Artists’ Hell (plus: how to escape it & become an Art Ninja), Part 2

Having failed utterly to stay away from the blog while I’m visiting family I’m still delighted to welcome Maki Yamazaki back for Part 2 of her series on gettin’ artsy with it.

 glare sketch banner

Welcome to part 2 of Artists’ Hell! If you haven’t read part 1, please read it first. If you have already read it and have come back for more, proceed at your own risk: more lengthy writing ahead!


When I studied art at age 13, I  could never understand why they made us draw fruit in a bowl. I had no intention of ever drawing a banana and two grapes, so why make us learn it? When I was 17, we drew nude models and it all started to make some sort of sense. Now, many years later, I realise that no matter how good your imagination is, there is no better teacher of art that the world around you!

Trying to draw from what you observe in the world around you will teach you everything you need to know, in terms of Getting It Right. From perspective to texture to lighting to sound and way beyond, if keep your senses open and really try to capture what you observe you will become a better art-ninja.


When I find myself staring at a blank piece of paper, or start a new project on my Digital Audio Workstation, I sometimes get gripped by The Fear. And it is precisely this fear which is the enemy of the artist.

Fear is indeed the mind-killer (AKA the little death).

So how can you prevent The Fear? Remember when I mentioned earlier about trusting yourself and to be like a child? I advise you now, more than ever to put those things into play. If your enemy comes in the form of a canvas, paint on it to put yourself out of misery. I don’t care what you paint, just paint. If you’re struggling to think of what to put down, let your mind wander. Paint something you see, paint random shapes, paint your unoccupied hand(s) (should you have them). Paint anything but do not let that canvas remain unpainted for too long, or it may devour your very soul (and will discourage you from painting it). It’s a paint or be devoured kind of world-of-art out there. When you gaze upon the abyss, the abyss also gazes upon you. This is, indeed, also true of blank things, so be prepared to mercilessly destroy them with your art.

If you heed this advice the art you want to create will eventually come to you.

Do All The Things. All Of Them.

I carry a sketchpad and pencil-case with me at all possible opportunities. Bored on a train? Oh, it’s a good thing I brought this sketchpad. Watching crap on TV? Well, I’d rather be having fun becoming a better artist. Want to impress a girl/boy? Hey, I’ve got this sketchpad full of drawings, wanna see?

There are infinite uses for having some way of working on ideas when you’re out-and-about. You could be struck down with inspiration at any moment, or you may simply be exposing yourself to new things to observe. Either way, do you really have anything to lose by being prepared? Without some way of working spontaneously, you may find sudden inspiration dies quickly and is easily forgotten.

And just as importantly, don’t wait for inspiration to strike you where you stand/sit/lie. Waiting ‘for inspiration to strike’ won’t make you a better artist, only a lazier one. In a day you have plenty of opportunities to become a better artist! After all, making something, anything, is better than not making something at all. Plus, you’re much more likely to find inspiration whilst making something than when you’re messing around in the shower. Be prepared to make a lot of crap work, but remember that that is not the point. The point is to keep working until something awesome happens. And if you keep going at it, something awesome will happen.

See The Bigger Picture.

They say the the devil is in the detail and, although that’s not necessarily true, it is (often) when you first start working on a piece.

Time and time again, I see artists getting bogged down in too much detail too soon. Imagine trying to ice a cake before you’ve baked it. That’s what too much detail too soon is like. Hearing a great riff in a shit song- should’ve worked on the song before making the embellishments. That or you could be Steve Vai. Please don’t be Steve Vai.

Putting too much detail in too soon can often lead to making bad mistakes. It’s far easier to correct work when you have a rough of the whole composition that to have to go back and tweak your hard-worked, but ultimately wastefully made embellishments at a later stage because it just didn’t fit in with the rest of your piece.

I know, I know, you want the goodies now, but haste makes serious waste and majorly bogs you down in the long run. It may even put you off working.

Make Silly Mistakes Faster

Ever seen those artists who create sublime work in the blink of an eye? Want to learn a secret to unlock that superpower?

Yes. yes you do. Because being able to draw quickly means you’ll make more and better work. The skill to levelling up as an Art Ninja here is to make your mistakes and make them fast. This one kind of ties in with the last point. You need to be quick on your feet and I don’t just mean with the work that takes forever. You have to practice drawing as fast as you can. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll improve if you do practice your roughs/sketches quickly. Some of my finest techniques have been discovered whilst trying to capture exactly what’s going on in my image/music when I give myself less than a minute to draw something, or challenge myself to write a song in one hour.

Now, I can’t promise you that this work will be any good. Sometimes it will be downright abominable. What you’re striving for here in your Art Ninja training is not to create the finest piece of work, but to capture your idea/mood/observation. If it’s good enough for Monet, it is good enough for you.

