Here’s a story most of us can relate to: I dug up some art I made some years ago. I remember not hating it at the time. But I look at it now and want to set it on fire. I wonder why I kept it in the first place.
And here’s something easy to forget: If I then picked up some art I made six months after that piece, I would probably feel the same way.
So the question is, was I improving at all for those six months?
Assuming I was actively working on my art (I was), then yes. I was improving. I was learning and internalizing new patterns and workflows. Things were gestating—things which eventually would be unconsciously exercised and applied, to the benefit of my art.
But damned if I knew that at the time.
Art is an investment. Just as you won’t do yourself any favors checking stock movements every single day, you’re not going to see major leaps in your art from one day to the next.
I’m talking about fundamental ability, of course. Occasionally we have happy accidents, or the stars miraculously align and you create something unusually amazing. Now try to do it again. Not as happy.
This may sound like an obvious or simple truth; that you’re not going to have any trouble wrapping your head around it. Sure, but it’s a reality that needs to be internalized. It needs to be muscle memory. Drill it, drill it, drill it. Then, the next time you take a step back to take a frustrated look at your piece, or run into the same problem you were struggling with a week ago, you don’t have to remind yourself. You already know. You sidestep that frustration, which really just eats away at your time and progress anyway.
So when your portrait or animal study comes out looking like some Darwinian nightmare, take a breath and be ok with it. For every one pretty piece you pump out, there should be at least a hundred “kill-it-with-fire” pieces. Keep pushing, and don’t judge by the day-to-day. As long as you’re working smart and put in the time, you’ll see your work advance.
Art is a long game.