I’ve been practicing calligraphy for the last year. People compliment me on it and tell me that they wish that their handwriting could be as good as mine, but I pick on myself for having trouble writing on a straight line or keeping my letter size consistent. But that’s what I have to practice: the core requirements of the hobby. I don’t think what I’m doing is art; I’m doing a craft. I’m learning letterforms, line width, and physical characteristics of all my various pens and markers so that I can make smart choices about which ones to use.
This might be an obvious thing to write about, but I think that developing core skills is something that gets overlooked more often than you would think. Especially in the creative fields, I believe there is an instinct to drop into a profession and learn how to do one specific job, on the job. While I commend that drive (and will be writing about that in a few weeks), I think not knowing the core of a field ultimately does a disservice by fostering a narrow focus on a set of skills.
The beginning of my college experience was entirely fundamentals classes: ART101, Fundamentals of Drawing, 2D Art, 3D Art, photography, etc and so on. The projects in these classes were boring and uncreative, and that was in fact the point. We were learning how our tools worked and fundamental conventions, like the rule of thirds and color theory. People in fundamental classes might feel their creative skills being insulted but making sure those skills are developed gives the creative person a bigger toolbox and a broader understanding of their field. It provides a larger visual vocabulary to describes solutions to problems they’ll run across later. The idiom “learn the rules so you can break the rules” applies.
While I said that some students feel they have their creative skills insulted, I find that people who are really geeked about craft and fundamentals are often the most successful people because they have more dots to connect. I imagine a person who gets super excited about using a technique that they learned about in a book they were reading in their free time, or, to bounce back to my calligraphy example, knowing that a certain brush lettering I practiced in my free time will be the perfect thing to use for a graphic design project I’m working on.
Fundamentals aren’t art, but you need them to create quality art. My recommendation is just to become obsessed with how your artistic tools and techniques work. Take a few hours this week to just sit down and mess around with your tools without any expectation of being creative or doing work! You’ll be amazed how much it will inform your future projects.