We all know the cliche that practice makes perfect and that practicing a skill every single day would be great in a perfect, stress-free, unscheduled world. In reality, it’s hard to do. When it comes to drawing and art, how neurotic should you be about carving out some time every day to practice? Very neurotic. Even though it’s challenging, practicing your drawing skills everyday will make you a better artist.
Drawing every day will make you better in the shortest amount of time by refining your skills and increasing your motor memory more quickly. You’ll also become more efficient, decreasing the effort you need to draw and finish a piece of artwork.
There are a lot of good reasons to give yourself an excuse to take a break every day and pull out your sketchbook and pencils. Let’s dive into the reasons that daily drawing practice will make you better.
What Happens When You Draw Every Day?
When you draw every day you’re doing what’s called “motor learning.” This is the type of learning your brain needs to tackle a new skill and become fluid with it. Motor learning happens in 3 steps (source):
1) Need a lot of instrustrucion, rely on a lot of feedback, and make a lot of mistakes. For drawing, this is when you’re watching YouTube tutorials or following step-by-step instructions from a book.
2) Less instruction is needed, the skill is done faster, and fewer mistakes are made. For drawing, this is when you’ve drawn something a number of times and you start to understand the steps to recreating it successfully.
3) Instructions are no longer needed, completing the task is almost automatic, and few in no mistakes are made. In drawing, this is when you’ve drawn the same thing over and over again to the point where you can draw it successfully without much thought. Think about signing your name. While hard at first, it became automatic after a lot of practice.
Here’s another practical example of motor learning at work:
Remember the first time you drove a car? It was probably really awkward at first and you needed to think about every single little detail. Overtime, you got used to it and driving seemed easier. You started to understand left turns, the feel of your car as it braked, and where you needed to go. Eventually, you you had those days where you drove to work and couldn’t remember how you got there. Driving was so ingrained in your muscle memory that you could almost do it automatically. That’s how motor learning works.
The faster you can work through the steps of motor learning, the faster you can improve a skill.
When you draw every day, you will speed up your motor learning and master your drawing skills more quickly. Your strokes will become more fluid, you’ll understand how to make the shapes you need to form without mistakes, and the time it’ll take you to finish your piece of art will decrease. Your brain is “learning” the “motor” skills you need to be an amazing artist.
Drawing Every Day Will Help You Draw Faster
If you’re like me, you get frustrated by how long it can take to finish a drawing. Erasing lines over and over again and painstakingly working to get the smallest little thing correct. No fun. This won’t happen forever though and drawing every single day can help speed up the process. Think about the first time you wrote your name. It took forever to shape each letter, right? Now, I bet you can write your name with your eyes closed.
As you work on a skill and your motor learning improves, your brain actually starts to work faster. Your brain doesn’t need to work as hard to recreate a skill it is getting close to mastering as it does a skill it is first learning. Basically, your brain becomes more efficient. (source).
When you draw every day, it doesn’t only seem easier, it actually is easier. You’ll notice that it takes less mental effort and energy to recreate the shapes and figures you’ve been working on, which can decrease the time it takes to complete them. This will probably also cause a nice side effect of helping you enjoy your art more. When you mentally strain less during your daily drawing practice, it can be more fun.
Drawing Every Day Will Teach You to See Differently
Adding to the motor learning, drawing every day will also make you see the world differently. Without an artist’s eye, a car is a car. To an artist, a car is 4 circles attached to a collection of squares. Which is easier to draw, a car or a collection of circles and squares?
When you practice drawing every day, you’ll start to notice how your drawings are just collections of lines, shapes, and shadows. It’s not insulting; it’s a good thing. Research suggests that improvement in drawing skills is all about understanding the shapes of objects, how lines separate light and dark, and where different objects are in relation to each other (source). It’s about the basics. And, seeing the basics for what they are when you’re drawing.
How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice Drawing? The 10,000 Hour Myth
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule in his book, Outliers. This rule states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at a skill and achieve mastery.
Sure, if you spend 10,000 hours practicing your drawing, you’ll probably get better at it. But, the 10,000 rules neglected an important factor. Let’s say that you spend 10,000 hours drawing a flower without petals. Every single time, you draw a stem, head, and leaves, but completely forget the petals. After 10,000 hours, you wonder why you can’t seem to draw a perfect flower. You practiced for 10,000 hours, right?
Since Gladwell published his 10,000 hour theory, research has followed up on it saying that the practice that’s done within those 10,000 hours needs to be high quality and deliberate.
Every time you draw a flower, you learn from your mistakes and make a conscious effort to improve them. Maybe you draw a petal-less flower, but the next time, you draw some petals. They may not be perfect, but it’s an improvement. The next time, you continue learning from your mistakes and draw more refined petals. Being thoughtful about what you need to improve upon will make those 10,000 hours of practice worth it and actually improve your flower drawing skills (source).
In fact, if you aren’t mindful about improving your skills as your practice, you could adopt some bad habits that are hard to get rid of. Let’s say that I push too hard on my pencil whenever I draw a flower stem and it creates an indent in the paper. If I’m not conscious about fixing this problem, I’ll get in the habit of pushing too hard on my paper and will struggle to change it.
Basically, the more hours of “bad practice” that I have, the more hours of “good practice” I’ll need to make up for it and relearn skills in the right way.
Step Away From Your Drawing Practice
As we’ve seen, drawing every day can speed up your motor learning and help you improve your drawing skills more quickly.
That said, it’s important to stay balanced.
Figure out how much time you have to practice drawing every day, but don’t go overboard. Remember that practice is worthless if it isn’t high quality and deliberate. Practicing for 2 hours on a bumpy bus ride isn’t a great source of high quality practice. If you only have 5 minutes every day to practice, but that 5 minutes is high quality, that will be better than 2 hours of bumpy bus ride low quality practice.
It’s also important to step away completely every once in a while. Think of an athlete that takes a rest period after a big game or race. Drawing every day is great, but you do need to have your own “off season.” Research shows that stepping away from practice can reduce the amount of “task-irrelevant forces” that come into play (source). “Task-irrelevant forces” are any movements that don’t add to the success of the task you’re working on.
Practicing for too long without a break can lead to burnout, which can lead to mistakes, slip ups, and “task-irrelevant forces.” Take the breaks you need to prevent burnout and make sure that your practice is always high quality. Maybe this means you don’t draw every Monday, or that you take a full week off every month.
Consistent practice with your drawing will only help you if you can avoid burnout and continue drawing long-term. What’s the point of being a great artist if you get burned out and lose your passion for it?
Drawing is a skill that can be learned and improved overtime. Commit to a daily drawing schedule, with breaks to avoid burnout, and you’ll see your skills improve.