The 'how', 'what' and 'why' of drawing practice.

  • SVS OG

    Hello fellow SVSers!

    So one of the things I've spent a huge amount of time mulling over in the last few months is the way that we practice drawing.

    Many of you here are not full-time illustrators and as such, what little time you can devote to drawing is precious and needs to be used as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    I always try to be very aware of what I'm doing and constantly re-evaluate my approach to see if it can be improved or optimised in any way. But there are so many aspects to becoming a proficient artist - there are so many angles to approach it from, so many fundamentals - it can become very overwhelming. Anatomy, colour theory - these alone could take several years to get a good grasp on. So how do we create order in all this chaos as self-taught artists?

    I loved Jake Parker's description of what he described as a three-phase plan in one of the podcast episodes. The first phase is dedicated to mastering fundamentals, the second phase sees you develop those fundamentals to create finished pieces and explore designs, and the final phase sees you work on a project from start to finish.

    Because I'm a sucker for structure, lists and planning, I've written down what my ideal study plan for phase one is. I've created it to cover a span of 2 years. Some of you might feel the level of planning I have in it is total overkill but I find that because I have no teacher and am relying on myself to learn, the more of a structure and a plan I have, the happier I feel that I'm headed in the right direction. It also helps me feel that I'm getting to my end goal as quickly as possible, not wasting any time with unfocused and mindless practice.

    So I've decided to share my study plan in case it helps any of you out there who feel the same way.

    Phase One Plan.pdf

    If any of you have suggestions or amendments you think I should make please let me know!!

    And feel free to share your advice! What tips and tricks do you all have/use? How do you optimise your practice? What things are you thinking of or trying to avoid? There aren't enough resources out there that deal specifically with how to practice so I hope we can all help each other here and shed some light on how to work intelligently, mindfully and with optimum efficiency!

    I plan on starting this study plan on first day of September 2019.

  • Wow lot of work you did, really nice pdf. What I would say, don't plan, do it, starting time is now (except you really don't have this tweo hours, but sometimes 1 hours is also better than 0.
    What I do, I try to do almost everyday:

    • "learning" - like some online classes and doing homework for it
    • "exercise" - short exercise where I draw lines, circles, ...takes me about 5 Minutes. I think it was in one class from Jake
    • "project" - I have some topic/story.. for a week or month, soemtime smore than one or three..., working not only one, except the time is pressing me (challnge end, customer deadline)
    • "daily" - doing sketches everyday of some weekly topic, about 30-60Minutes

    I try to do the exercise and daily sketches everyday. What I use is a timer, to set me time how long I work and I try to work this time, after that is pause time... using on mobile phone and on computer also.You can also put task on google calender, blocking some timeslots on calender is also great thing.
    I love to use zenkit (, for planning my tasks, doing some kanban, calender, mindmap, ...and I connected it with google calender and calender is connected with promodone. Than I wokr on my today tasks. I have to say, I am very digital, no paper here.

    I am looking forward to see your progress.

  • SVS OG

    @MichaelaH Hi Michaela! Thanks for your reply and your tips! Total agree about 'doing' rather than 'planning'. About two years ago, I got into this habit of watching a tonne of tutorial videos one after the other and thinking about what and how I was going to draw without actually doing any drawing at all! I realised after doing it for months how much time I'd wasted that I could have used to put a pen to paper!

    That being said, I do find that having a clear road map really helps me . I'm one of those people who really need structure to be able to learn. Otherwise I lose confidence in what I'm doing, I feel like I'm wasting time, and I get all overwhelmed 😂

    I really like your drawing routine. The idea of watching a tutorial or class early in the day and then implementing it really appeals to me. I also like the 5-10min exercise session - I know what you're referring to - I think it was in Jake's How to Draw Everything class. Also love the idea of having a weekly topic for sketches! I'm definitely going to implement that - I'd say it's great for focusing in on an area and getting mileage in it!

    I've set myself challenges or projects in the past, like you suggest, but I've found that I feel like I need to complete it to a high standard, and then I spend a really long time on that one thing and feel I could be getting a greater benefit out of a different type of practice... Maybe I should save challenges like that for later down the line when I'm more confident?

    (Oh and when I say I'm starting in September, I don't mean that I'm not drawing between now and then! I just have a few classes I want to wrap up between now and then.)

    Thanks again for your tips!!!

  • THIS! Exactly everything you said in your post @ShannonBiondi - I have been worrying about these same points. We transitioned into an off-grid tiny house (which turned out to be broken in multiple ways, so we are still fixing various parts) and life became chaos. I keep feeling like if I practice, it needs to be the kind of practice that gets me closer to my drawing goals, not the kind of practice that just teaches me how to draw badly something unrelated to my career path. Maybe your PDF is just what I need for more structure and to feel I'm on the right track! Thank You!

