New drawing book

Got myself a new drawing book. Now attempting to go from big shapes to small.

consuming, not learning

It seems like it’s never been easier to be an autodidact. Endless wikis, videos and articles are a search away. And they’re (mostly) free. All you need is the will. Supposedly.

Learning is probably the closest thing I have to a hobby. But I struggle to learn on the internet. And I think it’s because I’ve been consuming, not learning.

There’s a lot wrong with formal education. But besides the pieces of paper you get at the end (the currency of Human Resources), the best of formal education is the guidance of someone who has achieved mastery. Especially, guidance (compulsion) to practice.

Most online resources I’ve come across are instead geared around consumption. Even if there’s a “curriculum” there’s rarely an emphasis on practice. On building reps. Rarer still are explorations of what makes effective practice.

At best this is a recipe for mere familiarity. At worst it leads to stagnation, frustration and abandonment.

They aren’t all like this. When I was an undergrad I did a lot of Khan Academy to brush up on maths. There were seemingly endless practice problems and you couldn’t progress until you showed some level of “mastery”.

This seems obvious for a well trod, ostensibly linear path like maths. But repetition is the basis for learning pretty much anything. And it’s missing from a lot of the internet’s learning materials.

In the past couple of years I’ve gone deep on painting and drawing. YouTube has a fantastic catalogue of art videos, as do platforms like Skillshare or Domestika.

But you’re more likely to go down a rabbit hole of product reviews as anything else. My first months of painting were a mess of Amazon packages as I tried different brands and gadgets, even as my skills largely stagnated.

One of the longest videos in a course I recently purchased was about the teacher’s favourite tools. It was almost twice as long as the video on perspective.

Even when there are exercises attached to the lessons, there is often little on how to make it generalisable. How to self critique and correct.

The breadth of my knowledge of watercolour brands is now truly staggering. I own some really expensive brushes. But, years into my watercolour journey, I’m still unsure how I should practice.

Because I’ve been consuming, not learning.

Centring curiosity

There’s some sampling bias in how often biographies I read centre curiosity. But I wonder if it’s more my choice of reading material, than it is the kind of people who get biographies.

I started reading a new biography of Jennifer Doudna. She won a Nobel prize for her work on CRISPR.

Almost immediately we run into her being an outsider as a child, her diverse interests. Her curiosity.

“Her work also illustrates, as Leonardo da Vinci’s did, that the key to innovation is connecting a curiosity about basic science to the practical work of devising tools that can be applied to our lives - moving discoveries from lab bench to bedside.”

CRISPR is something I know little about, bar a half remembered Radio Lab episode from a few years ago. So I’m really excited to read more, and whether this pays off.

But this does look promising:

“Curiosity-driven research into the wonders of nature plants the seeds, sometimes in unpredictable ways, for later innovations. Research about surface-state physics eventually led to the transistor and microchip. Likewise, studies of an astonishing method that bacteria use to fight off viruses eventually led to a gene-editing tool and techniques that humans can use in their own struggle against viruses.”