Become better by observing other artists in action. ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ This newsletter is about drawing. It goes out every Friday. Want to draw? Then check out my free workbook!

#107 - STARING At Your Favorite Artist As A Way To Become A Better Artist

Become better by observing other artists in action.

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In the Golden Age of Illustration, some of the best illustrators in the world would sit next to each other in the same studio and draw.

Eventually, I realized that made them much better at drawing! They could see the art on the others’ boards and be challenged to do as good or better.

They could peek over their shoulders and notice how they did things: how they held the dip pens, how they moved their arm, et cetera. They would have competitions who could draw the longest straight line.

They would challenge and inspire each other to do better.

On a side note, if you are ever in an environment working with others, you should hope that the others are better than you! You get to learn from them by observing how they do things! It is not a zero-sum game: you getting better does not mean someone else getting worse at it. And you will probably inspire others to do better eventually, also.

If you are the best in the room, go to another room.

Nowadays, as artists, we don’t have such rooms. We work alone—no way to peek over other artists’ shoulders.


We have social media! This is a game-changer. We can see some of our favorite artists draw in videos in real time! The timelapse videos are not as useful for this; you need to see the real-time videos. I will provide some examples below.

But now we CAN look over their shoulders! We can see how they do things! And it is incredibly instructive.

Many of my videos are still timelapse because they look cool, but I am looking for ways to make real-time videos interesting to watch for people who are not studying the craft.

Gabriel Rodriguez

I want to begin with Gabriel Rodriguez because that was the first time I learned about this. You can see his real-time videos in his Instagram Reels here.

Observe how he has a very, very light touch and carefully and slowly paints every line with great care. He holds the pen near the nib and always uses the same pen. He draws over an initial sketch done with a mechanical color pencil.

These insights changed how I drew with a fine liner a lot.

Kim Jung Gi

Kim Jung Gi’s team made lots and lots of videos for YouTube. Many of them show his extraordinary draftsmanship; he seemed to be able to draw anything well from his imagination.

Here is one of him drawing with a brush.

And here is one of him drawing with a pen.

You’ll notice that he switched up drawing tools a lot and didn’t use an underdrawing. He did not paint over the line repeatedly as Gabriel Rodriguez does. Instead, he placed the lines seemingly effortlessly at the right spot instantly. He worked in one area, then another, which suggests he had a clear image in his mind of what should end up on the page.

He also sometimes leaned back a bit, looked at the whole, and decided if he needs to make minor alterations to lines.

As you can see, the two artists mentioned above draw very differently. Which is better?

The answer is “yes.”

They are different, but there is no right or wrong.

Just stare at your favorite artists’ drawings. Watch their technique closely, and figure out their thought processes as they draw.

In the books by Daniel Coyle, which I discussed here , he studied how people practiced in the hotbeds that produced world-level talent. In these books, he also mentions that students stared at their role models. Another reason to stare at your favorite artists is that imagining being them can help you understand why they do certain things.

Trying to do things the way they do it, imagining what it feels like, emotionally, to do so, helps you become like them and gets you closer to achieving their level of performance.

This is easier than ever today on the internet, but you do have to find honest sources. Posts where people show the best versions of themselves are not helpful in that respect. Kim Jung Gi’s videos are that. They are almost too honest sometimes. If you watch long enough, you get a peek into his darker sides.

Over To You

List your favorite artists, and try to find ways to see them draw or paint in real-time. Stare at them doing it. Pick it apart. Look at how they do it, how they hold the pen or brush, move their hands and arms, and the speed with which they make marks. Stare at it and see if the way they do things would solve things for you.

Not all of it will be online on social media. I remember a documentary on television where you could see an amazing Dutch artist specializing in Japanese brushwomanship at work. She would prepare a brush for a half hour, getting just the right amount of paint in the right places in the brush and just the right amount of water in other areas in the brush. These were sometimes huge brushes, sometimes pointed, sometimes square-like.

And then, boom! She’d make the mark with one confident stroke.

Talk about preparing each mark!

I now give you permission to watch videos for artistic growth! But only of artists whom you admire. And only real-time drawing or painting. And only if you STARE at it and make notes on what you (think you) see them do.

Try it! You will likely learn a lot!

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