I have found that I am less tense when it comes time to do a more formal piece.
When I really like an idea embodied in one of these sketches, I generally will copy it later on a larger scale. I have used an idea from one of these sketches for a whole series of more formal works. Another path is to photograph the sketch, transfer it to the computer and use it as a basis for a digital work.
This need not be an expensive practice. One could purchase small sketch books and a good drawing instrument. However, most of the sketches that I have done were on the backs of scrap paper. The little note pads that hotels provide to jot down phone messages are also a favorite. As for the instrument, I often use golf pencils because they fit easily in my pockets. However, I prefer a pen-like Sharpie.
One unintended consequence of this practice is that people talk to you. Most people do not ordinarily come across art work being created. They want to find out what is going on and see the work. Often they tell you a little bit about themselves. It has been a very pleasant experience thus far.
Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.