blog | by @noahbradley | portfolio

Review of the Yiynova MSP19U tablet monitor

I love it.

Last week I purchased a Yiynova MSP19U, a 19″ pressure-sensitive tablet monitor. After the fantastic review by Frenden this tablet monitor has gotten a lot of internet attention. Wacom has utterly dominated the field, leaving little room for competitors. But there’s a new kid on the block.

The MSP19U is a worthy competitor. It’s not perfect. But it’s darn good.

Noah Bradley using the Yiynova MSP19U


It’s not the greatest presentation. If you’re looking for a slick, Apple-like packaging… look elsewhere. All you’ll get here is simple instructions with more Engrish than you can shake a stick at.


The device itself is great. It’s sturdy, well-constructed and has a nice screen on it. It’s more lightweight and portable than any Cintiq I’ve used. I was quite comfortable sitting on my bed with this thing in my lap. I’m pretty sure a Cintiq would have crushed my pelvis.

I like the colors better than any Cintiq I’ve used. I’ve found Cintiqs to have unusually dull colors (even when calibrated). The MSP19U is bright and vibrant. It leans a bit cool in color (and a tad light) out of the box, but nothing a little calibration can’t fix.

The surface is glassy smooth. Personally, I like this better than the faux-grit that a lot of current Wacom tablets have. If you really want to put some grit on the screen, you can always add a screen protector.

There are no buttons on the device. Word has it that the next generation device they’re producing will have them, but this one didn’t. I’m ok with that. I’ve never used the buttons on my Intuos and I don’t have any need to start. I prefer key commands on my keyboard—they’re faster and more reliable.

The viewing angles aren’t great. But I find when working on a tablet monitor you’re more likely to be looking directly at it than at a traditional monitor.


The drivers are a bit problematic and the software interface is kinda ugly. But not a big deal. I was able to get it working quickly. And once you get it working there’s little need to touch the software again. I do wish I had more customization on the pressure-sensitivity, but I’m sure that will come as the company improves their software.


It’s not a flawless piece of hardware, but I absolutely love this thing. And I haven’t even mentioned the price: at $600, this is a steal. To get a Wacom product of similar quality, you’d be looking at 2-4x that price.

I’m not going to tell you that the Yiynova MSP19U is better than a Wacom Cintiq. But I will tell you that it’s every bit as good. If you’re in the market for a tablet monitor and prefer to not spend money for the sake of spending money, buy one of these. You won’t regret it.

Purchase a Yiynova MSP19U

4.5/5 stars

Photo courtesy of A Muse Photography

It’s just piracy

Piracy doesn’t bother me.

It’s quite easy to pirate any of my paid content (namely, The Art of Freelancing). And you know what? I’m not freaking out. It’s ok.

I know quite well what it’s like to be a poor college student living off of student loans. I know what it’s like to not have an income. I know what it’s like to struggle to pay for a $10 download (much less a $57 one). Because I went through that.

But even back then I forced myself to pay for the downloads and bought many of the old Massive Black videos. Even though I had never met them, guys like Jason Chan, Whit Brachna, Nox, El Coro, and Carl Dobsky became my teachers. I used my sparse cash to pay for these downloads so that I could become a better artist. And it paid off. Without those videos I would not be the artist I am today.

So if you’re really strapped for cash but are desperate to learn, feel free to pirate anything of mine. Maybe down the road when you’re better off you can buy it properly. Or maybe not. Either way it’s ok. I won’t hunt you down or sue you or anything.

I wish you the best of luck in your career. I hope I can help you in some small ways to reach your goals.

Start often, finish well

Start a lot of things. Scribble down thousands of thumbnails for paintings. Jot down ideas for novels, poems, articles. Sketch constantly. Start drawings, paintings, sculptures, songs, anything. Every day, start something new. Hell, start ten new things.

Finish a few things. Don’t finish everything—you don’t have time. But when you do finish, finish well. Pick the best starts. There’s no sense in finishing a lousy start. Take your time and make it the best you can. Do it right.

Starting forces you to come up with more ideas. Finishing makes you pick the good ones.

Starting puts you on the right path. Finishing shows you how far that path extends.

Starting is dreaming. Finishing is making it real.

Starting is part of an idea. Finishing is the completion of that idea.