    You know what's funny? I worry about these things, but some of my greeting card designs (which I consider rather random and unfocused or showing poor skills) actually sell well. I put about 4 hours into a 2014 card design drawn while I had a headache and rushed to finish; the shadows are off, the bunny's fur isn't crisp because my pencils were dull, the elipse shapes are wrong etc etc Like Will Terry says, once you send it out into the universe you can't take it back even if I want to, haha! Yet this card keeps selling and selling...and I have to keep restocking it at retailers at their request... Makes me wonder how to define success. Always pondering whether to put my sub-par work out there now, or wait until I learn more and can draw even better.

  • @ShannonBiondi I think You will find Your way Shannon :). I fully understand YOur struckture tic...Have this too, I love all organiser tools and were long time looking what fits my need the my digital world.
    Yeah it was Jakes Class How to draw everything.
    What about doing monthly projects and work weekly on one part of project? Like doing some daily sketches, that fits the monthly topic, than working weekly on one part, like compositons, week after only raw sketches, week after clean lines or values, week after only colors. I know, project in a week makes a lot of pressure.
    About the learning time, I don't finish one class in one day...sometimes it is in week or longer, the class homeworks also. No pressure and to much time on learning. Better more doing 🙂

  • SVS OG

    @Amanda-Bancroft Hi Amanda! First off congrats on the move! I'm sure it must be hard while you get everything fixed up but it sounds really lovely to be off grid in a tiny house (I love tiny houses and living spaces in general).

    I hope my .pdf helps you in some way! It is really hard to have confidence in your process when you're self-taught I think. But that's so interesting about your postcard! I have the same questions about you in terms of "putting my art out there" while I feel it's below standard.

    For me, I don't think it's so much that I don't want to put poor work out there (because a part of me knows that I'll always feel I can get better, or that there's room for improvement, and so by that logic I would never put my work out there) but more so the fact that it would take me a long time to create a finished piece and I just don't feel I get a return on my investment (in terms of progress/knowledge reaped versus time invested). Does that make sense?

    I mean, drawing a finished piece would be a lot more fun - but I don't think I'd progress as fast... Like a month ago, I spent three days that I had free doing a tutorial marathon for the features of the face (I watched the videos and also drew everything I learned over and over again) and I progressed soooooooo much in three days. It was crazy! So that's the kind of practice I'm looking to replicate all the time now.

    Aaaaaaargh! It's so hard!

  • SVS OG

    @MichaelaH â™Ĩ Yes!! Doing more is definitely better. Your idea of breaking a larger project down into different themes is actually very clever. It's given me ideas to make my practice more interesting. Thank you!

  • @ShannonBiondi So, there is a lot of good in your plan. I would say don't wait until Sept. 5 minutes at a time can make a difference. If you only draw when you have two hours I think it will be difficult to establish a lifetime practice.
    The other is, I would suggest you be willing to revisit your plan every few months. There are many, many paths. I also would say that even in your early stages you can try to create a finished piece, maybe only once a month, and compare to some of your dream artists to see where you are getting closer and where you need focus. Depending on how you execute learning you will face different limitations on finished pieces and if you aren't trying to execute finished pieces you will have blinders on as to what those are. Finished pieces are also benchmarks and the "Exams" of your practice.
    As always, your mileage may vary. Good luck and look forward to seeing your progress.

  • SVS OG

    @ThisKateCreates Hi Kate!! That's actually a really good point about finished pieces. Hadn't thought of that. I'm going to add doing one finished piece a month to my schedule. Thanks!

    Re starting now, I totally agree and I am already studying. But I'm doing some SVS classes at the moment and establishing the habit/routine of sketching every day. It's going really well and I've almost filled a sketchbook in the last month. I'm drawing on average around an hour a day at the moment.

    My plan is to do a few more classes over the summer and then I'll launch into this schedule in September. 🙂

    As for routinely re-evaluating the drawing schedule, yes yes yesssssss! 😃 I had written it a few months ago, reopened it today and changed sooooo much of it before posting. After drawing daily for a month, I realised so many of my goals were way too high, etc. So I know you're dead right with that one.

    Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  • Thank you for posting this schedule, @ShannonBiondi !! I think it will be a really helpful tool for me to utilize.

    I think illustration/art should be treated as any big undertaking or project. If you aren't meeting certain milestones, it's helpful to see where you might be getting hung-up or not progressing as you had hoped/planned. Also, if you plan on going forward professionally, I would imagine it is good practice to get use to meeting different deadlines.

    For me, I try to have two dedicated days to just solely focus on tutorials/reading books. The rest is practice, practice, practice. I have also fallen victim to investing to much time in watching and not "doing."

  • SVS OG

    @djly Hiya! I'm glad you found it useful.

