When we practice a skill, an insulator-like substance called myelin thickens around our neural circuitry, which in turn makes us more talented.
The type of practice one engages in is the determinant of how quickly our myelin sheaths thicken around our neural circuits.
Good practice must test us and stretch our abilities right up to the edge of frustration. Talent without the motivation to ceaselessly improve will never lead to mastery.
Leonardo Da Vinci himself and his students used the following sketching techniques repeatedly. They are meant to challenge you and stretch your drawing capabilities.
1. Be a Student of Movement
Because we cannot depict every detail of the world around us, good drawings, one could argue, are simply the result of a series of decisions made by the artist about what to include, and what to leave out.
“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary,” Picasso famously said.
There is no better way of training yourself to eliminate the unnecessary and notice the most important elements of a particular object, than by drawing it while it’s on the move.
Do as Leonardo instructs. Go to a bustling place and make quick notes of the people going about their business. Go to a park and draw the birds or the ripples of a lake. Watch a gymnast or a wrestler on YouTube – without pressing pause. Draw moving objects.
2. Copy From The Master
Leonardo was an assistant artist to Andrea Del Verrocchio for roughly 10 years. It was quite common for assistants to learn their trade by painting small sections of their master’s paintings such as shrubbery or sky and work their way up.
The artist ought first to exercise his hand by copying drawings from the hand of a good master.
And having acquired that practice, under the criticism of his master, he should next practise drawing objects in relief of a good style, following the rules which will presently be given. – Leonardo da Vinci
3. Draw Both The Beautiful And The Ugly
While we now think of Da Vinci’s work as things of divine beauty, a few centuries ago, they were infamous for the exact opposite reason.
In the Victorian era all around Europe, these ‘grotesque’ heads, as they came to be known, were Leonardo’s most reproduced pieces of art.
Da Vinci provides a hint at his reasons for producing these drawings in his notebooks.
The painter should aim at universality, because there is a great want of self-respect in doing one thing well and another badly, as many do who study only the [rules of] measure and proportion in the nude figure and do not seek after variety; for a man may be well proportioned, or he may be fat and short, or tall and thin, or medium.
And a painter who takes no account of these varieties always makes his figures on one pattern so that they might all be taken for brothers; and this is a defect that demands stern reprehension. – Leonardo da Vinci
Draw obese people; slim people; muscular people; landscapes; strange animals; things you are not accustomed to drawing. It will make you better at drawing the things you wish to excel at.
4. Draw The Same Thing From Multiple Angles
Da Vinci, understood that a good artist doesn’t just copy.
A good artist simplifies, deconstructs, reinterprets, and understands his subject matter.
All our eyes see is raw jumbled light. Our brain takes this light and sorts it out into objects with form and texture.
Sketching things from multiple angles makes our brains better interpreters of light.
Children draw what they think something looks like; amateur artists copy what they see; master artists draw what they understand.
Sketch a person from multiple angles. Imagine you need to make a record of how they look but you have no camera at hand. Even though you’re using different viewpoints, there should be a basic likeness between them all.
5. Draw A Story
Leonardo wasn’t just an artist who could shade well and draw clean lines. He placed just as much emphasis on the composition and content of his art as he did it’s technical rendering.
The triangular composition, the eye lines, and the curved centreline which extends into a finger pointing to the heavens, were all carefully chosen by Leonardo to tell a story.
Our minds are natural hallucinators. When we lack external sensory input our brains manufacture their own. This phenomenon can be seen in full effect with the use of sensory deprivation chambers.
For inspiration deprive your mind of interesting stimulation so it comes up with it’s own. Stare at a stained wall, the clouds, into space or close your eyes and let your mind wander. Design a composition with the results of this exercise.