If you don’t start well, you won’t finish well. If you can’t finish, you only have the potential of something great.

Start often, finish well.

Do one thing

Every day, do one thing.

You don’t have to clear your to-do list.

You don’t have to do ten things.

You don’t have to do everything.

Just one thing, every day. Pick one thing that will make you feel like you accomplished something today. That you had done something worthwhile today. Something towards your goals. Something you might not want to do, but need to do. Just one step towards your dream.

Eventually, enough one things become a lot of things.

One thing at a time, one day at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be there.

How to Start a Painting

A good start is always better than a mediocre finish.

By learning to start well, you’re setting yourself up for making much better paintings down the road. You can render something till the end of the time, but if it didn’t start well it’s likely not going to finish well.

In this 2 hour, 30 minute video I create 6 different sketches in Photoshop while answering a wide range of audience-contributed questions. From theoretical topics to more technical details, we cover it all.

And you know the best part? It’s free! That’s right, I’m giving this video away. All you have to do is click the button below, share it on Twitter or Facebook, and the download is all yours. I’ve even included the original, high-res file so you can zoom in and check out exactly what I was doing on each of the pieces.

To follow my work or find out when I release more free content, please check out my Facebook page or Twitter profile.

When in doubt, return to the basics

Still life by Noah Bradley

I did a still life this morning on livestream. I hadn’t done a still life in months. Maybe longer. But since I’ve had the nagging feeling lately that my art is getting stale I’ve been looking for ways to push my skills and continue to develop as an artist.

So I went back to the basics. Back to working from life. Back to studying. Not just making pretty pictures, but trying to develop the skills necessary to make pretty pictures. I don’t think an artist can ever get to the point where returning to study the basics is not beneficial. So on top of all of the professional and portfolio work I’m trying to do these days, I’ll be making times for studies, so that the former can become even better. I’ll livestream what I can, so hopefully you’ll join me! I always post on Facebook & Twitter when I’m going to livestream (usually with a little advance notice).

I Hate Your Portfolio

I hate your portfolio. A lot. Your art might be fantastic and make my eyes weep tears of sweet joy, but your online portfolio is making my eyes bleed.

It’s a darn shame just how atrociously bad most artist/illustrator/concept artist portfolios are. Considering we as artists are supposed to have some degree of aesthetic sensibility you might think that our web presences would be at least acceptable. But by and large artists have some of the worst websites I have ever had the misfortune to look at. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that when I want to look at an artist’s work I will skip their portfolio site and go straight to their blog. Why? Because most artists don’t screw up a blog too badly. They’re easy to navigate, they have big images, and there’s less in the way between the art and me.

Now I’m not an art director. And maybe if I was I would be able to look past some of this and try to find the person with the best art, regardless of their website. But every art director I’ve met says how busy they are and how valuable their time is. By having a bad, clumsy, annoying website you are wasting their time. Do you really want to waste the time of the people hiring you?

So if you want to learn how to design a great portfolio (or just want to avoid a terrible one), you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled a few essentials to think about for your online portfolio. Listen to them. Please.

  1. No Flash

    I shouldn’t even need to say this. Just don’t use Flash. I know you think little animations and such are cool, but they’re not. Half decent designers are just snickering when they look at your design, and everybody else is spouting off obscenities when your auto-play music starts. This is without a doubt the best way to get me to close your page.

  2. Simple Navigation

    I know it’s tempting to try something “new” with your design, but that’s not the point of your portfolio. The point is to let people see your artwork as well as possible. Anything that gets in the way of this should be avoided. I bounced between a lot of different designs for my portfolio and finally ended up with what I personally consider to be the best way to view art. We all scroll through dozens (if not hundreds) of web pages everyday, so I made a point of designing a site that only required you to scroll to see my content. I think it’s pretty darn easy.

  3. Easy domain name

    You’ll be verbally explaining your domain name to a lot of people. It should be both easy to say and easy to remember. Keep it short as possible and extremely relevant. Ideally, at least in my book, you should try to get if it’s available. Alternatives are or Just some ideas. Try to keep it simple.

