Exercises to Build Positive Habits

Walt Stanchfield, a hero of mine, once described the act of drawing well by comparing it to driving a car- many small considerations and corrections need to take place in order for the composition to go in the direction you want. To pursue art requires great discipline and strength. Discipline and strength require regular maintenance- like the engine of a car- and occasionally while “driving” it’s good to take some time to fuel up. The best way to do that is by developing positive habits that encourage yourself to grow as an artist.


One of the best habits to establish, if you haven’t already, is constant sketching. Daily sketching forces you to grow as an artist and helps you to battle against the two things that block progress:

  1. The very scary blank page.
  2. Attachment to an individual drawing.

If you want to improve as an artist you can’t be afraid to mess up a drawing. A great way to develop your drawing skills is by getting a private sketchbook (that nobody will see!) and a couple of cheap fountain pens- like the Pilot V5 or 7- which you can find pretty much anywhere. For the sketchbook, I’d recommend that you try a few different kinds to see what feels best.

You don’t always need to go with the most expensive or the prettiest. When I started, I bought three Moleskine sketchbooks. I was determined to fill them within a few months… but my pen would always just hover above the page, shaking.

It was too beautiful a sketchbook for me to scribble and doodle in.

Drawing-wise, I completely locked up. I could never finish anything because each drawing stressed me out. I wanted them all to be perfect because the paper and binding were so nice. I decided to downgrade a bit, using Strathmore 9×12 spiral-bound sketchbooks because they lay flat and are always on sale at the art store. I didn’t care about the materials as much and that freed me enough to get my drawings on the paper. Now I draw constantly, experiment with other media, and am not as attached to the sketchbook itself. If you make drawing a daily routine it will help grow your visual vocabulary beyond which it’s also a great way to loosen up before you attempt a finished drawing or comic page.


Another great habit to start is that you make time to feed your muse. Everybody is busy with work and life but it’s important that you take “art vacations.” Go to the library in your area and see what graphic novels they have as well as drawing and art books. Go to museums and deconstruct the composition of paintings with sketches. Take notes on things like color choice and brush technique.

The best art in any medium captures a certain vitality in the subjects it depicts. Figures can seem to be alive and radiate energy (an example would be how the scene of a fight might be described to have “tension in the air”). Transcendent art has the power to draw you into that moment be it a figure by Tiepolo, a landscape by Bierstadt, an animation by Milt Kahl, or a comic by Moebius. Take the time to experience these things. Stand in front of the art and just absorb everything; take in as much of the perspective, color, and composition as you can. The masters left their secrets on the canvas and people have graciously taken the time to preserve those paintings, hang them on walls, and record them in books at your local library. The information is out there! Make time to appreciate art no matter where you may be in your journey.


The final habit I recommend is that you embrace criticism. It’s a good idea to find a group of friends that you trust and respect in the local comic scene or through the internet. Show them what you’re working on and ask for feedback throughout the process. Get comfortable with having people you trust and respect tell you the ways in which you could improve. Always remember that this is a life-long journey and if someone says “hm… the third panel was kind of redundant and didn’t read well” that doesn’t mean you’re “bad” or that the comic is bad. Try to accept criticism, learn from it, and think “great! Well, the next project will be even better!” It’s good to expose yourself to criticism from artists that you trust so that you can learn to be honest with yourself.

Also important: learn to spot the difference between constructive criticism and negativity. One thing I’ve learned in art (or life, for that matter) is that some people are just negative and have no interest in seeing you improve. The trick is to identify this before determining an appropriate response. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bitter people in the world. Maybe a parent said “comic artist? Does that job come with a paper hat and spatula or do you have to buy that on your own?” Maybe a teacher proclaimed “comics are not real art!” This is baseless negativity and if you’re not careful it can harm your development as an artist- but only if you let it!

This is a personal point for me. I always wanted to be a cartoonist growing up but I bought into the lies and negativity I faced. I stopped drawing entirely and went to college for something I thought would be more “practical.” And yet, I never lost the desire to draw and dream. I carried the painful, hurtful things that were said but they were only able to keep me down for so long. Eventually I learned to let it go. At 25 I accepted art as my life’s calling and started drawing once more with all of the frenetic passion that had built up over the years. I haven’t slowed down a day since.

If art is important to you, take control of the things you let into your life. Reject wanton negativity and embrace the positive thoughts and opinions of people you trust.

If you read this, chances are that you’re a person who makes art. If so, you’re my sister or brother. It’s important to remember that you’re never alone. We’re family and should treat each other as such. Let’s be nice to one another! A personal goal of mine is to be encouraging to my art-family as well as myself. I have a board (another Walt Stanchfield suggestion) above my desk where I keep positive art quotes. I’ll leave you with this one from Van Gogh:

“I’m an artist; always seeking without absolutely finding. As far as I know, that word means: “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in with all my heart.”

Suggested Reading

Drawn to Life Vol. 1 & 2  by Walt Stanchfield


11 Responses to “Exercises to Build Positive Habits”

    • Jared

      Ahhh, you’re the greatest, Tin. Thanks for being an unachievable bar of excellence that I constantly burn the candle at both ends to try to catch up to 😉

  1. Devin

    This is a solid set of suggestions, Jared. Thanks! Stanchfield is the man… I once worked with a guy who trained under him at Disney. I never had time to ask about his time there but the dude had incredible drawing skills.

    Anyone who hasn’t checked them out, get Drawn To Life as Jared suggests.

  2. Andrew

    My High school art Teacher did not believe in cartoons/comics/games, she didn’t see what I saw in them, to me they are just as much a work of art as a Van Gogh painting, the amount of time and creativity put in them is no less. Simply a new form of art, a new way to express our inner dreams. I think it’s really important to be aware of all forms of art, be it “Traditional” or something more new age- it was people like my high school teacher who made me even more determined to make art my own.

    • Jared

      I wish I had your strength of character when I was in my teens. Very cool, though. I’m glad you were strong enough to push through

  3. Julia

    Oh my! This article is encouraging 🙂 I felt similar when i was in my school years, always wanted to draw and did it but i kinda lost it, because life happen to me. You know; paying rent, finding jobs that would make sense and satisfy others. But some weeks ago a close friend showed me, that i always have a pen in my hand doodling something on newspapers, serviettes, random paper and i didn’t really register this. Somehow i was doodling unconsciously. So; i’m 29 years old and suddendly all the need to draw is floating like a waterfall. I found the course on coursera and this great page: makingcomics.com, bought a sketchbook and know read this article which give me the feeling, that i still have a chance to be an artist. No matter what. 🙂

    I’m really gratefull that you guys are out there encouraging people. You do such a great job! 😀


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