Laws of Learning

Miris

<2021-11-03 Wed>

This year has been a long journey of learning drawing and painting. Most of the battle has been with the mind rather than with the pencil. Throughout this war, many burdens and biases popped up, and overcoming them required a lot of reflection, which in turn gave birth to these realisations.

The following realisations, or "laws", mainly apply to learning to draw (especially as a programmer); however, they should be pretty applicable to any craft and expertise:

  1. Quantity over quality, for quality will be a product of quantity.
  2. Escape the mind's interference, and simply draw on the canvas.
  3. The moment there is a barrier, immediately learn how to overcome it.
  4. Live in the moment, with no thought for the future or the end.
  5. Start simple, start messy; focus on the idea, improve with iteration.
  6. The mind is for ideas, not details; implement on canvas, not in imagination.
  7. Resources and references are not evil; hubris and pride are the true enemy.
  8. Do it for yourself for the experience, with no expectations or obligations.

1. Quantity over quality, for quality will be a product of quantity.

It's much more effective to learn from quickly (albeit deliberately) creating many illustrations, instead of focusing on a mere few to the point of obsession. Swiftly experiment through many illustrations, like a wave through the ocean, and only at the end look back with an analytical mindset and figure out the progress and direction.

Case in point, only after drawing many lines did it become possible to draw perfectly straight lines. It wasn't something that was possible right away. With programming, it was the many nimble programs which incrementally contributed to a refined understanding of programming.

2. Escape the mind's interference, and simply draw on the canvas.

The moment the mind interferes, any chance of fluid and smooth progress gets disrupted by doubt, criticism and perfectionism. The words written here aren't the product of overthinking; instead, they simply came to be. They aren't perfect, yet they're superior to no words or to mechanical words.

The same principle should apply to drawing. Just get the intent on the canvas, and let the process do its job. The same could've happened for coding; however, it didn't because the mind doesn't concern itself about the "ideal code". In fact, at first it never even knew what perfect code should be. Naivety can be a virtue in this scenario, and as such, one ought to avoid looking at artwork for a while if it induces insecurity and fear.

3. The moment there is a barrier, immediately learn how to overcome it.

Giving up when there is a barrier is destructive. Instead, overcome it like how programming obstacles have been resolved: seek help, experiment and learn. Use each obstacle as an opportunity to learn and resolve the problem. Can't draw the face right? Learn the perspective, proportions and anatomy. Look up each individual feature and learn about it. Break it all down, and learn from the ground up.

4. Live in the moment, with no thought for the future or the end.

The passage of time, or lack thereof, is merely an illusion of the mind. More time is consumed, or even wasted, through avoidance and overthinking rather than simply learning and engaging. Avoiding something due to the fear of the required investment is an implicit seeking of instant gratification. What will be even more rewarding is overcoming barriers by learning, practising, and understanding. Imagining the end product is potentially delibitating; instead, it's better to simply not imagine anything and just live in the moment. Each moment spent in thought is a wasted opportunity to live and learn.

Also, refrain from waiting for the right mood, moment or environment. Any reason for waiting is an implicit excuse by the mind to avoid discomfort. The right moment will rarely come, and when it does, it will be brittle. The effective way to attain the right mood, moment or environment is to simply get started. All will follow. It must be proactive, not reactive. Do not react to a good mood with drawing; instead, start drawing to attain a good mood. It's all cyclical, and above all, action precedes emotion.

5. Start simple, start messy; focus on the idea, improve with iteration.

Sketches, drafts, prototypes: they are the essential gestalt of any project. No perfect project can be accomplished immediately. When drawing, eliminate any thought or expectation about the end result. Simply focus on the current state of the drawing, and improve it accordingly. Sketch the essence down, and progress from there. The same applies in programming: a simple, messy but essential procedural piece of code which ultimately gets refined into a beautifully architected program.

In similar fashion to the 2nd point: refrain from letting others' works induce insecurity and fear. As mentioned earlier, avoid looking at it if necessary. Ideally, others' works should be looked at for inspiration and understanding, not comparison and criticism. The goal is to ultimately rely on others' works as a resource for learning and improvement, not as a barrier for inferiority and helplessness. The complexity seen in others' works is the product of starting simple and starting messy. The refined and polished end-product has been through numerous iterations which are probably even messier than one could possibly imagine.

6. The mind is for ideas, not details; implement on canvas, not in imagination.

The mind cannot imagine the reality vividly, let alone accurately. It can only think in concepts, symbols and schemas. It can only speculate. Imagining each line of code for a program is impossible; as such, so is imaginign each element of an artwork. Imagining the process of drawing is no different from imagining the process of coding: potentially incorrect, and especially superficial. Instead, the details should come to life through the canvas. What the mind needs to focus on are the ideas: the main idea of the project, and the idea for the current step in the journey. The mind should be solely dedicated to intent, not implementation.

7. Resources and references are not evil; hubris and pride are the true enemy.

Attempting to figure everything out alone is an exercise in futility, with a potential consequence of developing bad habits and not understanding correctly. When facing an obstacle in programming, the instinct is to research and learn. The same principle should apply to drawing. What interferes with this humility is hubris and pride: the ego desires to gratify itself through discovery by itself, instead of learning from others and standing on the shoulder of giants.

There is no defeat in learning from others - the true defeat is in a lack of learning, and especially in the wrong learning. Drawing from imagination and avoiding references is possible and can be a good exercise in the future after acquiring enough experience and understanding.

8. Do it for yourself for the experience, with no expectations or obligations.

The moment something is done for others, the implicit pressure to fulfil an expectation or standard will appear. This pressure manifests as doubt, dread and even anxiety. These feelings interfere with progress. Down the line, once more confidence and experience is acquired, it's absolutely fine to draw for others. But for now, it's preferable to do it as a personal pursuit with no expectations or obligations.

The process of drawing should be fun and relaxed, just as programming is. Do it to scratch a personal itch, just like with programming. Experiment and play around, just like with programming. The mentality in programming works superbly for drawing, once the mentality is analysed and understood.