When I started getting serious about drawing, I decided that wanted to be as good as a Renaissance master. Since I didn't have any talent at all except for being particularly stubborn, I had to start from zero. So a pored over anatomy and art books and did tons of masters studies. I drew thousands of boxes. I studied the biology of the human body down to the cellular level. I read up on biomechanics and the physics of light. I read almost every art history book in the library. I read up about color theory and paint mixing. I downloaded a ton of references. I tried graphite, charcoal, oil paint, sculpting, animation. I read my share of Loomis and other drawing manuals. After half a decade of this I was pretty confident of my skills. But looking back at it, I shake my head. All that pursuit of technical excellence lead to mediocre results.
After a while I asked myself; what exactly do I want to draw? Did I really need to be Michealangelo? I readjusted my expectations and decided that I wanted to draw comics. So I got another stack of books, perspective manuals, 'How to draw manga' books, Scott McCloud, Will Eisner, Robert McKee's 'Story'. I studied panelling. I pulled apart the plots of movies, timed them and kept track of the story beats. I watched plays and short films and took notes about the story arcs. I studied character arcs and motivations. And after all that, I would read a script I wrote or look at a comic draft that I drew, and it was terrible. Too stiff and mechanical. By then almost a decade had passed and I was still less than mediocre. I would just lie in bed, frustrated but too exhausted to continue studying.
Thinking back on it, my main problem was I was totally obsessed with technical skill. Too caught up in the idea that I need to keep trying to level up. Video game thinking. Get the right item, complete the quest, then you will progress to the next level. When I consider all those miserable hours on studies, my own ego was pushing me to try to be extraordinarily technically skilled. And my own ego stopping me from going to more experienced artists and getting advice from them. Trapped by my own ego and naive view of the world, I was running around in circles and wearing myself out.
How did I get out of my rut? I had to go on a trip, so I started a journal to keep track of it. I doodled a lot in it, and that continued after I got back from the trip. It became a habit. Just drawing without planning or thinking so much. I started drawing stuff that I liked. Bad sketches. Scribbled notes. Simple life studies. Simple one page comics that didn't have a plot or story. It was period of dumb and terrible art, but it really got me practicing my inking and my other fundamentals. I didn't need to be a photorealistic master, I didn't have to draw masterpieces. I could just draw honestly. I could draw secret things. I could draw raw things. Nobody was going to see this art anyway, so I could be as cringe and self indulgent as I wanted.
I stopped obssessing about being the best. I just needed to be adequate. I needed the bare minimum to be able to draw things that entertained myself. Learning is repetition, but it doesn't have to be constant boring box drawing. I still do studies and read up on techniques, but I don't obssess about leveling up. Incremental gains build up over time, so as long as I kept constantly trying small risks regularly I could grow as an artist. I didn't need to complete the whole syllabus to draw what I wanted, if there was something I didn't know I look it up. And I would pick up skills as I went. Also I was more mature and self aware, so I could keep an honest mistake log and learn to avoid my worst habits.
I wonder if this is the proper way of thinking (Is there even a right way to think?). Maybe I will look back at this in a decade and think that I'm full of shit for writing this. But I guess it's good to record my mistakes, past and present, as a cautionary tale.