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Drawing Less Wrong: Should You Learn to Draw?

27 Post author: Raemon 14 November 2011 07:31AM

 

This is the second post of the Drawing Less Wrong mini sequence, in which I discuss how to draw, how learning to draw *effectively* relates to rationality, and what the initial results were when I started running a drawing workshop, teaching people with essentially no experience.
 
Information here is a combination of lessons I've learned from numerous art teachers who all agree with each other, and some of my own observations that I'm pretty confident about. When I talk about "how the brain does things" I'm using a mix of folk psychology and guesses based on my limited knowledge of neuroscience, which may not be technically accurate but should be sufficient to make useful predictions.

The introduction post is here.

 


 

The Nature of Talent:


"Am I talented enough to draw?"

This is a question people think about a lot. It's a wrong question.

Here are a few related, relevant "right" questions:

  • Do you have pre-existing skills that can be repurposed for drawing?
  • How quickly are you able to acquire skills relevant to drawing?
  • Do you naturally enjoy drawing? 
  • If not, can you easily BECOME the sort of person who naturally enjoys drawing? 
  • WHY and WHAT do you want to be able to draw?
  • How well do you want to be able to draw? How much do you value being able to draw that well? 
  • How many hours of dedicated practice are you willing to put in to achieve this?

"Talent" is a real thing, but it doesn't mean what most people think it does. It's not a magical attribute you either have or don't. It's not an absolute cap on how good you're allowed to get. Talent is two different things:

  • How much you naturally enjoy doing something (This is most important, and fortunately I think this is fairly easy to re-wire, though it does take effort and requires some environmental factors)
  • How good you are at IMPROVING at something. Think of this as a "talent coefficient." 

The Intrinsic Enjoyment/Improvement-Coefficient model of Talent is simplified, but like folk psychology, it's a useful way to make some predictions.[1] If you have a talent coefficient of 1 (average), and you put in 4 hours of practice, you'll get 4 hours of "effective practice." If your talent coefficient is 1.5, you'd get 6 effective hours. If your talent coefficient is .5, you'll get 2 effective hours. 

And if you enjoy doing something, you will do a lot of it.

I have always been bad at sports. A lot of this can be attributed to me not really liking sports and hence not putting in much practice. But in high school, I noticed an interesting trend: We would spend a few weeks on a particular activity (basketball, badminton, tennis, volleyball). We would do the same activities each year. And at the beginning of any particular activity, I would suck at it.

I more or less liked each activity equally, and put the same effort into each. But after a few weeks, some activities I would noticeably increase in skill. Others I would not. I was terrible at basketball no matter how hard I tried. But I got better at tennis and volleyball, and I got much better at badminton.

It's possible that badminton was just an easier game (the birdie does move slower and you have a wide racket to catch it with). But I got better at badminton *relative* to other people in the class, and other non-athletic people in the class were always relatively better at me at basketball. I didn't do a formal study, but my nonscientific guesstimate is that I have a high-ish talent coefficient at badminton (maybe 1.1) and a very low talent coefficient at basketball. (.5? .2? .1?)

I'm sure that the things we naturally improve at ALSO tend to be things that we naturally enjoy doing, which confuses the issue. If you naturally improve quickly, you get to feel good about yourself sooner which inspires more effort. It also is probably an activity that feels comfortable and hence enjoyable to you. But there are also things I'm good at that I didn't become motivated to do until recently (for example, programming). So it's worth drawing the distinction.

It's also worth noting that skills like "basketball" and "drawing" are really made up of numerous sub skills. For example, various ball games can be broken down into things like:

  • Being able to run quickly
  • Being able to change direction while running accurately
  • Being able to move your hand to intercept a moving object
  • Being able to catch said object without dropping it
  • Being able to throw an object accurately towards a target

(I think the key difference between basketball and badminton is my ability to *throw*. In Badminton, Tennis and even Volleyball, the way your hand interacts with the ball is very different from basketball.)

In drawing, some sub-skills might include:

  • Being able to accurately observe shape and value
  • Having the coordination to draw marks where you want to
  • Being able to fluidly alter the pressure on your pencil to apply different line thickness/darkness in useful ways.
  • Weirder skills like "being able to instill emotion into your drawing," which may be frustrating for logical-brained people to understand. I'll try to break them down later.