  4. Contact information

    So somebody likes your work. How do they get in touch? Well you should make this step downright seamless. Having your email prominently displayed in several places on your page is a must. It shouldn’t take more than a couple seconds to find your email. Phone numbers are optional. I’ve only talked to a couple clients on the phone so I usually don’t bother including it.

  5. Easy to update

    This is one that nobody but you will probably see. I highly recommend setting up a system, whatever it may be, that lets you quickly and easily update your portfolio. If it’s somewhat difficult and/or time consuming to do so, odds are you’re going to put it off. And if you put it off then your portfolio will very quickly become stagnant. Do yourself a favor and make it easy for you to update when you’ve got new work. My portfolio (and, naturally, my blog) are powered by WordPress. But most blogging systems you can use for a portfolio.

  6. Not too many images

    Yes, I’m sure you have 50 amazing pieces that you need to stick in your portfolio. And it’s the internet, right? There’s plenty of space! So why not? Because it’s annoying, that’s why. Your portfolio is not the place to stick everything you’ve ever done. It’s the place to stick your best, most relevant work. When you’ve only got a few pieces to blow away someone who has never heard of you before, what do you show them? Put those on your website.

  7. Linkable images

    ADs like to be able to easily share links to your images with editors, authors, other ADs, etc. so be sure that however your website is set up they can share a unique url to each and every image on your site. Unless you’re an idiot and don’t want them sharing your work with anyone else.

  8. Large images

    No, you don’t need print-resolution images on your site, but at least give me a reasonable size to look at. If your biggest images look like tiny thumbnails to me… well, frankly I’ll probably look to see if you posted larger images anywhere else on the web. Wouldn’t you prefer I stay on your portfolio?

  9. Your name on the file

    This is one I only started doing this year. I realized that in the past I would save files to my computer and then come back to find I had no clue who the artist was. And when the filename just says “orc.jpg” it’s not a whole lot of help. Sure, there’s reverse image searches if I really wanted to know, but I prefer to save people that hassle (or help people out that don’t know you can search for images that way). So now every file I upload I prefix with my name, aka: “NoahBradley_orc.jpg” It’s not hard, but it’s a little thing that I think is a smart idea. Naming your images well (including titles is a smart idea) will also help out with image search results.

  10. Avoid annoying watermarks

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t sign your work. I am saying that the signature/watermark should not distract from the image. It’s often said that amateurs care about their work being stolen a lot more than professionals, and there’s a fair bit of truth to that. Nobody wants their work stolen, but it’s very, very good for you if people are seeing your work (and hopefully ending up on your portfolio). A discrete name and/or url in the bottom corner should suffice (something I really need to start doing). A giant name blazoned across the center of the image? Amateur.

Follow these simple rules for your portfolio and you’re not guaranteed to have the most amazing portfolio on the planet. But at least I won’t hate it.

Noah’s 2-Step Program to Being an Awesome Professional Artist

So you want to be a professional artist?

I get asked a lot: how do you get work? How do you get your foot in the door? How do you break into the industry? How do you become “professional”? How do I become a concept artist? Or an illustrator?

And you know what? I’ve got the answer. It’s really not complicated at all. In fact, it can be easily broken down into two steps:

  1. Be awesome.

    You need awesome, stellar, technically competent, exquisitely creative, appropriate work. You will not succeed with lousy work (except for the people who do).

  2. Show your work to awesome people.

    Once you’ve got some awesome work then you need to show it to the people who buy, commission, hire, sell, or appreciate it.

That’s it. That’s the “secret” of being successful. You can break each of these down into infinitesimal portions, but this is the big picture. Don’t get lost in minutiae and forget what you’re really shooting for.

How to be an Artist Without Going to Art School

Aspiring artists these days have it pretty darn good. Sure, we can complain about a lousy economy, a highly competitive field, and the loss of several fields of illustrations (thanks in large part to the stock photography/illustration industry). But the fact is that much of the entertainment industry is doing extremely well, the field, while only accepting of high caliber work, is ripe with work, and new fields are opening up for artists to fill. So stop your whining. We’ve got it good in the 21st century.

It astonishes me how many resources artists have at their disposal these days. Yet most of my classmates never took advantage of any of them! Gah! It drives me crazy. Here are some of the great (affordable) resources available for people looking to avoid art school (with all of its good and bad qualities), or those who are in art school and not learning enough.

