I saw this TED Talk by Josh Kaufman a while back called The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything. The takeaway was basically that it only takes 20 hours to become reasonably good at something. Pick a specific skill you want to be good at. Put 20 hours into it. See what happens.
I did just that over the past week without realizing it. I spent between 20-25hrs on this portrait of Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Take a look.
It’s not an exact mirror of the reference photo I used, and it’s certainly not perfect from an artistic standpoint. But if I do say so myself, it’s pretty good. Not bad for ~20hrs.
For the sake of transparency, I’ve put around 200 total hours into digital art since I got my graphics tablet in August. This was my second vector portrait. You can currently find my first ever vector portrait here. But that first portrait I did of myself was not so much an experiment with vector art or portraits as it was a rushed, “ship it out!” frenzy to change up this site. You can tell too. It’s not very good.
On the other hand, this portrait of Newt was inspired by my love for his character, but driven by my desire to understand vector portraits. I spent 20hrs on it because I wanted to master vector portraits.
And I can say with confidence that if I ever want to do another portrait, I should be able to achieve similar results with around 3-6hrs of work.
So what did I do exactly?
I started this project and learning process the same way I start all my projects and learning experiments: I just dove in. Didn’t read anything. Didn’t ask any questions. Didn’t plan. I just found a reference picture I liked, outlined it, and got started. Here’s what I had after 5hrs.
Go ahead and laugh. Or cringe. Or shake your head in disappointment. Really, I agree, it’s awful. But I wasn’t discouraged for some reason. I just deleted most of it and tried again the next day. Here’s what I got my second try.
This was at the 6hr mark or so. Equally bad. This is when I decided that I just wasn’t “seeing” the picture properly. I decided to look up some other people’s vector portraits to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. I went through a lot of them, especially paying attention to what lines and shapes are important in eyes.
I don’t want to go through the process of properly attributing/asking for permission to use other people’s works to show you what I studied, so just Google image search for “vector portrait” if you’re curious. I analyzed every picture that came up for nearly 3 pages. I noticed two or three major patterns, so I gave my portrait another shot.
Still bad, but getting there, wouldn’t you say? It’s here that I realized that the shapes weren’t as much of the problem as the colors (and their values!). So here’s where the next several hours got me.
And now we’re working with something reasonable. This was the 18hr mark. The last 4 hours give or take I spent tidying it up (mostly adjusting colors). And background shenanigans.
So to sum up, I went from this to this in a little over 20 hours.
Crazy, huh? That’s some major improvement. I went from being TOTALLY inept and incompetent to thoughtfully capable. Not perfect, but capable. The process involved just blindly trying, careful research, more trying, some analyzing and thinking, more trying, asking two friends for input/advice, and finally (but most importantly!) MORE trying and experimenting.
That 20hrs thing is for real. What do you want to do? What have you always wanted to do? Commit to it for 20hrs over the next week or two. Don’t give up or get discouraged. Just keep trying.