Do it 100 times

Is it possible to master a brand new skill as an adult? According to popular belief, greatness at anything requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. If you have a full-time job, family life, and only 5 hours per week left for your new hobby, you might expect to achieve great results after some… 38 years? No wonder few people even bother to try.

For years I wanted to improve my drawing skills, but thought I don’t have enough time for this. Watching my brother progressing through art school, I saw how much time and effort he put into mastering certain types of objects or body parts. All possible hand gestures, drawn from all possible angles, with all possible light arrangements, drawn over all these years… Unless you can dedicate a few years to study art full-time, how can you expect to draw really well?

Luckily, one of my Twitter friends recently shown how much progress he made in just 100 attempts at drawing a face. Here is the comparison between his first and 100th portrait:

This made me realize I don’t need to put 10,000 hours of practice into drawing to see some results. 100 deliberate repetitions is more than enough, if you’re honest about what went wrong each time, and then make sure to avoid the same mistakes on the next try.

I’ve only reached picture 67 in this experiment, but I can already see how much I’m learning in the process. These days I draw mostly from reference, trying to copy portraits drawn by experienced artists. Such images are obviously much better than if they only came out of my head, but trying to imitate good work helps me understand what makes it good. This way I can apply the same patterns to my own portraits drawn completely from scratch, much faster than if I had to discover them completely on my own.

Here are my the first 4 sketches for this project, from the end of November:

And here are my last 3 from today:

I can’t wait to see how the 100th will look like, and I’m certainly going to continue after that. Making 100 things doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s surely happening fast enough to keep you going.

One response to “Do it 100 times”

  1. Last summer, going crazy from lockdowns, I decided to try to teach myself to play the piano. I’d never played a musical instrument before and I can’t sing, but I figured I could put aside 10+ minutes a day for a year and see where I got to.

    As the author of this coincidentally well-timed New York Times piece observed of his own somewhat-similar journey: I will never produce anything at the level of a talented 8-year-old on YouTube. I’m fine with that.

    It’ll be a year this month since I first sat at a piano. I can slowly pick out sheet music and I’m getting enough of an understanding of scales that I can improvise a little. I’ve got a handful of Disney songs practiced well enough that I can tolerate hearing myself play them (I started out with a book of “50 Disney songs for piano”), and I’m making progress with the compositions of the inimitable Ludovico Einaudi.

    Looking back over my slow but incremental progress feels like magic. 10+ minutes a day for a year.

Leave a Reply