  1. Books

    Books are cheap, plentiful, and absolutely packed with information. I’ve learned countless things from reading books. If you’re lost on what books to buy, you can start with my list of 10 books every artist must read. The beautiful thing about books is that there are ways to read them without paying for them thanks to these wonderful things known as “libraries.” I know you’ve probably forgotten about them, but look around and see if there’s one nearby. You might be surprised how good their collection of art books is.

  2. Video Tutorials

    I’m a big fan of video tutorials. So much so, in fact, that I made my own. I attribute much of what I know about art from watching videos. They can seem like a lot of money at first, but the value you’ll get out of them is unmatched. It’s like getting to look over the shoulder of artists far better than you. Here’s a few great places to start with. There are bajillions out there, but these are high quality ones:

    Gnomon Workshop – Huge array of subject matter available. Drawing, painting, sculpting, 3d modeling—you name it, they’ve got it. Be sure to check out their color theory dvds. I learned a lot from them. Oh, and you might get lucky and find some of these in a well-stocked library.

    The Art Department – Previously offered through Massive Black, they’ve got a great selection of videos for the concept art & genre illustration folks (with a few other topics scattered about). I’ve been a long time member of, so I’ve always enjoyed supporting them.

    Glenn Vilppu – This guy is probably one of the best living figure drawing instructors. And to our great benefit, he’s put out a series of videos! I haven’t had the chance to watch them all, but what I have seen have been fantastic. This man knows his stuff. Odds are he’s a lot better than the figure instructor you would get if you went to art school. Trust me, I had my fair share of… “special” figure drawing instructors.

    As I said, there are tons of good ones out there, so feel free to share in the comment section.

  3. Online classes & workshops

    Sometimes we want classes—there’s something about one-on-one interaction and assignments that seems natural when you want to learn. And now there are sites that you can go to for online classes with some incredibly good artists. The first that comes to mind is CG Master Workshops. They offer both workshops (more in the vein of video tutorials) as well as master classes, which are 8-week courses taught by industry pros on their unique specialties. I’m planning to try one out when I get a chance.

  4. Conventions

    If you’re not going to art school then you’re missing out on some important networking potential. It’s very easy to be trapped in your room working on learning your art, completely forgetting that you need to also get out there and meet some people! The art world is fairly social and getting to know the other people working in the industry can greatly help your own career. Illuxcon, PAX, and Gen Con are a few to look at.

  5. Forums

    In the art school environment you’re constantly surrounded by your peers. People share advice, chat about artists, and hurl insults/critiques towards other’s work. But locked in your cave you can easily miss out on this. So if you’re looking for some input on your work or just want to chit-chat about art with other fairly serious artists, then check out some of the great forums out there., CGHub, and CGTalk are three of the big ones. I’ve got accounts on all three, but I’m mainly active on

  6. Blogs

    Yes, you’re reading a blog now. But believe it or not my blog is not (gasp) the only one out there that focuses on art and being an artist. Using Google Reader (to keep some semblance of sanity) I follow hundreds of blogs. Many of these are artist’s blogs that pretty much only post pretty pictures. But a few post more in-depth content. Three blogs that every artist should read:

    Gurney Journey – James Gurney is the man. He also is very good at writing about art and sharing his vast wisdom on the subject. So good, in fact, that he wrote a couple books on the subject that you should totally buy.

    Muddy Colors – This is a group blog of some of the top names in the industry. The topics range from business to technique to theory. It’s somewhat new, but it’s already proven itself as an invaluable resource for aspiring artists.

    ArtOrder – Jon Schindehette, AD over at WotC, runs ArtOrder in his spare time. It’s packed with good articles already, and also hosts regular challenges. They’re not only fun challenges, but also great tools to get exposure. Anyone wanting to work on D&D or Magic should lurk around this place.

  7. Museums & Galleries

    One nice thing about going to art school is you’re forcibly exposed to lots of art. If you’re not in that environment, you need to make an extra effort to get that exposure on your own. Find local galleries and check out the work, and make trips to museums on a regular basis to stare at the work (or even do studies of it). Non-art museums are great too. Natural history museums can be hugely inspiring places.

