Learning to draw or paint digitally can feel like an extremely serious matter. Especially if you plan to be a professional, the task of learning can feel a lot like work. Unexpectedly, though, we often learn more easily though play. In this post I'll talk a bit about play, and how it might relieve some of the stress of learning to paint.
Games & Learning
You've probably heard parallels drawn between organized sports and learning to hunt. In cultures that needed to hunt for survival, those skills were often taught to children in the guise of sports and games. In this way children spent the necessary hours honing technical motor skills - but did it because they were having fun. The hunting analogy doesn't hold up quite as directly for artwork, but the mental state is an important one. Telling a child "learn to throw a ball so you don't starve" is a lot different than "learn to throw this ball because it's a fun challenge".
"Getting better" is not inherently fun. I'd argue, however, that having fun actually increases your chances at getting better. Like children mastering motor sports through athletics, learning is simply easier when you're having a good time. For children, art is automatically fun. At some point we lose this natural carefree attitude, and drawing risks becoming a means to an end. What is lost, in my opinion, is a willingness to take risks. The fear of failure can prevent us from cutting loose and enjoying the process. As an learning artist, you'll need to actively seek out the fun and experimental state that children find so naturally.
Sketchbooks are a great way to lower your personal expectations, reduce the fear, and have fun with drawing. Make a habit of carrying one of these little books around with you, and you'll be amazed how easy it is to draw every day. Sketchbooks are inherently fun because no one will care about the result. They're for you and you alone, so why not go nuts?
Experimenting with new tools
Any time I learn a new technique, tool, or command, I like to play around with it. If I'm using Photoshop, I'll open a new document and experiment wildly -- not pursuing a specific end result. My only goal is to try the new technique from all angles. Working this way is more 'sandbox' and less 'blueprint.' New tools are often unpredictable - so poking and prodding them is extremely important. When you eliminate the need to produce something beautiful, you'll have a much easier time digging into the unexplored territory.
Pick a time to play
If you're learning something new, I encourage you to take dedicated time to play with it. Maybe it's a 15 minute warm-up, or maybe it's an hour on the weekend. No matter what form it takes, make sure that you're not secretly hoping to create something beautiful. During play time, the goal is discovery. That's it. Have fun with it!