When I say "your Drawing Talent Coefficient," I'm referring to an approximate average of various relevant skills. If you think you can't draw, I'm about 80% sure that your drawing talent is, at worst, around .75. You probably stopped putting as much practice in at a fairly young age, and/or never received proper instruction.

 

Why do you want to draw?

 

Here's a few reasons you might want to draw:

  1. You naturally enjoy drawing. You want to get better at it, but you're not trying to reach a particular level of competence. (Your terminal goal is to draw, and to improve at it enough that you notice yourself improving)
  2. You enjoy being able to record interesting things on paper (these can be real things like people or imaginary things like dragons). You have a terminal goal, not of drawing, but of drawing particular things in interesting ways.
  3. You enjoy the creative process - being able to design NEW interesting things. Drawing is an instrumental goal necessary to try out various ideas and see how they look, both to yourself and other people.
  4. You like to be able to impress people (with good drawings - possibly drawings of cool things, possibly drawings of the particular people you're trying to impress.) Drawing is an instrumental goal towards impressing people.
  5. You want money, you enjoy drawing, you think you can become good at it with less effort relative to other things, so you're considering learning to draw as an instrumental goal towards making money.

All of these are reasonable goals (possible exception of 5 - I don't know that drawing is a reliable way to make money, but I do think that drawing is a skill that helps build towards OTHER skills that reliably make money). But whether they're a good idea hinges on some additional information.

Like anything worth doing, learning to draw REALLY well takes somewhere on the order of 10,000 hours.[2] And even when you've put 10,000 hours in, you'll start looking at people who've put in 20,000 or 30,000 hours and you'll finally comprehend how much skill went into their work and realize how much farther you still have to go and you will never, ever be satisfied.

But drawing skill doesn't follow a linear curve. You'll improve more in the first hundred hours or so - a lot of sub-skills are low hanging fruit that can be quickly acquired if you dedicate yourself. If you want to make money, you'll need to put in the full 10,000. But if you want to do something reasonably cool, fun, impressive and occasionally useful, you can get achieve that in a relatively short time period.

Most kids who like drawing have probably put in close to 10,000 hours in when they reach high school. By the end of elementary school, the kids with slight advantages have made enough effort that the kids with slight disadvantages look at them and think "man, I suck at drawing." They lose whatever intrinsic motivation they had, falling further behind. They come to identify as people who "can't draw." People who can "only draw stick figures." 

Most of those people are wrong. They can become good. And they don't even have to put in the 10,000 hours that the "good artist" kids put in, because most of the "artists" were spending their time doing horribly, horribly inefficient things (which is why they need to put in another 10,000 hours when they get to college and realize they were doing it wrong)

 

Drawing with the "Right" Side of the Brain[3]

 

Here's the problem: most aspiring artists are motivated by goals (1), (2) or (3). Drawing is comfortable and fun. They like drawing cool things. They like being creative.

But the comfortable, fun way to draw is not the same way to IMPROVE at drawing quickly, if your goal is to be able to draw things that other people recognize. The cool things you want to draw are not the optimal things to practice. The creativity you want to express cannot help you improve at drawing much at all until you've learned to be creative in different ways.

Learning to draw in an efficient way is initially uncomfortable. It is counterintuitive. It will feel weird and wrong. There will be a period of several hours where you will not understand why you are doing things this way, and your drawings don't seem to improve. This is because you're building up new skills essentially from scratch - skills you always had the capability to gain, but the relevant parts of your brain are extremely underdeveloped. 

Art teachers in high school and college face the difficult task of convincing students (even "good" students) that they are approaching reality in a fundamentally wrong way using a horribly inefficient method, harnessing the power of the wrong parts of their brain. Most students never make the adjustment. They stick with the comfortable things that motivated them in the first place.

Learning to draw "the right way" is a high level action. Eventually you'll be able to return to the initial fun, comfortable and creative motivations that first inspired you. And you will be much better at it when you do.[4] But you must be sufficiently motivated to make it through 6-10 hours of difficult work.

If you AREN'T intrinsically motivated, you will give up, not try hard enough, and never understand why your teacher was making you do it this way.

But if you have the motivation and proper instruction, you can rewire yourself.

