12: Deliberate practise – the reason why you’re not getting better at illustration

12: Deliberate practise - the reason why
you’re not getting better at illustration

Hopefully, you’ve been using the Overlap technique to support the pursuit of your passion.  You’ve got yourself a day job, unrelated to your industry, to cover your bills.  And, you’ve created some time for yourself; maybe by sacrificing binge watching those Netflix shows. Maybe you’ve even started waking up earlier to get more quality work-time. I imagine you’ve been producing a ton of work and seeing great results, too.  In the beginning of this new life routine you really saw an improvement. However, that progress is now starting to stagnate; you don’t seem to be getting any better at Illustration.  This is just because the learning curve is steeper in the beginning though, right?  Well it’s not necessarily the case. You need deliberate practise.

What is deliberate practise?

In the beginning period of your hustle, there’s much to learn so any time spent practicing is great. By just spending time on your passion, you’re going to see yourself getting better at what you do. If you’re only doing the same kind of things though, you’re only ever going to improve on those certain skills.

Take for example a musician learning a new song.  He’s nailed the intro, verse, and chorus but keeps messing up the guitar solo towards the end of the song.

Every time he messes up he isn’t going to start playing from the very beginning. Instead, he’s going to deliberately practice that one part of the song he’s messing up.  Deliberate practice is discovering what you’re not good at and improving on that specific area until you’re competent doing it.

This is where you can really test whether you’re passionate at doing something.

It’s no surprise that doing something you’re not very good at isn’t much fun.  However, when you’re passionate about something, the challenge of learning something new and difficult feels more beneficial to you.

The best things in life aren’t easy.  Sometimes we need to push through the difficulty barrier even if we keep failing.  If you can do this without falling out of love with the subject then you’re on your way to making a living out of it.

If you’ve ever done anything creative I’m sure you’ve experienced the stage of the project where you’re thinking, “This is terrible. This isn’t going to work.  Oh, this looks awful – why am I even doing this?” And then, you keep practicing, re-working, re-drawing until it starts to come together.  Afterwards, you laugh to yourself thinking, “why was I so worried?”  Well, just like that, keep pushing through until you succeed.

My illustration struggle – and how I use deliberate practise to push my skills further

When I was in school my friends would always ask me to draw things they wanted to see – you could say it was my party trick.

I absolutely dreaded someone asking for me to draw a dog or a horse. Instead of deliberate practise of the subject, for years I avoided it at all costs. I would excuse it by saying “Oh, I can’t draw that. Sorry.” And, my friends were left disappointed.

Imagine saying that to a paying client…

“Sorry Mr. Client, I can’t draw a horse so I’m going to say no to this project”. You just wouldn’t do that.

What you would do is deliberately practice drawing that animal day and night until you were happy to present a result of fantastic quality to that paying customer.

Well, why wait until you have the pressure of time to learn?

Why risk your reputation by submitting sub-quality rushed work to a client?

Discover what you’re not good at and practice until you perfect it.

There’s always room for deliberate practise

You might already be brilliant at drawing a dog from a reference photograph.  But, how good are you at drawing a dog without a reference?

There’s always room for improvement and you should make time to address it.

Only through deliberate practise can we improve our illustration skills, and pursue our passion. It is the only way we are we going to get any better at illustration.

Anybody can make an excuse to not do something.  It may be too difficult.  It may be boring.  It might take too long. However, if you care about your passion, you’ll find a way to succeed.  You’ll make it fun, and you’ll find the time to improve.

Discipline your deliberate practise through self-initiated projects

If you’re struggling with the discipline to improve certain skills then why not become your own client? Is that sentiment insane?  Not really.

We work on our own personal projects all of the time. But, we’re not always as strict with ourselves as we would be with clients.

Set yourself a time scale; go through your own process like you would with a client. How about restricting yourself on what materials you can use, or certain colours?

This is good practice for completing client projects, too. However, the goal here is to discipline yourself so you get better at a certain skill. Ultimately, that is the goal of the project.

Aid your deliberate practise with online resources

Is being your own client not really your cup of tea?  Why not look for some tutorials on YouTube or search for a course on the Internet relating to what you’re trying to improve on?

I usually start with the artists and designers that I look up to and follow the most.

Check their websites for courses, learning resources or even case studies of past projects where you may be able to pick up some advise.

I recommend starting with the people you trust; learn absolutely everything you can about them. Next, branch out to the people they trust and look up to and learn everything you can about them, too. Continue this until you can’t go any further, and then start again with your next favourite artist.

Free courses can be helpful, but often don’t contain the juiciest, most beneficial content. The real value lies in paid content; and I’m not talking about the £20 courses you find. I’m referring to the £200 courses and up, which consolidate the information you need in one place. The creators and curators of these courses have put real thought into the quality of your learning experience. These educators are most likely the masters in their crafts.

A summary of how deliberate practise can help you improve your illustration

To summarise what has been mentioned in this post: We only get better at something by deliberately trying to improve where we’re falling short of the mark.

You can draw squares all day, but when you’re asked to draw a circle it won’t be anywhere as good – you want to be consistent in the quality of your output.

Achieve this by dedicating a set amount of time every day to improving these areas and you’ll see clear development.  If you struggle with dedicating time to improving, then set yourself a personal project with strict criteria to completing it. Treat these projects the same as if you were commissioning another creative to do a project for you. Or, how a client would approach you with a project.

Furthermore, look for courses online that are related to your specialism and address the skills you’re trying to improve.  Be as prepared as you can possibly be for when your skills will be tested in client projects.

Improve your skills with deliberate practice and keep hustling.