General Wisdom for Artists No. 6

6. Strive to learn stuff outside your own discipline.

Scientists say that new and original ideas are the product of new pathways forming in the brain, like a join the dots picture of sorts, but with an almost infinite number of pictures hidden within. If you have a lot of dots to draw lines between then you can make a lot more pictures!

That’s perhaps a rather simplistic metaphor for cutting-edge cognitive science, but nonetheless it does hold true. If you have a number of different interests and sources of inspiration to draw from, your art will be that much richer and more personal to you. This is really important. There’s lots of artwork out there, and much of it is so similar to other things we’ve seen before that we just skip over it in search of the original stuff.

On top of this, learning principles in one discipline may transfer surprisingly well to another discipline. I’ve recently started trying to teach myself 3d art. It’s quite a steep learning curve, but I’ve found that a lot of knowledge from my 2d digital work transfers exactly into 3d, which has given me a considerable advantage over those starting without any knowledge of digital art at all. This new knowledge of 3d art benefits my 2d artwork as well. Being able to create 3d models and apply different lighting conditions to them gives me a great source of rudimentary reference for anything I want to draw from difficult angles or in unusual lighting.

Another example might be photography. A good understanding of how light reacts through a lens and how to compose a cinematic shot through a camera can only benefit you when composing a picture with a paintbrush. Even if whatever else it is you choose to do doesn’t help your art so directly, it will help if you ever have to draw, paint or write about it!

Having multiple projects or interests in different disciplines also stops you from getting bored doing the same thing all the time. If you’re fed up drawing for the day, you can always go snowboarding and practice some flips. (I’ve got a niggling but baseless certainty that skill in snowboarding benefits skill in drawing. Sadly I’ve never been snowboarding, so have yet to prove it.)

Basically, the more things’ you’ve tried, the more ways of thinking about things are open to you, and the more informed your artwork will be. It’s a no-lose situation right?

Incidentally, here’s some of my first attempts at proper 3d art: (I don’t count google sketchup as proper 3d)

3d1 3d2

These were done in blender, which is an excellent and importantly free program which you can download here:

I’d encourage other artists to get it just for the sculpting features, which allow you to quickly sculpt all sorts of things. I find it’s a very good test of one’s anatomy knowledge. I was doing cheeks wrong.