In 3-5 hours, you can develop an understanding of WHY you need to rewire yourself. For the next 2 hours, you'll have developed to the point that you'll understand what's SUPPOSED to be happening, but it won't be happening yet. This will be extremely frustrating. Somewhere around hour 6-10, you'll have developed new skills to the point that you can start showing improvement. (It may still not be clear to other people that you've improved. Your drawings will look messy in a particular way that others might not get. But you and other trained artists will be able to look at your drawings and see that your newfound skill is reflected in your work. And you'll probably have produced at least one drawing that untrained bystanders will recognize as much better than what you started with). 

I haven't studied the issue as much past the 8 hour mark. Right now I've run two 4-hour workshops. Among students who had practically no drawing experience, my predictions proved accurate. Participants are enthusiastic for more meetups and my new, less certain predictions are:

In 12-20 hours of concentrated effort, you'll have reached a point that the average person will watch you draw and say "hey, you can draw, that's cool." If your goal was to use drawing to develop creative ideas, you'll understand how to study things so that you can synthesize new, better creative ideas. If your goal was to enjoy the process of drawing, you'll have rewired yourself so that you enjoy a new, faster process of drawing.

Low hanging fruit will start to drop off after the 20 hour mark. By the hundred hour mark, the average person will look at your work and say "Wow, that's a good drawing! You're talented!". (You'll also have been able to do that drawing in 30-60 seconds, which makes it even more impressive, if you care about that sort of thing)[5]

(I expect interest among NYC rationalists to drop off around after 4-5 sessions. I'll report on that, in addition to the report about the first two sessions that I'll be doing this week. I do not expect to get good data on the hundred-hour prediction, unless I can find good, pre-existing data about similar programs).

 

So... should you learn to draw?


I've given you a sense of the time involved. You can figure out how motivated you are. A big remaining question is: Can you find a good teacher?

Having a good class environment is important for many people's learning and motivation. There are a bajillion subtle things you will get wrong (or get right) and not notice - having a teacher who can identify those things is important. A major difficulty I found teaching was finding ways to articulate ideas that I've long stopped thinking about consciously. I will attempt to outline as many techniques as possible, and I may even post some youtube videos (or link to good ones I find). But the participants in my workshop all agreed that it was very useful to actually see me drawing, to understand how they were actually supposed to move their pencil.

After I've finished this sequence, if you live in the NYC area and think you want to give it a try, shoot me a PM and I'll let you know when the next workshop is. (For the time being I am not charging for this, since I'm still learning a lot myself about how to teach. That may eventually change).

If you don't live near Manhattan, look for a local figure drawing meetup or class that stresses *30 second gesture drawing*. This exercise is the crux of the material I'm presenting, and a teacher that emphasizes it will probably also emphasize a lot of the other things I talk about.

If you have previously decided you "can't draw," but are motivated to try again, I recommend going to a class that's similar to what I advocate, put in at least 8 hours, and then evaluate from there. 

 


 

In the next post, I give an overview of the skills you will need to develop, and discuss how rationality is relevant to them.

 


 

[1] If Lukeprog or anyone else has information on the science (neuro or otherwise) of skill acquisition, I'd love to learn more about it. 

[2] Whenever I say "expect X from Y hours of practice," I'm referring to the average person with a coefficient of 1. But I'm pretty sure the 10,000 number is a highly approximately made up number to begin with, so it's not that important. (If I give a range, like 3-5 hours, I'm accounting for ranges in talent)

[3] I know "right and left brained" isn't exactly a real thing. But the set of abilities generally associated with the Left Brain (i.e. the stuff Less Wrongians are particularly likely to favor, as well as what most novice drawers gravitate towards), are mostly the wrong abilities to be harnessing for the purpose of drawing.

[4] It actually does take extra effort to translate the kinds of skills I'm about to talk about over to "cartoonish" drawing. Cartoonish drawing is its own skill that requires it's own kind of practice. BUT you will still end up much better at drawing cartoons if you have an understanding of reality. More about that later.

[5] You may not care about drawing quickly, but fast drawing is actually an instrumental goal towards drawing well. Drawing quickly FORCES you to develop mental processes that make your drawings more energetic and interesting, which drawing slowly never will.

Comments (55)

Comment author: juliawise 14 November 2011 10:07:47PM 5 points [-]

I find drawing a good way to record travel memories. When traveling, I carry a little notebook instead of a camera (which sidesteps my horror of feeling like a tourist and people's self-consciousness when being photographed).