  8. Life Drawing

    Draw, draw, draw! Nothing beats drawing from life, and nothing will hone your skills like drawing the human figure. It’s fun, challenging, and I’d even say downright necessary. Find a local group and go regularly. Once a week is fine, but more would be better. If there aren’t any around where you live, then set up a space, hire a model, and advertise it online. Odds are there will be other artists who want to come and draw with you.

  9. Workshops

    At the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like training under amazing artists. There are tons of workshops you can travel to and get an extensive education in a short time. Some great places to check out are Watt’s Atelier, LAAFA, and the Concept Design Academy. It’s a bit of a time & money investment, but entirely worth it. I’m considering attending the Illustration Master Class next time around. It’s a week long intensive course with some of the biggest names in the industry acting as your instructors. Everyone I’ve talked to that has gone in the past has said that they’ve learned more in a week than they learned during their four years in art school.

Just because you’re not going to an art school doesn’t mean that your education is lacking! If you have the devotion and the willingness to put some money towards your education, then learning art is very, very feasible. In fact, I’d say there has never been a better time to learn.

8 Great Anatomy Books for Artists

I already shared with y’all my list of 10 must have books for artists. Those are a great set of books to start with, but sometimes you’ll want some books to help hone your skills in a particular area. One of the most troublesome and complicated subjects for artists is anatomy. The human figure is immensely complex and intricate—and the worst thing is that anyone, artist or not, can tell if you draw their nose too big.

  1. Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life

    The great Frank Frazetta attributes much of his figurative prowess to Bridgman. If it’s good enough for him, it’s definitely good enough for me. This book is actually a compilation of many different books. If you’d like, you can purchase each book individually, but there are a few. I can’t tell you which one is better, but I can tell you that I’m planning to purchase the books separately now (partly because my copy of the compilation is falling apart).

  2. Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth

    I already talked about this one on my other list, but it deserves to be here too. Oh, and don’t just look at the pretty pictures. Read the text. It’s chock full of good stuff.

  3. Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist

    In my opinion one of the best reference books. Keep this book around when you can’t remember where a particular muscles inserts. Odds are you’ll find yourself referring back to this book time and time again.

  4. Artistic Anatomy

    Definitely one of the classic anatomy texts. Another reference book that you’ll doubtless use till it wears out.

  5. Anatomy Lessons From the Great Masters

    Robert Beverly Hale was one of the best anatomy teachers of the 20th century and—fortunately for us—he wrote a few books on the subject. This book teaches anatomy by examining a number of master drawings. Great book to see how anatomical knowledge can be applied.

  6. An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for the Artist

    Animals have anatomy too! As an artist it’s worth putting some time into learning to draw animals (though it’s a subject I’m sorely lacking in). This is a cheap book and probably the best book on animal anatomy you can find.

  7. Figure Drawing: Design and Invention

    The newest book on this list, Michael Hampton’s figure drawing book is fantastic for anyone looking to construct their own figures from imagination. His constructive techniques are incredibly useful and certainly worth the price of this book.

  8. Anatomy for the Artist

    This big, coffee-table size book has some truly beautiful photography of the human figure. It does an excellent job of showing off human anatomy through transparent overlays. Check it out and gawk at the pretty pictures.

  9. And coming soon…

    A translation of Gottfried Bammes’s classic text on figure drawing is coming out in October. I don’t believe it’s the entire book, but any of it should be great material. Especially for those of us who can’t read German. Furthermore, another of the great Andrew Loomis books is being republished about the same time as Bammes is released: Drawing the Head & Hands.

7 Things I Hated About Art School

Now that you’ve heard about the things I loved about art school, it’s time for a dose of dark, depressing cynicism. The butterflies and good feelings are gone. Here’s some of the ugly, honest dirt on art school.

  1. Money

    Art school ain’t cheap. And when I say it’s not cheap, I mean to say that it’s bloody expensive. Insanely, stupidly, ridiculously expensive. Attending a big name art school (with no scholarships) for the full four years of your college education will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000. Sweet Lord. Those sort of student loans are reasonable for someone like a doctor or a lawyer, but an artist? Come on. I don’t mean to be overly pessimistic about the field I’m in, but I think it’s perfectly fair to say that the vast majority of people attending art school will not be making doctor/lawyer sort of money. I think most of us would be pleased with better-than-flipping-burgers money.

