It’s In Your Brains!
Brains are amazing things. Brains are very plastic, meaning they can adapt even after massive trauma, even in adults (though clearly they’re far more flexible in children). They also become more efficient.
When you do a thing, by the nervous system sending signals to your body part. The more you do it, the more this becomes pattern, and the nerve cells develop in such a way to become more efficient at the action. To quote The Art of Manliness, which talks about this in terms of exercise:
“The process by which neurons become more efficient is called myelination. Through regular practice of a movement, a fatty white substance forms a sheath around the axons of nerve cells that allows the nerve impulse to move more quickly.”
The more you do the thing, the more a natural pattern it becomes; your nerve cells can fire faster and you begin the ability to do the skill automatically instead of thinking every stage through.
This is where the old notion 10,000 hours. You will become an expert at something, the notion goes, if you put 10,000 hours into it. The counter-argument is that you’d better make those hours mean something.
Thus, the theory goes, you need to practice right.
What is the “right way” to practice? Exercises that refine your skill, of course. These exercises can get boring and tedious so that is not all that you should be doing or, much like real-world exercise, you’ll burn yourself out and go do something else more fun. We’re good at distraction like that.
You SHOULD do fun drawings that don’t really add anything to your skill.
But the boring work that we all should be doing? The really digging in and figuring out where you are not so good, and repeating the process as you train your brain? That will help you get good. And that is why, even if your skill is so-so now, your practice really is getting somewhere.
The Eyes, Too
Finally, you are training your brain and your hand as well as your eyes. As you improve, you will go through cycles of feeling like you are not so good, and points where you feel awesome. This is because your skill at making art is better than your skill at evaluating art, and these things grow at different points.
Do The Work
Do exercises. Repeat them, refine them, get second opinions or find a way to evaluate your own art (flip it digitally, hold it up to a mirror, turn it upside down!) I’ll be posting various exercises that I myself am going through because I have fallen into the trap as much as anyone of reading a lot, looking at lots of awesome art, and not putting in the time. You will find those exercises on this page.