A hand-sketched card is also a nice not-quite-a-gift that costs almost nothing.

Comment author: billswift 14 November 2011 03:15:37PM 5 points [-]

I am an experienced architectural and landscape draftsman. For anyone who wants to learn practical drawing, I strongly recommend Thinking with a Pencil. The author was a stage and set designer who frequently needed to make quick drawings to clarify and communicate his ideas and expanded from there.

Comment author: 4hodmt 14 November 2011 07:57:14PM 1 point [-]

Does this book include instruction in the physical movement skills needed for drawing? I was never formally taught how to hold a pencil, so I grew up using a strange and painful grip. I hated handwriting because it would leave my hand red and numb. No teachers noticed, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized I was doing it wrong. (I'd assumed that holding a pencil was supposed to be painful, and making us write was just another cruel thing adults did for their amusement).

Aged about 25 I taught myself regular pencil grip, and after about 6 months it began to feel natural. I then learned I was supposed to be using my arm muscles to move the pencil, not just pure hand movement. I tried this for a month or so, but I never felt I'd be able to write Japanese using arm muscle movement at a reasonable character size so I gave up. It's possible that it could work for English cursive, but I never learned that either, and I mostly handwrite because I'm teaching myself Japanese and I believe handwriting helps me remember it.

I suspect "how to hold and move a pencil" is something artists might consider too simple to need teaching. It's also something I suspect artists could be doing wrong out of tradition. I think this because most keyboards are tilted so the back is higher but a keyboard with a raised front (eg. the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000) feels more comfortable to me. I believe the only reason for the traditional design is that it was easier to build mechanical typewriters like that.

Comment author: Raemon 14 November 2011 08:07:41PM 1 point [-]

I suspect "how to hold and move a pencil" is something artists might consider too simple to need teaching.

Artists do teach that, although probably not often enough.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 15 November 2011 04:28:39PM 0 points [-]

This is something I, to, could use a bit more instruction about. So many things I never get around to...

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 14 November 2011 08:42:47PM 4 points [-]

What do you make of this story (section IV) about going through standard exercises without drawing?

Comment author: Raemon 14 November 2011 09:35:24PM *  0 points [-]

That's a good article. I think the notion of doing the exercises without drawing is plausible, although I'm pretty sure actually drawing will be at least somewhat better, so you might as well actually do it. (Apart from the niftiness of the concept)

Comment author: kpreid 14 November 2011 06:20:43PM *  3 points [-]

I would like a (link to a preexisting) brief overview of what the natural-but-wrong and unintuitive-but-right ways to draw are, which you mention but do not describe.

Comment author: Raemon 14 November 2011 06:37:08PM *  2 points [-]

Don't worry, I'm getting there. (I'll provide some links as I get to the relevant info.)

Comment author: Raemon 15 November 2011 09:35:55PM 0 points [-]

I'm actually not sure I can provide links to existing sources for what NOT to do. I've been to enough classes and had enough experience to say confidently that certain habits are bad, and I will be discussing them later on. Were you primarily concerned with having the information, or with fact-checking my claims?

Comment author: kpreid 15 November 2011 11:13:33PM *  3 points [-]

With having the information: a description of how reality (methods for drawing effectively) differs from perception (the obvious/natural way to proceed). Not a list of specific good or bad ways, but what makes the good unintuitive. Mathematical-metaphorically, the axioms from which one could derive the right approach and technique with sufficient consideration.

—I think the above may be overconstraining. How about: The information to convert a layman’s unknown-unknowns into known-unknowns.

Comment author: Raemon 16 November 2011 12:08:50AM 0 points [-]

Huh. That's a higher level I planned for, but it's an interesting question. I'll see if I can answer it. (The short answer is that laymen took thousands of years periodically trying random things and checking against reality and human emotional response to work out the techniques we have today. )

Comment author: MixedNuts 15 November 2011 09:52:39PM 0 points [-]

I think kpreid is requesting a list of bad habits, but not requesting that you write one up if you weren't planning to and have a link handy.