    I had a scholarship during my time at RISD, but it only covered part of my expenses. Even though I was only there a year I’m left with a sizable amount of loans I need to figure a way to pay off. That was actually one of the main reasons I transferred to VCU. It’s a public university and I got in-state tuition. Good deal. Oh, and Providence is too darn cold.

  2. Academia

    There’s an amazing amount of bureaucratic bloat, pointless requirements, and tedious paperwork that comes with a university environment. And none of that junk has anything to do with making art. In fact, it has everything to do with getting in the way of making art.

  3. Facilities

    I was majoring in Illustration when I was up at RISD. The building was falling apart. It did have studios that students could use, but it was amazingly trashy. I’m pretty sure it’s also a rule among art schools that there cannot be more than one reasonably functional easel in each room. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the painting department hadn’t had such phenomenal areas to work in… while they painted large scale examples of how bad painting can be. When I transferred to VCU things didn’t get much better. Sure, it was cleaner, but in our department the studios were closed. As in, outside of class, you couldn’t use them. They’re theory, I think, was that students would dirty up their precious studios. My theory? It’s a friggin’ art school and you should leave them open. Grr.

  4. Instructors

    I have had instructors who were clueless. Some who didn’t care. Some who gave terrible information. Some who were—and I don’t say this lightly—bad human beings. And yet, you have to deal with them. Even when you watch a professor start to lose his mind over the course of the year (my classmates will have little doubt who this is), you’ve still gotta stick with it. You could change classes, but for the most part you’re stuck. Learning from a lousy professor is worse than learning on your own. Because then you only have to deal with your own stupidity.

  5. Wasted Time

    I can’t count the number of hours that I spent sitting in classes that would have absolutely not relevance whatsoever to my future profession. None. Yet there I sat, going with the flow of college life, taking the classes I had to take. A huge advantage of studying on your own (or an atelier program) is that you can cut this fat out. You can stay diversified without slogging through uninteresting drivel.

  6. Assignments

    There was a drawing class I took where we were assigned—as an extensive, 8-week final project—to make a bag. That was a drawing class.

    That is all.

  7. Peers

    Sure, there are a few gems in art school. That’s how the big name schools win their awards—they attract a few exceptionally good artists. But you know what? The rest of the school is mostly mediocre students that don’t care that much and who will very likely never make it as artists. There, I said it. Most of the people you’re surrounded by might do just fine in school turning in their B-grade work, but they won’t work as artists. It’s sad, but it’s true.

But remember, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are some things to love about art school.

7 Things I Loved About Art School

I graduated from art school a month ago. It was quite a ride, spanning several schools (RISD & VCU, most notably) and more years than I’d care to mention. But it’s finally over. All of the homework is done, all of the critiques are wrapped up. The paintings are all painted, the drawings drawn. The pseudo-intellectual art history papers written, the sloppy collages all glued down. The charcoal washed off of everything, the paint tubes empty.

Art school is over.

Now that I have a bit of time to reflect, I thought I’d muse on some of the things I loved about going to art school. And after you read all of the good things, be sure to balance it out with all of the bad things about art school.

  1. Academia

    I like school. I know in most social circles that’s a bit of a weird thing to say, but I genuinely do. I get a kick out of going to class, doing assignments, taking tests, getting grades. It’s always been a fun sort of game for me. So going to art school… well that’s just great. I get the enjoyment of academia coupled with studying art—a subject I deeply love.

  2. Resources

    RISD was exceptional about this (VCU much less so). RISD had an amazingly beautiful and well stocked library, their own world-class museum, the nature lab (containing all sorts of weird specimens and bones to draw), and a steady stream of guest speakers coming in. While these sort of things you can get outside of a college environment, a good art school will provide you with resources that it’s difficult to acquire elsewhere. I can’t say nearly as much for VCU’s resources, though. The library, though somewhat well stocked, was butt ugly and painful to be in (seriously, it looks like a prison, inside and out). No guest speakers came while I was there. They don’t have a museum, but thankfully the VMFA is right down the street.

