Stealing Secrets

Happy New Year! At this time of new beginnings and fresh starts, let me tell you a secret: unlike many things in life, you don’t have to learn everything in art from scratch. Instead, you can build on the experiences of centuries of artists who came before you. One of the fastest ways for an artist to improve is to do careful, focused master studies.

Master artists have spent a lifetime building on their skills and figuring out what works. We can use their knowledge to avoid making the same mistakes and getting caught up in the same problems. By studying masterworks, we can learn about what makes their art good and discover why it has lasted.

Learning from the masters doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it definitely doesn’t have to be boring. The most important thing is to find art that you love. It is a waste of time to study art you don’t like or can’t relate to, and you may be surprised by some of the art that is out there. (The Golden Age Illustrators in particular have some very interesting, dynamic works that we can learn a lot about illustration from.) Once you have found pieces you love, learn everything you can from them through imitation. With your first study, focus on color. Then focus on form. Focus on layout. Think about why those things worked so well, or even think about what you would have done differently. The masterworks can be a great stepping stool for an illustrator. Internalize what you have learned and apply it in your own work. You may find that your studies have helped you get through what used to be problem areas, or just that your pieces seem more polished. No matter where you are at, you can always learn from the masters.

If you’re like me, creating better art is on your list of resolutions. This year, get a jump start on improving your art by learning from the masters. Here’s to a year full of improvement and illustration!