Comment author: Raemon 15 November 2011 10:01:42PM *  0 points [-]

I was definitely planning to talk about them extensively, so if that's the concern e needn't worry.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 14 November 2011 02:53:05PM *  3 points [-]

Not too long ago, I was enduring a particularly severe bout of what I've come to call LW Fatigue. Feeling thick-headed and mildly depressed, I biked to my local hamburger joint, ordered food, and pulled a pen and pad out of my bag in case any thoughts came while I waited. After a minute, I idly began to trace the outline of the photo of a woman on the cover of my town's weekly alternative paper. The effect was immediate. My mental fatigue vanished and I experienced deep focus and a diminished sense of self.

I can draw decently, but I almost never do. I'm not sure why. It would probably be as good for me mentally as regular physical exercise is physically.

EDIT: My sense is that certain kinds of creative focus last longer than the anecdotal three hours. Does anyone know of research that supports this?

Comment author: lessdazed 14 November 2011 03:32:16PM *  6 points [-]

My sense is that certain kinds of creative focus last longer than the anecdotal three hours. Does anyone know of research that supports this?

If it lasts longer than four hours, consult your doctor or seek emergency medical attention.

Comment author: thomblake 14 November 2011 11:34:51PM 0 points [-]

The parent comment should have a note that it's intended to be humorous, lest someone be misled.

Comment author: Raemon 14 November 2011 03:26:20PM 0 points [-]

diminished sense of self.

What do you mean by this?

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 14 November 2011 03:29:07PM *  0 points [-]

deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions.

-Wikipedia

Comment author: Raemon 14 November 2011 03:32:50PM 0 points [-]

Ah, yes.

Comment author: Raemon 17 November 2011 07:47:34PM 2 points [-]

For the curious/impatient - I'm planning the next update for this Saturday.

Comment author: Raemon 19 November 2011 06:38:16AM 0 points [-]

Blam! Within 5 minutes of midnight! More to come this weekend.

Comment author: CronoDAS 15 November 2011 01:13:46AM *  2 points [-]

(I think the key difference between basketball and badminton is my ability to throw. In Badminton, Tennis and even Volleyball, the way your hand interacts with the ball is very different from basketball.)

My biggest problem is that I can't catch. A poor throwing attempt still moves the ball in the general direction that you want it to go in. A poor catching attempt ends up with you running after the ball once it's moved past you.

(I developed a strong aversion to basketball in elementary school. One of the activities in gym class was shooting baskets - into an adult height hoop. Unlike some of the other children, I never succeeded.)

Comment author: gershom 16 November 2011 01:29:52AM 1 point [-]

Do you have a specific type of catching in mind? The techniques for different objects are different, more so than one might expect and in less-than-obvious ways. For example, I had trouble catching a football until someone explained to me that the catch is made at the point when the ball hits your torso, not before. Of course, this only applies to dead on throws. It also requires that you overcome the instinctive aversion to being hit by flying objects. Being hit by a briskly thrown, spiraling football hurts, when you're unprepared. This led me to try to catch with only my hands, as far from my body as possible. This is much more difficult and resulted in many jammed fingers. Once I understood that the ball was supposed to hit me, I found it really didn't hurt (too much) if I was prepared. Thus, I didn't have to block the ball; it was much more effective to allow it to come to me.

I could go into greater detail, but the particulars of football-catching aren't the point. Conceive of a task as difficult, and often it will oblige you by becoming so. This sounds trite, but I've had to learn it over and over again, in all sorts of different applications. Come to think of it, I'm likely making the same error right now, assuming that this is a hard-to-grasp concept which requires lengthy explanation. Just to relate it to the original topic, I see this as analogous to holding a pencil in a clenched fist when drawing, to ensure that it doesn't slip away from you.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 15 November 2011 06:28:24AM 1 point [-]

Have you ever made a dedicated effort to learn to catch? I find that the limiting factors are usually (a) a suitably easy ball to start with, (b) the modesty to use it, and (c) a patient enough partner to make easy throws to you. If you are of average klutziness for a geeky engineer, you can probably learn to catch, say, a volleyball in about three hours. Start with a small beach ball or medium-sized kickball, and work your way down to smaller and harder balls. Don't be afraid to make incredibly easy throws with easy balls at short distances for about 100 reps before moving on to an incrementally harder exercise. The nice thing about catching is that a 'rep' takes anywhere between 1-5 seconds, so you can fit in a surprisingly large quantity of reps in a 15 minute practice session.