  3. Instructors

    I have been blessed with some wonderful instructors during my time. I’m planning a post to highlight some of these personal heroes of mine soon so I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that these individuals helped to make me the artist I am today. Nothing can replace the countless hours it takes to be an artist, but a good instructor will make it much, much easier to get there. I’d encourage any current students to do their darnedest to seek out a highly skilled artist & instructor who they can connect with and learn everything you can from them. Seriously. Sap them of everything they know. Steal their secrets. Whatever it takes. In the end, they’ll be glad you did after you become a successful artist yourself.

  4. Focus

    Going to art school can aid tremendously in keeping you focused on art. I know I’ve experienced it (much the same as many of you, I’m sure), when you’re at home and hardly can seem to get anything done. There are too many distractions, errands, chores, video games, friends, and hobbies that keep you from what you need to do. Going to school for art (all the more so if you’re footing the bill) can serve as a constant reminder of what you should be working on.

  5. Deadlines

    As much as artists love to complain about deadlines, deadlines are our friends. Deadlines will kick your butt and get you in line. Having set deadlines will force you to learn to manage your time, behave professionally, and, most importantly, work a lot. The whole point of art school is to learn about art (which, as we’ve discussed, has everything to do with working), so anything that forces you to work is a good thing in my book. Learn to embrace deadlines—because if you actually make it as an artist you’re going to have a whole lot more of them.

  6. Diversity

    It’s easy to get comfortable in your own little groove. Naturalistic painters like to hang out with their kind, abstract with their kind. In art school you’re thrown into a mixing pot of different styles, tastes, professions, majors, and ideas. This stew of artistic diversity is a wonderful thing for budding artists. I’ve mentioned it before, but the one sculpture class I took was easily the best thing I’ve ever done for my drawing skills. I branched out from my major and tried something completely unrelated to what I wanted to do—and I’m eternally grateful that I did (it was also one of the best classes I’ve ever taken). The diversity doesn’t stop at the classes you take, but also the people you’re surrounded by.

  7. Peers

    Art school is full of like-minded people with the same goal—to study art. They all love it in their own way, and the energy of being surrounded by so many aspiring artists is nothing short of exhilarating. You’ll finally be around people who can carry on a conversation about color theory with you (a task often undertaken while intoxicated). Beyond school, though, it’s somewhat likely that the people you’re around will also be your peers when you enter the professional world. By the time you graduate you’ll probably have a large network of good friends who might help you down the road (or who you can help).

Looking back at it all, I feel a bit nostalgic. But before you think it’s all flowers and sunshine, then check out my post of things I hated about art school where I’ll be shedding some light on the darker side of things.

Stop Whining, Start Working

I hear it all the time:

Am I talented enough? How much should I draw? Am I studying right? What’s the best way to use XYZ book? Art school or no art school? Do I need a degree? How will I know when I’m professional? What should I draw? Should I do more studies or finished work? What are the best materials? What kind of paint should I use? What pencil should I use? Are pencils or pens better to draw with? Should I draw big or small? Is it bad to draw from photos? Should I paint digitally or traditionally? Am I too old to start learning? Is Photoshop or Painter better? What’s the best way to hold a pencil? Where should I find inspiration? What do I do if I’m not inspired? How do I get through “artist’s block”? How long will it take to be a professional? Why does it feel like I’m not improving? Should I get a Moleskine? Is art dead? What is art? How do I do backgrounds? What are the best tutorials? What resolution should I work at? How do I come up with good ideas? What do I do if I stop enjoying art?

Well, I have the answer to all of your questions: it doesn’t matter. Really. It doesn’t. These questions are excuses, plain and simple. They are used by people who aren’t drawing or painting that want to get wrapped up in petty minutiae at the expense of their own work.

The fact is that if you want to make art, then you need to make art. I could answer every single question on this list and it wouldn’t make you the slightest bit better at drawing.

Now, I should qualify these statements before people start chucking rocks: these are mostly valid questions, with equally valid answers. They’re worth discussing at times, and are things that you’ll eventually figure out. But by and large, you’ll figure them all out for yourself by working. Notice a pattern here? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and research things, but be sure you’re not doing it at the expense of actually learning things.

So shut up, stop whining, and get to work.

10 Books Every Artist Must Read

I love reading books on art. Not just the kind with pretty pictures, either. But the kind with words. It baffles me how few of my classes during art school actually had required texts. Thankfully I was lucky enough to stumble into the world of art books on my own, and I believe I’m a better artist for it.

