Artistic growth is frustrating. It doesn’t matter who you are – you’re going to reach a point in your artistic career where you feel like you’re not growing very much. Plateaus are real, and they suck.
But you can beat those plateaus! Of course – you can go about it the old-fashioned ways, by taking some tutorials, attending a class, or just fumbling blindly until you figure it out…
But there’s a better way.
You can improve your artistic skills almost instantly if you find some artists you respect and learn from them directly.
The beautiful thing about art is that there’s a visual textbook of information in every piece of art you look at – if you know what you’re looking for. So that’s what we’re going to do!
The following two exercises help me grow as an artist every single time I revisit them. It all depends on the attention and effort you put into each exercise.
So let’s start with the easy one!
Building an Influence Map
A few years ago, influence maps were a meme on several art communities like deviantART. And they were very, very effective!
At the time, it was a fun way to share your influences with community members, but it served a different purpose for me. I approached my influence map as a way to study my mentors (even if they didn’t realize they were mentoring me).
So, here’s how I recommend tackling your influence map.
Step 1 – Brainstorming!
Brainstorm a list of artists that you admire. The more, the better. Look for artists that create art that you could only dream of creating.
If you’re struggling, look for pieces on deviantART, Instagram, or Pinterest that appeal to your sense of style.
Step 2 – Narrow it down.
Of your massive list of artists, try to pick 9 favorites who produce the highest quality of work. If they’re prolific, even better.
If you were to take your style and improve it, which of the artists you picked do what you want to do the best?
Step 3 – Play Favorites
This is the hardest part of building an influence map. I want you to find your one favorite piece of art from each of your 9 favorite artists. Create a 3×3 grid of these pieces of art, like this one below:
This map will serve as your guiding light. Keep it close, look at it often, share it with everyone – especially fellow artists. Other artists may be able to give you insight on how to apply certain principles from your influence map to your own work.
Step 4 – Study.
Write down the qualities of each piece that you admire the most. It could be the composition, contrast, use of line weight, colors, etc.
It’s important to identify WHAT you like about each piece so you can apply it more consistently to your own work.
Step 5 – Get inspired.
Print your influence map and keep it nearby when you need some inspiration. Remember the qualities you liked the most about each piece and try to apply it in your work!
Watch your work improve, just by doing some study!
The Master Study
Speaking of study… Now that you have an influence map, it’s time to challenge your skills! There aren’t nearly as many steps involved in this exercise, but it’s definitely more challenging.
Master studies are required in every art school I’ve ever looked into or attended. They’re a tried and true test of your abilities, and you inevitably learn something valuable every time you do one – if you do it right.
I recommend using your influence map for this one – you can either work your way down the list or just pick a piece of art that you admire from one of your mentors.
After you pick a piece…copy it. Simple, right?
Try to get it as close as possible to the original, and pay close attention to every stroke, form, and line in the piece.
Pay attention to the composition, try to put yourself inside the head of the original artist. Execute the same piece of art in the same way they did.
I won’t lie – this is incredibly time-consuming. I gave up on the first few master studies I did. But once I buckled down and did the work, I was beyond surprised with the results and the confidence I gained going into my next original piece of art.
Do the Work
Both of these exercises are WORK, especially the master study. But doing the work sets you apart from a mediocre artist and makes you a great one.
Doing the right work will help you reach the next level in your artistic skill and career that much faster. Don’t struggle through plateaus on your own, let the masters guide you.
Have you done either of these exercises before? Are you ready to do one now? Let’s see the results in the comments!