    I know art is all about creativity and this schedule might feel very regimented to some but like you said, it's important to approach getting good at drawing like any other large task and plan it! 🙂 Especially if your goal is to do it professionally.

    Here's to us both achieving those milestones! And well done on spotting that you were watching lots of tutorials and not drawing enough. I think it's a very common trap and almost everyone I've spoken too has said they had a period where they fell into it!

  • @ShannonBiondi Hi Shannon, this is a great thread, and the PDF you've put together is so well thought out and structured. I am one to plan my study time to that extent as well, so this approach is definitely right up my alley. Similar to what you've described, having structure gives me confidence that I'm on the right path. I apologise in advance for my long reply. :smiling_face_with_open_mouth_cold_sweat:

    In the past, I often had the same pitfalls already described in this thread:

    • Too many tutorials, and little to no action,
    • Planning thoroughly, and then being daunted by my own timetable,
    • Going too long doing studies exclusively without producing any original work to show for it.

    I've countered those by setting these guidelines for myself. They're working for me so far!:


    • work on original ideas (I could be at any stage of the illustration. It could just be thumbnailing, even.)


    • 1 finished illustration
    • 1 master study
    • at least 4 hours of SVS class work
    • at least 4 hours of iterative drawing for a single subject (e.g. heads/hands/feet/features, etc.)
    • watch/read tutorials either while on commute, or while I'm also creating simultaneously.

    The study time is hard to fit in if I have commissions that I'm working on at the same time - which I currently do - and it leaves me with less time to hang out with friends, sadly. That's the path I've picked, however, and my friends have only ever been supportive.

    Other notes:

    • I use the Pomodoro technique as well, @MichaelaH, and I love it, haha. I use this for when I'm telling myself I'm too tired to work on something for the day.
    • I need to end each night leaving something half-finished that I'm excited about continuing work on the next day. It takes away the discomfort of waking up in the morning and thinking "ARGH, new project, blank canvas!" It is so much easier for me to keep my momentum this way.
    • I regularly journal about what's working about my practice methods and what could be improved upon.
    • Two sketchbooks: one for copies/studies, and one for everything else: my doodles, my journal entries, etc.
    • I keep myself accountable to someone other than myself.

    Man, sorry for the long post. I love this stuff. XD

  • SVS OG

    @animatosoor No apology needed! I loved your long post and seeing what you do to keep yourself on track! 😃

    I had never heard of the Pomodoro technique but now that I've googled it, I realise it's something I've been doing too! My goal is to draw a minimum of 2hrs each day but because I work, I find it hard to get a full 2hr block, so I split it up into 15min, 20min, 30min or if I'm lucky 1hr chunks...

    You seem to have a great schedule thought out. Having read your and Kate's comments, I realise I should probably include more finished pieces or personal projects - even if it's juts one or two a month to start with. How long does your master study take you? And how do you chose what subject to pick for your iterative drawings? Is it influenced by your finished illustration?

    Also, I really like the idea of going to bed having started something. I used to do that with writing when I was younger and it really does help...just never thought of applying it to drawing.

    Re not having as much time to hang out with friends, it's a tough sacrifice to make but like Will, Jake and Lee always say, these things are necessary if you want to get good at anything you're learning. It makes sense that the spare time you spent with friends, or watching Netflix are going to be the hours that will now need to be used for drawing practice. Because presumably, everything else that you one does during the day cannot be done away with, like work, groceries, cleaning...whatever those things might be!! 🙂 Fair play for making the sacrifice. And well done to your friends for being so supportive 🙂 🙂

  • @ShannonBiondi I'm glad you liked the post, hehe.

    When I used to work at a full-time job (non-art related), I had to do the same thing as you and chunk my time. I oftentimes did only 15- 30 minutes of drawing on long work days when I had to go to the office early and leave for home late.

    I wholeheartedly agree with @ThisKateCreates's thoughts on finished work. I've framed it in my mind as "studies = my training, and finished work = my playing field." The playing field is where I will apply the techniques and new information I've learnt during my studies. It's where I "perform." My emphasis on it in my own journey might be very strong (as evidenced in my other thread, lol) because of my own anxieties. That's always a possibility, and I realise that a different thing altogether might apply to you or somebody else who doesn't have that particular anxiety when it comes to their art. Yours might just need to be one a month, as you said, and it might be perfect for you!

    It's awesome that you mentioned that about your writing habit; I remember reading once that a famous writer had that exact habit, and he put it forth as a great way to stay in the habit of creating day after day.

    For master studies: I would typically take about 5 hours for a master study, and it might be longer if it's a complex image that challenges lots of my weaknesses. Typically I would only choose an image for my master study after deciding on a single problem I want to tackle. If I have trouble painting a child's head, and like how Bouguereau has done it, I would do a master study of that. After that, the next time I have to paint a child's head that I've drawn on my own, I might try and paint it as if he would have himself. My focus for some other study might just be the colours/light in that scene, without any concern for the actual drawing or painting technique.

