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#12 - Should A Modern Artist Be A Jack Of All Trades And Master Of None?

Warm-Up Drawing Exercises

some of my sketchbook pages
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There’s an exciting thing happening nowadays, and it started around ten years ago. With online publishing in blogs, newsletters, and on YouTube and such, people could suddenly market themselves. They could put their work out there and present it to their audience without going through a middle man.

This was great! But in the beginning, people weren’t very good at it. Cameras and audio recordings were suddenly available to everyone. They could self-publish books through print-on-demand and digital sales, but that just meant it opened the floodgates. Many people could suddenly do these things without having been trained to do so.

Then came a tsunami of online tutorials, online courses, and videos explaining how to do things. And ten years later, we are at a fantastic place where “amateurs” are putting out professional-looking work.

There is a problem with it, though.

This implies that you have to put on many hats!Yes, you can make your comic. You can write it, thumbnail it, create character designs, pencil the pages, ink them, color them, design the final book, design the book cover—an entirely different thing altogether—have it printed, do the marketing online, ship the books.

Want to market yourself on YouTube? Now you have to learn to script a video, to do lighting, how to control a camera, how to record audio well, how to edit audio, how to edit video, how to do search engine optimization, how to design a thumbnail.

And if you’re a business, you need to do the bookkeeping, file taxes, et cetera.

The thing is that each of these activities mentioned here is a specialism in itself, and one that used to be done by one person who was specialized in that specific thing.

We can’t get through the gatekeepers at the publishing houses, so we are forced to do these things ourselves, but in a way, it is a step back.


During industrialization, we learned that if people specialized, they could become more productive at that one thing they specialized in. What we’re doing right now is taking a step back from that. One person is doing everything themselves again.

I’ve taken a step back to look at what I want to do, which is just to draw. I enjoy writing essays like this one, so I am combining my writings and my drawings and turning them into newsletter and blog posts—or rather a newsletter archive, and I am filming myself drawing the illustrations. At the same time, I talk about the topic of the essay.

Just draw and write. All the other things—my newsletter, blog, YouTube channel—I can almost do on automatic pilot to focus on my drawing and writing.

You do need to be able to do all these other skills a bit, but you don’t need to learn to do them at a professional level. It’s worth far more to show yourself. Your audience will connect with you more easily if they see you as a fellow human being. So learn to do the other things well enough—and frankly, you might discover you enjoy doing these other things also—while you focus on becoming really good at one thing.

My Favorite Drawing Exercises

This week, forget about social media. Get off it even. Focus on the one or two things you want to do, and do them each time you feel the urge to go online.

Make it easy for yourself to do so. For example, if you want to draw, then organize things so that you can more easily get at your drawing tools than your mobile or computer.

Prepare all the material you need to start drawing in advance. Do you need reference images? Put them with your sketchbook. I know it is easy to find reference images online, but try to find offline reference images. Be like an old-school artist for a week! See if it suits you. It’ll do wonders for your mental health to be away from social media.

Seinfeld had this nifty trick: he would sit at his desk, and he didn’t HAVE to write, but he didn’t allow himself to do anything else. You can try that too.

We don’t give ourselves enough time to be bored these days. It is essential to be alone with your thoughts instead of feeding your brain with a steady feed of the equivalent of fast food for the brain. You CAN read a book. Books can be inspiring. When I look through a book with beautiful imagery, I feel the urge to start drawing. When I read a book about writing, I feel the urge to start writing. A visit to a museum can be very inspiring. You are allowed to use offline tools to inspire you for sure.

Or prepare some prompts or go outside and draw from observation, or just draw. Focus on the one thing you want to specialize in and try to remove modern-day distractions.

Hi Friend!
As mentioned, I took a hiatus from making YouTube videos last week.

Each week, I can make two or three of YouTube videos, and I can enthusiastically keep that up for a week or two, three, but then I start to feel burned out from the process, and I need to start doing other things.

If you have a routine where you try to post on Instagram every day, then I am sure you know the feeling.

cartoon poking fun at the all work no play cliche and that managing a social media account would be work

I find myself returning to just having fun drawing cartoons. I don’t share those here—as I also don’t share my sketchbook pages—but maybe I should. They are an integral part of my process. I need to take breaks sometimes, but they can be creative breaks, which is especially important in this day and age where social media try to make you run as fast as you can on their treadmill.

Amy Kurzweil has this great cartooning course on Patreon. I’ve watched a few of her videos now, and they are great! The main thing that struck me about them is that, yes, they are exercises, but she’s just trying to get us to have fun with it!

Think about it: have you ever seen a child burn out because they played too much?

cartoon that makes you think about the fact that you would never burn out from just playing

The trick is to open a sketchbook, write down the date, and just start writing and drawing. Just follow a train of thought and playfully riff off ideas. See if you can push the idea further, or if you can find the opposite, or if you can combine ideas in surprising ways. It’s just pure unadulterated play, and I find that ideas eventually just start pouring out of me if I do this.

It’s just so liberating to fill sketchbook pages you don’t intend to show to anyone. Because sometimes, social media does feel too much like work, doesn’t it?



In this article, I go into why I am on YouTube.

I also have an article here on trying to be like a child again when creating art.

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