Here are ten books that I sincerely believe every artist out there should purchase and read—at least once.

  1. Art & Fear

    If you’ve ever started to have thoughts in your head about “am I talented enough?” or “why do I bother making art?” then you need to read this book. You also need to read this book if you haven’t had those thoughts yet. It’s a quick read and very enjoyable. I don’t think any book will get you back to your easel faster than this one.

  2. The Art Spirit

    Sometimes I read too many books on technique, so I like to balance it out with some theory and emotion. Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit is a classic. You won’t find out the “best way to draw anime” in this book, but you might just discover why you’re making art in the first place.

  3. How Pictures Work

    It’s small, simple, and entirely profound. In my opinion the single best book on composition available. The illustrations are all made with cut paper, so all frills are left aside, leaving only pure design and composition. Molly Bang uses a number of comparison pictures to show you how design actually works. You can probably sit down and read it in one go, but you’ll find yourself returning to it time and time again.

  4. Imaginative Realism

    Though this might, at first glance, seem to lean heavily towards the genre illustrators in our midst, this book is great for artists of all types. James Gurney is a phenomenal painter and an equally fantastic teacher. He writes clearly and to the point. No matter what sort of art you want to do, I think you’ll find something pertinent in here.

  5. Color and Light

    This is James Gurney’s second book, and it’s easily as good as the first. I’ve done quite a lot of searching for good books on color and light and didn’t find anything useful enough to recommend… until this. James Gurney has done extensive research into how light and color work in the real world and how it applies to art. He balances the scientific understanding with artistic flare in the most eloquent way possible. And while I’m on the subject let me recommend these two DVDs put out by Gnomon: The Mechanics of Color and Practical Light and Color. Both helped me enormously when it came to learning color theory.

  6. Hawthorne on Painting

    Short & sweet. A small bite-sized book with tons of little nuggets of wisdom. It can be a little off-putting in its format (mostly transcribed critiques of images, but without the images), but it’s worth it. Some people also find it a little wishy-washy and not solidly academic enough, but I find it completely refreshing and hopeful. I don’t think any other book has been able to instill quite the passion for painting that this book exudes.

  7. Alla Prima

    Written by one of the most influential living artists, Alla Prima is an essential tome of observational painting. Richard Schmid can, at times, come across as all-knowing to some people, but he does so with a fair bit of justification. His own skills at painting are incredible and he does a remarkably good job at putting everything into words. It’s the priciest book on this list, but it’s worth every penny.

  8. Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

    It can feel a little dated at times—like when Harold Speed talks about the “new brush” known as a “filbert”—but it’s a timeless book. Anyone starting out painting and looking for guidance should pick this up. The more advanced readers can find some equally useful techniques as well.

  9. The Practice and Science of Drawing

    Also written by Harold Speed, this is a classic drawing book. It covers design as well, but all through the lens of drawing. Since drawing is the basis for all that we artists do, it makes sense to do a little reading on the subject.

  10. Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth

    I could put every book Andrew Loomis wrote on this list, but sadly they’re all out of print (and consequently obscenely expensive). This one, however, was recently republished and is easily and cheaply available. There were PDF’s going around for a while of all of his books, but since they’re being republished I question the legality of them now. All that said, this is a figure drawing book for the ages.

And there we have it. For a total of just over $160 you have an extraordinary art curriculum that I would dare suggest is better than you can find at most art schools. These are all books that I have come back to time and time again. As my skills improve and I read them again I discover all new gems contained within them.

Do your art a favor and read any of these you haven’t already.

Looking for more good books? Then check out my list of 8 great anatomy books for artists.

And now check out my follow up, 10 Books Every Artist Must Read (that have nothing to do with making art).

all posts

6Review of the Yiynova MSP19U tablet monitor
1It’s just piracy

2Start often, finish well
14Do one thing
9How to Start a Painting

8When in doubt, return to the basics
25I Hate Your Portfolio
24Noah’s 2-Step Program to Being an Awesome Professional Artist
15How to be an Artist Without Going to Art School
308 Great Anatomy Books for Artists
287 Things I Hated About Art School
277 Things I Loved About Art School
23Stop Whining, Start Working
1510 Books Every Artist Must Read