    For iterative drawings: I would choose the subject matter in the same way. I would opt to draw the skull in profile only over and over again if I have found that I have been struggling with profile views. After that I might draw different male heads in profile view.

    How do you currently go about them?

    And I agree, supportive friends and family are a boon to many of us. ðŸŒŧ

  • SVS OG

    @animatosoor Yeah 😞 I soooooo wish I had more time to draw. BUT! I'm going to be taking all of August off and maybe some of September so that's going to be amaaaazing! I plan on locking myself up in a room and doing nothing but drawing ðŸĪŠ Haha!

    Hmm...well at the moment I'm doing David Hohn's Heads and Hands class so most of my iterative practice has been either single features of the face from different angles or the face in its entirety from different angles. I tend to do that type of practice while I'm in work and save things I can do digitally, like master studies, for the evening when I'm at home on the sofa. 5rs is good! Well done! I've only done 2 master studies but they were very simple ones and I didn't really have a purpose, other than finding them pretty. Lol. Not an ideal, sole criteria.

    I have this idea (which I think is a total misconception) that master studies have to be of famous paintings for some reason. I'm wrong there, right? I think the word 'master' misleads me! Could I do master studies of artists who work in a more comic book style? Like for example, could I do master studies of Juanjo Guarnido, who created the characters of Blacksad?

    Thanks for all the helpful advice!

  • @ShannonBiondi All that time you're going to get for drawing sounds amazing! ☚

    As for choosing master studies that were pretty, I did that a lot when I was younger too. XD Having a specific problem in mind before choosing a painting to study would be very helpful.

    Master studies really, really do not have to be of famous paintings. I thought in a similar way back in the day. Will Terry has mentioned how important it is to choose children's book illustrators who are doing well and whose style you like, and copying those images for the purpose of learning. Lee mentions the same in his Dream Portfolio class, and Jake mentioned once that he used to copy Mike Mignola (I hope I remembered that fact correctly). I would say you absolutely have the right idea if you're thinking of studying work by the Blacksad creator. 🙂

    I hope this helps!

  • SVS OG

    @animatosoor Awesome! Thank you so much!! You've helped me a lot 🙂

  • Very interesting and thanks for sharing Shannon! I am glad itt is working for you.
    For me, a 3-year plan is very very intimidating. And I tend to react strongly against tasks and goals, even self-imposed - probably because my professional life is already filled with so many tasks and deadlines. And I know that the absence of planning and objectives does not help me to get better in my art. Does anybody feel that? How did you find the solution? Many thanks!

  • @ShannonBiondi Your spreadsheet is amazing-and very detailed.

    I made something quite a bit less detailed last November, casting my plans for 2019. Like you, I based this on Jake's recommendation for "what to do BEFORE going to art school"-plotting out the foundation, etc. It was really helpful to me in a recent podcast where he said, when asked "how long might this take"-that "4 years" was the estimate. That put this in perspective for me. Marathon, not sprint.

    i do check in and review the plan/make adjustments. And I'm in the 2nd half of this year, and have only done 50% of the "fundamental classes"--I should course-correct. But I've taken on 2 new classes, with a bit of hope and a tinge of regret as they are not related to fundamentals. (One on stories for comics/graphic novels; the other on inking--both get me closer to the mountain of my goal of 6 sequential images telling some kind of story by the end of the year).

    Acknowledged-many of my loved ones can't read my handwriting-so hopefully you can get the ghist of the plan!

    Susan Mountain 2019.jpg Susan Mountain 2019.jpg

  • SVS OG

    @Julia Hi Julia! I started off hating 'do to' lists, or task lists/schedules just like you. When I was growing up, my mother was obsessed with lists and ticking things off them so it made me hate them because I always felt like I had a mountain of things to do.

    I think the problem with my mother's lists was that it never felt there was an end to them. Once one thing was ticked off, another was added. Maybe that's how you feel if you have tasks and schedules in work too?

    I initially solved it by making my lists reasonable and giving them a sense of finality. So when it was done, it was done. I also encouraged myself with a reward at the end of a set goal (like if I stuck to my schedule for a week, I'd go to the cinema, or order a pizza...whatever small thing you like and don't get to do much). After a while, I started seeing the schedule as something positive and now I don't need any external motivation to stick to it.

    I also started prioritising my drawing schedule over other things. And I keep it completely separate, both physically and in my mind, to my other work/life 'to do' list because I find that one stressful!!!!!

    Also, maybe not writing it down will help you. Having a more flexible schedule in your mind could be less daunting?

    Hope some of this helps!!!

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