Saturday, July 7, 2012

The best way to learn something

Now that's a topic that's hard to properly summarize in one blog post.

A few years ago I decided that in order to become are more well-rounded person I'd make an honest effort to learn skills that I was bad at, and which I was insecure about. Having been a computer science stereotype for a long time I realized that my social skills were sub-par, and that I'd be a happier person if I ditched World of Warcraft and got some new hobbies.

At that point I made a short list of things that needed work; my physique, my very limited cooking skills, fear of dancing, and fear of singing.

Using the forums I ventured into the then very new section on exercise and fashion - two activities I'd put very far down on my priority list previously. The good thing about those forums is that you often get advice that works, without the fluff you find just about anywhere else. The next couple of years were spent at the gym, at home eating and researching just about any topic related to exercise (including many, many journals). I would set up elaborate spreadsheets tracking statistics related to the main exercises I wanted to improve in (squat, deadlift, benchpress, military press, etc), as well as measurements of the chest, arm, forearm, neck, calf, waist and so on.

The result were quick. I got bigger, stronger and more confident quickly, and while some injuries forced me to stop for a long time the knowledge remains. Lessons learned? taking the nerdy, obsessive approach can be a great source of motivation - not for everyone, but for me it was. Second lesson was that joining a community of like-minded is also important.

The next example is cooking. Before becoming a food nerd I would eat the kind of crap you would expect a junior in college to eat, but one day I started missing homemade bread. I had observed my mom making it on many occasions, and figured it couldn't be that hard. A phone call and a few hours later and my first loaf of bread was done. But how about sweet buns, cinnamon rolls, or making a homemade pizza? Suddenly I had another spreadsheet full of dishes I wanted to make. Having been heavily into photography I also realized that I could combine the hobbies by making things that not only taste good, but also look good.

I started posting photos on and later also on (which has many more recent photos)

During this time I got to thinking, how are chefs taught in school? What are the fundamental skills that they spend time perfecting? How can I learn these skills without going back to high-school? Once again books helped to form a picture of what I needed, as well as online courseware for culinary schools. And while I'm certainly no professional chef now I have a very well-rounded knowledge of ingredients, knife skills, and the cuisine in France, Italy and the US in particular.

Lesson learned? Figure out how professionals are trained, and emulate the process, having people teach if possible.

I could tell a similar story about learning to play instruments, but I will skip to the lesson learned, which is simply that for some skills there are no other way to learn them than by putting in lots, and lots, and lots of hours. Teachers provide many shortcuts, and that's what I do for my students, but unless you're born with a gift you're in for plenty of time "in the shed".

It's very rare for someone like Jimmy Rosenberg to come along, but he's the exception.

So finally, this brings me to drawing. If you've been paying a little bit of attention to my previous posts then you may've seen that I've been getting quite a few books from the library. Many of these are done by very talented artists, but what many of them have in common is the lack of depth. They touch on many subjects, and I've clearly learned a lot by reading them, but at least for me I'm left wanting more, and not knowing exactly what's missing compared to some kind of art school.

Considering the rate at which I'm progressing I think I'm on the right track, but there has to be basics that I'm not getting, as well as the lack of constructive criticism.

Therefore, my current plan as of 15:00 on July 7th is:
  • To finish up the instructional books I've got.
  • To study the great masters more in-depth, and try to pick up some of their techniques.
  • To draw more people in real-life.
  • To find people who are better than me online ( and offline and soak up as much as I can.
  • And finally, to consider Glenn Vilppu's courses on drawing, which seem to be considered the best.
But for now I've got a drawing to get started on, oh and maybe eat something.

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