Challenge Yourself

Hands, manos, mains, 手. Whatever you call them, most people find them annoying & difficult to draw, myself included. There’s always something that is difficult to (re)create with art, or that you’re plain-and-simple not very good at making. And that’s ok. Again, you have to trust that you’ll improve with practice. But that’s just it – you have to practice –  which means facing your fears and challenging yourself to do better.

Many artists I know avoid drawing hands: either by giving people blob-fists or by obscuring them behind things/inside pockets. Let’s say for arguments sake you’re one of these people. How are you going to get better if you don’t keep trying.

Copy, observe, experiment, but don’t avoid- And again, don’t be afraid to make shitty pieces for the sake of getting better. Let the challenge drive you, not repel you. Be prepared to hate what you make. But given time and good observation/practice, you will inevitably get better. Eventually, you too can be an Art Ninja!

Find The Time

We don’t always have the time to be artists 24/7. Some of us may struggle to fit doing art in amongst other commitments. You may even find it difficult to work on your art once a week.

Remind yourself of your motivations for making art and how serious you want doing it to be. Of course you need to do your shopping and feed the cat, but are there other things which you cold do to find the time instead.

It’s rarely the case that you won’t have the time to put in say, 15 minutes a day to doodle, knit, play ukulele or whatever. It’s just a case of prioritizing. Instead of watching TV, how about working for half an hour on that future best-seller novel you’ve been promising to make? Perhaps you don’t need to prepare a sunday roast twice weekly. Perhaps instead of always going to the pub with all your friends you could sit there on your own and relax whilst doing some work.

Surely there’s something small in your life worth giving up for the sake of making art?

Commitment Issues

Many artists have commitment issues. We start something that we think is exciting, get bored and want to move onto something else, something more exciting. And, often, that more exciting thing is just as boring as the thing we ditched in the first place.

I think writers tend to be the worst at this; probably because novels are really long. They’re a self-contained world of imagination, but they take a long time to complete. Going back, I want to emphasise that you should make silly mistakes faster. Editing and writing should not be happening at the same time and it’s the #1 cause of death of most novels and comics. Don’t let this happen to your work or you will end up regretting it. Just work quickly, get all the way to the end and then make it better. If you spend two weeks writing one page for a novel, it will take you more than 6 years to have a 300+ page novel. Take a leaf from NaNoWriMo’s books and your commitment issues may well disappear!

Another problem that occurs very often in not fulfilling large pieces is setting your standards far too high. Technically this is the same as trying to write and edit at the same time, but requires a slightly different approach.

Instead of saying: I’m going to write this novel about space aliens and pirates, try to break it down into smaller, more digestible chunks of work. How does the story start? Do any of the characters die? How do they die? And how will you ever get the audience to love this character before you mercilessly spear them through the heart after a perfect touchdown? Plan out how things link together and concentrate on each part. And remember: don’t go into too much detail until you’ve got some bones to hang the flesh on, or you will get bored and frustrated.

Finally take joy in smal achievements. It’s much easier to finish long pieces of work when you don’t set your standards too high.

Take a break

Finally, it’s time to take a break. If you work on your art 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, you will probably burn yourself out and you will likely hate both your art and possibly yourself for doing so.

One piece of advice that I’ve found really helpful is to stop yourself whilst you’re still having fun. Too much work and your passion will wither. Sometimes working little, but often is a really, really good idea and if you stop working with something exciting to come back to, it will ensure that you are plenty excited, refreshed and inspired by the time you come back to it.

Rome was not, apparently, built in a day.

Lastly, but not least, if you’re really having no fun doing art after all of this and you can’t seem to find the motivation to do it, then don’t. Being crap at art is not a reason to  quit. Not enjoying it possibly is.

If you find yourself losing the motivation to keep going, perhaps you need to stop, or at least cut down (you art-addict, you). Enjoying your art should be what propels you but, ultimately, being an Art Ninja means that art will not always be fun. It is a long, hard road out of Artists’ Hell and you can either take the easy road and step it down a couple of paces or you can run the gauntlet and fight your way to Ninja Heaven (alongside all the other Ninja, such as the Science Ninja, Marie Curie & Albert Einstein).

Blog-speed you, future Art-Ninja,

This is Maki Yamazaki, signing out.

4 thoughts on “Artists’ Hell (plus: how to escape it & become an Art Ninja), Part 2

  1. Pingback: Artists’ Hell (plus: how to escape it & become an Art Ninja), Part 1 | Consider the Tea Cosy

  2. Ppplllleeeeeeeeaaase keep being a guest writer on here!!

  3. Pingback: Link Love (09/02/2013) « Becky's Kaleidoscope

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