Comment author: dbaupp 15 November 2011 11:42:18AM 0 points [-]

I think that catching also relies on having good eyesight/depth perception, so I have a feeling that some people who can't catch very well probably need glasses (i.e. practice only goes so far).

Comment author: lessdazed 15 November 2011 02:15:01PM 0 points [-]

depth perception

For fly balls, maybe not. http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com/2011/10/prospective-control-i-outfielder.html

For line drives, probably more so, for footballs, even more so.

Comment author: CronoDAS 15 November 2011 06:59:32AM 0 points [-]

Have you ever made a dedicated effort to learn to catch?

Not really. I think I used to be a bit better when I was little and played catch with my father...

Comment author: MileyCyrus 15 November 2011 05:14:24AM 1 point [-]

How many standard deviations above the norm can you expect to be after 100 hours of concentrated practice?

Comment author: Raemon 18 November 2011 04:49:21PM 2 points [-]

As I said, I haven't actually done a study of people practicing for 100 hours, I was making a rough prediction. I think if you make it to 100 hours of concentrated practice, you'll be good enough that the average person will think you're great. Professionals will still critique the hell out of you, because you'll have graduated to "the bottom of the class of people who've spent upwards of 10,000 hours." But if you're capable of putting 100 hours in in the first place, you're probably already motivated enough to put in another other 9,900 and take the critiques seriously.

I don't have a better answer than that at this point.

Comment author: kilobug 14 November 2011 01:42:12PM 1 point [-]

I always was very bad at drawing (and my handwriting is horrible). As a child I had no interest in the topic (I was more interested by science, maths/physics/biology/astronomy/... and later one computer science), and when I gained some interest in the issue during my late teens-early twenties when I was role-playing a lot, and would have really liked to be able to draw characters, situations, monsters, ..., I had the feeling that I was too hopelessly bad, so I never tried much.

But you claim that people like me could learn to draw reasonably well if a 15-30 hours time, that sounds really interesting to me (and your arguments and experiences make sense, so I'll give a high likelihood for you to be right). That makes it very interesting... but then, the problem is finding an appropriate teacher. I'm not sure a "common" drawing teacher would be the most appropriate teacher for a "rational geek" like me, and finding a drawing teacher that knows enough of geekness and rationality to have low inferential distance when explaining something to me will not be easy...

But I'll pay more attention to that, thanks for this post !

Comment author: Raemon 14 November 2011 02:39:33PM *  2 points [-]

One thing I'll be trying to do is bridge the inferential gap here, in this sequence. Afterwards you'll still need good instruction, but hopefully you'll be able to mentally translate between what your teacher says and what you need to hear.

Comment author: AdrienH 14 November 2011 06:15:31PM *  1 point [-]

Compared to signing up for a course, how much would I lose by using a book such as Drawing on the right side of the brain or Thinking with a pencil and getting critical input from a friend who is a comic book artist but lacks any education in teaching? Is drawing a field that requires mentorship or can a motivated student get by with a textbook and occasional pointed advice?

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 14 November 2011 07:44:10PM 2 points [-]

I can only speak from personal experience, but I made enormous improvements on my own with a book in a pretty short period of time. I'm now at the point where I'm looking into joining a tutor-led group, because I think I've made most of the easy gains from pursuing it on my own.

If you're the sort of person who can, for example, hunker down and learn a programming language over a few hours under your own steam, I imagine you can probably do the same with drawing. For me, the experiences are quite similar.

Comment author: kilobug 14 November 2011 08:45:14PM 1 point [-]

Hi Adrien ! Welcome :)

Feel free to introduce yourself on the welcome thread

Comment author: Raemon 14 November 2011 06:35:50PM *  1 point [-]

Short answer: I don't know.

Longer answer: I am actually very interested in seeing how you progress without menthorship (for my own empirical study - I've seen how people respond to an intensive 8 hour seminar, I haven't seen how people improve with 8 hours of their own efforts. Control group would be useful)

I will note that I do not have any education in teaching - I ran this workshop specifically to gain experience in it. If your friend has college level (or equivalent) art training, then e will probably be about as qualified as I am to give you feedback. The question is the value of "occasional feedback" vs "intensive dedicated training."

