The New Creative: Where to Start

One question I’m often asked by those wanting to take their first steps into art is where to actually begin. It’s a great question with a variety of answers, and with such a broad spectrum of possibilities it’s no wonder people find getting started a little overwhelming. First and foremost: you do not need to attend any art, drawing or painting classes or schools to make art, or even call yourself an artist. 

Creativity is for everyone. It’s fun, it’s endless, it’s accessible on practically any budget. The most important thing to remember before you begin is that anybody can learn to draw or paint, and anybody can teach themselves. The artists you look up to now were not just born knowing how, they had to learn too. What many won’t show you are the years of experiments, unfinished pieces, sketches that haven’t quite gone right before they’ve reached the polished full render you see in their portfolios. These same artists will also tell you the years of hard work and perhaps frustration have absolutely been worth it. 

Happy little accidents.

Mistakes are going to happen. When learning something completely new, they’re inevitable. Mistakes are perhaps the most effective learning tool as we cannot possibly learn how to correct what we deem perfect, and we shouldn’t be afraid to make them. If you’ve ever given a young child a sheet of paper and some crayons and watched them draw, you’ll notice they have no inhibitions about making mistakes whatsoever. They simply draw what comes into their head to the best of their ability, and they have fun doing it without a care for how others view what they’ve made. It’s a somewhat enviable mindset that we seem to lose as we mature, but it’s something I’ll tell anyone who wants to get better. Don’t give up because something didn’t go right the first time – figure out why and keep practising. It’s not going to happen overnight, but with consistent effort you’ll be surprised how quickly you do progress.

CHEAP CAN be cheerful.

As briefly mentioned earlier, you do not need to rush out and buy expensive brands to get started. Having the best pencils or paper money can buy won’t automatically make your work amazing, just like buying the same equipment as your favourite artist won’t make your work look exactly like theirs does. Of course having good quality tools makes a difference, but if the fundamentals aren’t there you won’t be able to use them to their potential. Practice on anything you can find – scrap paper, post-it notes, receipts, napkins for example. Cheap printer paper and a multipack of HB pencils are a great way to keep a regular supply at a low cost if you find yourself working through sheets quite quickly. Before I started working digitally much of my work was done in coloured pencil; I started out with a cheap 24 pack of Crayola pencils and Bristol board for years before moving to Faber Castell pencils, and finally investing in a 132 box of Prismacolors. If makeup artists can make drugstore makeup look high end with the right technique and application, you can absolutely do the same with budget art supplies.

Study your subject.

One thing that has been cause for discussion among some experienced artists is the use of reference images. If anyone ever tries to imply that using a reference image to draw from is “cheating”, please disregard. It is extremely difficult for many artists at a variety of skill levels to draw a particular subject completely from their mind, and using references to help you is absolutely valid. I would argue this is the best way to learn the anatomy of pretty much anything you’re trying to draw, and if this means drawing each line as you see it then absolutely do. I personally cannot draw hands without having one to look at, and if I want to achieve any degree of accuracy in portraying a hand, a reference image is a highly useful tool. Tracing an image to familiarise yourself with its form is also a good exercise, as long as you don’t become reliant on it.

Find what you love.

Before the days of social media I’d buy book after book from the art and illustration section of Waterstones to find artists I liked and wanted to emulate, and it got expensive fast. Nowadays with the likes of social media, it’s so easy to find and keep up with work you enjoy. Instagram in particular is brilliant for this – after finding the right hashtags you can scroll through some beautiful pieces for hours at a time. Once you’ve found a style of work you enjoy looking at, think about what drew you to it. Do you like their use of colour or light? Does their composition catch your attention? Do you enjoy the way they’ve stylised their subject matter? Experiment with these elements in your own work (try not to copy identically too much) and find what you enjoy doing. There are also some fantastic step by step tutorials to be found on Instagram and Pinterest alike, and they’re worth bookmarking for future reference.

Lastly, and most importantly, have fun learning and don’t compare yourself to others. The wonderful thing about art is there is no such thing as a wrong answer, and this is very freeing. You can make literally anything exist and that is so exciting! Nothing needs to be perfect, whether you’re making it for an audience or for yourself, and I’m an avid believer that ‘imperfections’ actually give a whole bunch of personality to your work, and I love art with personality. Take breaks when you need them, and don’t feel guilty for having a day off – doing something you love shouldn’t feel like a chore. 

Finally (really this time) don’t be afraid to ask questions or request feedback! Art communities on social media, notably Twitter, are very supportive of each other, and I’m always happy to answer questions myself as it’s nice to look back and think about how I got to where I am now. In a year’s time, you’ll have already surprised yourself with how much progress you’ve made.

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