Starting a personal project that stretches you, makes you feel vulnerable, that you work on often and that you share publicly will you put you in the optimal situation to learn and grow as an artist.
Here's some unedited notes:
Higher order thinking is dependent on foundational knowledge (people who have memorized lots of math, can do higher levels of math) The more you recall a memory of an event and tell that story, the more surrounding information is remembered. The more we do this in our lives, the more important those things that we constantly recall into working memory become.
Our brains put importance on things that are recalled more frequently and each time we recall them, we improve our ability to access them in both speed and depth. We are literally carving out deeper and faster paths to the skills, knowledge and memories that we recall often.
Two aspects of this come into play:
- spacing the learning over time
- retrieval practice
Rich Connection Network
When we first start out learning, we have little or no connection network. As we learn and internalize many new concepts, we begin to associate new connections between previously unrelated ideas. The greater your mental connection network is on a subject, the faster you'll be able to add to it and the better you'll be able to recall and use it. Experts call this a "Rich connection network"
It seems that the best learning happens when we SEEK out knowledge ourselves. The main driver of seeking tends to be curiosity. This is why you hear so many artists and writers talk about the importance of being curious about things. They may not know the neurological benefits or the science of learning, but they've recognized that being curious is key trait to those that create. Curiosity can be peaked at the intersection of problems, questions and challenges. This is the best state of for optimal learning.
One note on understanding and retention: knowing and being able to articulate "the why" of things increases your ability to access skills and knowledge for a number of reasons, the most obvious is that it enriches your connection network because the why often relates the previously unrelated.
Say it loud
One of the best ways to solidify and understand the why of something is reason it out loud to someone else I have suggested for years that the best way to improve your art is to take on a side hustle.
This should have three main components:
- it should be slightly outside your comfort zone
- you should spend multiple days a week doing it
- you should share your work publicly and often.
Interestingly enough, this seems to be the formula for the best learning. If you start a project, you will trigger the necessary ingredients to engage your creativity, thus causing you to seek out knowledge and skills to solve the daily problems that your project presents.
Spread it out, avoid cramming
If you spread out the production of this work and it becomes part of your routine, then you'll avoid the downsides of cramming and gain the benefits of a rich connection network of ideas and skills causing you to be able to more quickly recall and learn. Then, in sharing your progress out loud in a public setting, you'll solidify the reasoning that you went through during the process, thus carving a deeper groove in your brain for that activity.
In other words...
if I start a comic and come up against the problem of rendering the human figure, then I'll seek out the solution to that problem, study and practice to get better at rendering people and eventually start to have a foundational understanding of the working parts and how they interact. With this foundation, I'll begin to notice more and more detail and expand on what I already know. All the while I'm recalling all of this often as I draw more panels and pages, increasing the importance of that stuff to my brain which causes greater connections and further increases my ability to learn more and expand my rich connection network on the human form. Then as I explain my progress and process publicly on my vlog, I'll begin to verbalize and articulate why all these things work together thus further solidifying the information in my long term memory and increasing the number of connections in my networks causing an increased ability to recall those things quickly and fully when I need them.