In the workshop, I gave constant feedback and occasionally demonstrated my own drawing technique. Participants felt that doing so was very helpful, and I believe it was, but I don't know for sure how important it was. (We did notice an effect where shortly after watching me draw, people improved at drawing for a little while, although the effect didn't last indefinitely, presumably as the memory faded and their old habits returned. In the next session I intend to demonstrate once every half hour to reinforce the benefit, and then see if the improvements seem to stick longer.)

Comment author: windmil 24 November 2011 10:34:49PM 1 point [-]

The little thing at the top about how this post is part of a sequence says it's the third. Seemed like the second, and it is, but I still it still made me go check to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

Also, (since just pointing out a little error isn't really much of a comment, and neither is just saying I liked it) I found that this did really make me want to draw, at least temporarily. I'll see if I can keep that going long enough to actually do it.

Comment author: Raemon 25 November 2011 02:45:41AM 1 point [-]

Heh. Originally it had said "second" but there was some kind of odd formatting problem, which I "solved" by copying from the third article. Thanks.

Comment author: Curiouskid 20 November 2011 02:41:58PM *  1 point [-]

As far as the 10,000 hour rule (that people like Gladwell have popularized) goes, the concept was originally formulated by K. Anders Ericsson.

Comment author: olimay 19 November 2011 06:29:44AM *  1 point [-]

Right brained and left brained aren't real things, but the right hemisphere and left hemisphere are:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbUHxC4wiWk

...and still provide a very useful an illustrative dichotomy to work with.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 November 2011 07:45:32AM 0 points [-]

Right brained and left brained aren't real things

Except with a few severe epilepsy sufferers who had half their brain removed at birth and still function reasonably well.

Comment author: mowat 16 November 2011 08:11:45AM 1 point [-]

How do you find this drawing course from University of Reddit? You have raised my interest in drawing by saying one could see visible gains in 8 hours. I'm taking improv and dance classes, and they have helped me enormously in social interaction skills. Now I'm considering taking a drawing class for reasons 2-3-4.

Comment author: Raemon 16 November 2011 03:46:14PM 1 point [-]

I haven't looked through all of it yet, but it looks like it emphasizes a different set of skills than what I'm about to emphasize - which is okay: there's a lot of different skills to learn. (I'm actually on the fence on the optimal order to teach certain skills, and looking at the Reddit course gives me some thoughts on what I might re-consider).

Comment author: Armok_GoB 15 November 2011 04:24:31PM 1 point [-]

I'm in a situation where it's obvious I more or less MUST learn to draw (most of my useful skills are in visual arts and would synergise immensely, and I frequently get struck by fits of inspiration that inflict severe emotional damage when they can't be realized, etc.), and I have heard basically what you're saying in this post a bazillion times, including multiple perspectives on why, to the point where it seems obvious what I need to do, but I can't actually do it for a variety of reasons that can mostly be summed up with "akrasia". I lack the attention span and patience needed to do something "just for practice", I am constantly stressed out and never feel i have the time to do so, my tools and skills in related areas makes it to easy to cheat around the problem at the cost of quality, and I have an overwhelming ugh field about basic motoric skills, etc.

Any idea on how to get out of this? If I could actually practice consistently just 10 or 20 hours would probably yield enough of an improvement to overcome most of these problems and keep climbing by myself, but right now I get like 10 minutes of practice every few weeks and then I ragequit and feel horrible.

Comment author: Raemon 15 November 2011 06:07:11PM 1 point [-]

One of the benefits of a class is that a) it forces you to work for more than 10 minutes, b) the teacher will be there to provide both direction and positive encouragement.

If a "real class" isn't an option, try finding a meetup group of people also looking to get drawing practice in. I certainly suffer from akrasia. The things I DON'T have an easy time with I usually need friends to help reinforce the behavior in some way.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 15 November 2011 08:25:53PM 0 points [-]

Thanks. I suspected this, but hearing it from you is good for confirmation and makes it more likely I might actually go for it.

Nether option is really very available to me thou. I've been unsuccessfully looking for meetups and groups for a long time, and will continue looking but I don't have much hope. A class might work, but just getting time for it and getting to and from the location would pose huge problems due to health issues. An online class like the current Stanford AI one would be easier for those reasons, but doesn't really work well for an art class due to the more practical nature of it, and might not fix the akrasia problems either. Hmm...

Comment author: Raemon 15 November 2011 08:27:02PM *  0 points [-]

Can I ask what you "must" learn to draw for? Job you currently have? Job you're looking for?

