Focused Practice: An Exercise for Real Improvement in 33 days

Simply sitting down and banging out a few gesture drawings every day is a great way to stay in drawing shape, but it will rarely propel you to a new level of artistic achievement. If your goal is to simply “get better,” your progress is likely to be slow and demoralizing.

Studies show that people who get to be top in their field, from artists to computer programmers to Olympians, nearly all engage in focused practice on a regular basis. This means that every time they practice, they have a goal in mind. They don’t say to themselves “Be a better gymnast,” they think instead, “Add an inch to my long jump.” That’s a concrete goal that can be worked toward, and whether or not they are making progress is obvious.

Practice that has a clearly defined goal helps your brain to notice the specific information that you need to help you get to that goal. Without it, your brain will quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities to learn about in any situation. It also helps you stay engaged, motivated and feeling accomplished by giving you a yardstick to measure your progress.

Homework To Assign Yourself

Step 1: Identify what you’d like to be better at, and be specific.

“I want to be a better artist” is far too vague. Pick a specific goal such as “I want to draw better faces.”

Step 2: Try to break this goal down into smaller goals. List them. Notice if one might interfere with the other goals if it isn’t tamed first. Choose the most foundational goal.

My goal to improve my faces has a number of smaller problems I’d like to address:

  1. The accurate placement of features in a face regardless of angle
  2. More lifelike, engaging, beautiful eyes that people fall in love with
  3. Easily changing the expression of a face while remaining recognizable as the same person.

Clearly, #1 will be important for accomplishing both 2 and 3, so I will start with 1.

Step 3: Commit to practicing that aspect of drawing 100 times. Each practice should take a minimum of 5 minutes.
If you set aside 15 minutes of practice time every day, you can get through 3 five minute drawings. At that rate, it will take only 33 and a half days to complete this project.

Keep your brain engaged in thinking about what you want to improve the entire time. Use reference images and really study (while drawing! Keep that pencil moving!) the body part or anatomy you’re focusing on.

You will see dramatic improvement in your area of choice.

Step 4: Start again with a new goal!

Join other students who are working on this piece of self-assigned homework on our forums.

53 thoughts on “Focused Practice: An Exercise for Real Improvement in 33 days

  1. I have only recently discovered this fantastic website and am now trying to commit myself to logging in for one hour every morning. The above article on focused drawing is very helpful as I am guilty of giving little or no thought to my drawings before starting them. Now, before starting every session I shall try to ask myself ‘what do I want from this drawing session today?’ So thanks for the advice.

  2. So I’d been frequently drawing figures and gestures from this site and was IMPRESSED at the sudden revamp! :D
    My goal is to reach 1000 human figure drawings and 1000 animal drawings! (split into 3 groups; birds, reptiles/amphibians, felines/rodents)

    So far I have about 770ish human figures drawn and 180 animal drawings (60 from each group) all done in the course of 2 months!

    The goal was just to get better at grasping anatomy of humans and animals, and I can already say this has helped me a good deal!
    After I reach my goal (which’d probably be within the next 2 weeks) I’ll focus it to something along the lines of backgrounds and environments.

    Looking forward to the hands & feet tool!

  3. Im amazed by the psychology of just learning something lol. Thanks for the thorough explanation. I can really use these tips not just for drawing but for other things as well

  4. I’ve been trying this “Figure Drawing” for about two or three months now. So, my goal is to improve on limbs. You know, the muscles and everything. Thanks for the tip!

  5. As a student practicing figure drawing.. This tool has helped me a lot. I thank the creators of this website for helping me to draw better body parts and draw quicker.
    I hope to see the hands, faces and feet tool very soon. ☺

  6. Pingback: Deliberate or Focused Practice | The Artistry of Margaret Stermer-Cox

  7. Hello,
    Thank you, this website is very super!

    I practice this exercise (50 drawing for now, and i already feels the progress!)
    would you pleased allow me to translate this text in french and share it, in my forum (of course, with a link to your website)?

  8. So ive decided to take this challenge and focus on heads/faces!
    Not sure if i will upload my pictures or not!
    I wonder how this will go!

  9. I can’t believe how generous you folks are – making this valuable information available and creating a wonderful environment for self-educators. I shall definitely be make a donation – although what i am getting from your site is no doubt worth much more. Many thanks and i am looking forward to leaving you some feedback on my progress.