Comment author: Armok_GoB 15 November 2011 10:29:29PM *  2 points [-]

Because I am great at a lot of other things along the visual arts tree/pipeline(s), like composition and colours and 3d modeling and art analysis and concepts for images and design etc. and absolutely love to do them, but don't have anyone to collaborate with. This also indicates I'm likely to be very talented at it, and would enjoy it immensely if I weren't so frustratingly untrained at it.

And because I get strikes of inspiration, and I feel horrible when I can't share the amazing things in my head and discus them with others.

And because the set of people that: are on lesswrong AND have the determination to dedicate themselves to it AND understand the power of art to influence minds AND have the talent needed to create something truly good with reasonable amounts of practice AND have the deeper understanding of how art in general works to leverage stuff AND are willing to ruthlessly exploit Dark Arts in the creation of subversive propaganda... is quite small, possibly 1 or even 0.

Comment author: Raemon 15 November 2011 10:33:36PM 1 point [-]

That's a good reason. I wish you luck and I hope I can help.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 15 November 2011 04:22:57PM 1 point [-]

I've been trying to learn to draw (traditionally) for a decade, and have never gotten any better at it. I took a twice-a-week college class that was basically 90% 30-second gesture drawings from a live model, for a full semester at one point, and I never got any better.

This is a long-standing frustration that only gets more egregious with time, since visual art is my specialty.

Comment author: JQuinton 18 November 2011 05:55:54PM 1 point [-]

I started drawing at a very early age, probably around 5 (I stopped drawing when I was around 16 - 17). What I think helped me was that I would attempt to emulate the artists that I was most influenced by. First I would start by tracing comic book panels that I thought looked cool. After a couple of months of doing that, I moved up to attempting to recreate a panel that I liked in a comic book. After a couple years of that, I attempted to draw live, inanimate objects and then finally people.

In a way, I guess you could say I apprenticed myself under certain artists that I felt were good enough to emulate. This helped in my case and I eventually got a good reputation as a talented artist (I got accepted to LaGuardia HS and subsequently FIT in NYC, but went to neither in favor of Bx Science and Air Force, respectively). However, I'm not sure taking over a decade to learn how to draw would be an effective path in this context; especially as I was learning how to draw while learning other essential motor functions so I would say the skill was sort of hard-wired into my development. But who knows, this might still be good advice.

Comment author: Raemon 21 November 2011 11:28:56PM 0 points [-]

I think this is a fine way to become inspired over time, but it definitely isn't the most efficient way to progress. It'll take a while before you gravitate towards the skills that will give you the most benefit, and you can accidentally learn habits that may work against you later. More on this in an upcoming post.

Comment author: Raemon 18 November 2011 04:45:11PM *  0 points [-]

Given this information, it may very well be that drawing isn't worth the time-cost to you. It may also be that gesture drawing doesn't work as effectively for you. There are some other hacks you can try - have you done the exercises summarized in this article at some point?

If not, I'd definitely give them a try - they won't take more than a 2-3 hours and you can do them on your own. It's possible you're simply an outlier (frustrating as that may be) but I expect you'll see at least some improvement.

Can you articulate the ways in which you have a hard time? Do you think it's more about inability to observe, hand-eye coordination or something else? Can you trace over a drawing effectively?

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 14 November 2011 07:27:20PM 1 point [-]

I got better at badminton relative to other people in the class, and other non-athletic people in the class were always relatively better at me at basketball.

Me too. I always explained it as: everyone else has practiced basketball more than me. But nobody has practiced badminton. My ability to really focus and try is higher when I'm relatively better than my peers.

But your theory (of differing native gifts weighted differently for each sport) makes sense too. I know at least it holds with limb lengths and muscle types (e.g. swimming vs. running vs. cycling). The commonly accepted existence of specific native talent in non-athletic learning domains seems plausible by analogy. I'd like to know the truth of it, but to first approximation it makes sense to say someone is especially good at learning additional languages, remembering certain types of things, at creating art or music, at acting, etc - what we mean is that their brain learns and holds such capabilities unusually well.

Comment author: juliawise 14 November 2011 10:03:32PM 2 points [-]

I enjoyed badminton more than other sports largely because I felt safe doing it. Remove the fear of being hit with heavy balls, and it was actually fun.