  10. soy nuevo y esta pagina es realmente lo que se necesita para comenzar a practicar verdaderamente el dibujo

    comenzare mi meta :D

  11. Pingback: 100 Figures Project | Elakkiya Srinivasan

  12. OMG! this website is like a GOD teacher.
    God bless you all:the whole team of this website :)
    I have a very keen interest in drawing but the problem is i belong to a very poor family and cannot afford to go to an art coaching. I have an art aptitude test for a government college after 2 months and this site is going to be very helpful for me.
    Just a little request, please do something for object study also, if you can.
    Again God bless you all. :)

  13. Hey this is brilliant, i’ve been trying to teach myself how to improve upon my figure drawing but was overwhelmed by it all and so lost motivation. I personally need goals to strive for but was unable to set myself realistic ones in regards to improvement. So thanks again; will be putting the 33 days of drawing idea into practice.

  14. This is one of the best posts on this site, and it is so so helpful. I hope I address these issues in my work and hope to post it regularly on the forums for critique! I keep coming back to it to keep myself in focus.
    Thank-you so much for giving your advice and knowledge! :)

  15. Really interesting concepts here, and good fuel for thought! I’m another of those artists who has gotten by thus far on intuition and never really stopped to study ‘why’ things work the way they do.
    I’m relatively new to this website, but after just a few days of looking over it I can already tell that this is going to be a fantastic tool for improving my digital and traditional work!

  16. Pingback: Plein Air: Value Studies at Miller Springs | En Plein Air

  17. See if an old dog can learn new tricks…
    Drawing goals Spring-Summer 2014
    A First 20 days
    Figures
    a 15 gesture drawings a day 2 hours
    b 5 contour 20 days
    c Hands 5 + 5 a day/ 20 days 1 ½ hour
    B Next set
    a 5 figure drawings
    b Feet 5 + 5 a day/ 10 days 1 ½
    c Heads and Faces 2 hours
    5 + 5 / 50 days

  18. I having a bit of trouble breaking down my goals.
    I know I need to work on faces, perspective and shading.
    How should I break it down

  19. Thanks!! i’d like also to recommend watching dance choreography video on youtube. Pause at any frame and boom! another gesture to study.. ^_^

  20. Amazing site!!! My weakness is gesture drawing and want to improve it by making a goal of at least 1 hour a day of gesture drawing………………… i’ll post my progress of gesture drawing …….THANK YOU…..

    • If you have an hour, I say go for it!! But remember, small amounts of consistent daily practice are much more powerful than rare long sessions. So if you find that on some days you only have 10 minutes for practice, make sure you don’t let the short time be an excuse and get a few gestures done anyway!

  21. Wow. I gotta say. You know, I was part of that crowd that looks at the need for gesture drawings and goes “eugh, work?” Usually I would just freehand crap and it would be just that. But I buckled down and did a couple class sessions, and wow. Not only did it seriously grow on me, but it’s like knowledge is just trying to all squeeze itself into my head at once! Amazing!

    Don’t know how much to thank you for what you’ve got here! Sometimes enrolling in an actual class just isn’t possible, and what you provide is a stress-free, welcoming place that addresses that problem.

    P.S. Another tip I’d like to throw out there that’s helped me a lot is using pictures of different yoga poses. They can get pretty twisted.
    (They’re not bad to try contorting yourself into either. >_>)

  22. This sounds awesome! I’d definitely try it. Though, would it be possible,to be working on multiple focuses? Like for 33 days, I want to be able to draw pretty faces, a relaxed pose, and more realistic hands and feet. Or should I tackle each focus after the next ?

  23. This sounds like a really good method of practice, I want to use it but I can’t get best the goal aspect. Can someone PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS!

  24. Pingback: 5 Great Tutorial Sites to Kick-Start Your Practic | crowleygraphicsblog

  25. I’ve just found this website and I have to say, it’s one of the best I’ve found for beginning artists. It has such clear, actionable advice. I really appreciate it. Plus the gesture drawing tool is great! Thank you Thank you Thank you!

  26. If my goal is to draw more fluid gesture drawings, would it better to draw the same gesture multiple times or to just draw multiple gestures per session the way most do?

    • I could see both having benefits… In my mind, it matters less which poses you choose to draw, and more that you focus on pushing yourself toward fluidity each time pencil touches paper. Keep your goal in your brain so your brain knows what connections to build!

  27. Just discovered this amazing website. And just the challenge I needed to improve facial features.
    I’m setting out right this instant on improving and practicing eyes, noses, ears and mouths, both in drawing and painting, first b&w, then colour, from all angles.
    Thank you so much

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *