Motivation will only get you so far when trying to learn how to do art, which is why you need to build the discipline to master the craft truly.

There are going to be times in your art career (or hobby) where you don’t feel like doing art. Perhaps you’re sick, or there’s something more interesting going on. However, time marches on, and you’ll begin to regret those days you wasted binge-watching Netflix instead of drawing. So let’s go over motivation vs. discipline and further expound upon why relying upon motivation is going to cause you problems in the long run.

Throughout this article, I’ll give you pointers on how to build and maintain discipline, and knowing when to take a break regardless. And how to push through those times when even discipline doesn’t seem to be enough.

But first, on to motivation, and what it can get you in your art.

Relying Upon Motivation

When we first start out doing art, it’s a motivation that keeps us going. We want to do art. We want to create things. We first picked up a pen, pencil, brush, or stylus because we enjoyed the idea of doing art and creating things. So we continue with that. We find other things we want to draw. We find reasons to draw.

This is motivation and drawing when you feel like it. Do you already see the problem that can occur from it? Especially if you’re trying to learn to draw, or if you plan on drawing for a career?

Relying upon motivation isn’t going to get you through the times when you don’t want to draw, but you have to for a paycheck. You’re not going to be able to get through the more difficult topics that you have to learn to become a good artist and be able to push your boundaries.

And that’s why, in the end, relying upon motivation alone is not going to help you as an artist. You need to build discipline, as well.  

Building Discipline

Humans, by nature, are lazy. No, don’t argue with me on this. People created the most genius inventions of our time because they were looking for shortcuts to do things faster or more efficiently. It’s also simple biology. We don’t want to expend energy because expending energy should only be done for biological needs. So how do we fight this natural urge?

Creating a Habit

When you make something into a routine, it becomes second nature to do it. Take, for example, something simple that you already enjoy doing. Perhaps it’s become a habit that every day when you get home from work or school, you spend an hour watching YouTube to unwind. Me, for example, I make the rounds feeding all of my animals and putting out the dogs.

Motivation vs. Discipline - Creating a habit

So what will happen if you take an hour of your after work/after school time to draw instead?

Try it for a whole week, just a week. You’ll find that after a week, you’ll feel a little confused that you aren’t working on art. It doesn’t have to be a massive project either, just doodle or do a study or even just a few lines. Now take that and push it further into a full month. Keep ahold of your first image from the start of the month to your last. 

Look at how much you’ve improved. I can promise, even if it’s small, you will grow as long as you’re focusing upon it rather than randomly doodling.

But make sure it’s a full hour, distraction-free and concentrated on just drawing. Otherwise, you’re wasting time.

On that note, you should probably create a space.

Create Your Studio

A part of creating discipline and building a habit is having a set routine. To help reinforce that routine, it does help to create a “studio.” I put that in quotes for a reason, because I bet I just freaked a bunch of you out thinking you need to have a lot of space and set aside a whole room in your house to create a studio.

Motivation vs. Discipline - Creating your studio

Here’s what a studio should have:

  • A place to work at 
  • Your tools
  • Inspirational images

Notice in there that I said nothing about space requirements. Your studio can be in a closet, as long as it’s your space to do work. You go to this space to do work, and that is the main focus of that room or area of your home.

For example, my couch is my writing studio. It may not be distraction-free, but I created a habit here when working on a novel. I would write at least 1000 words every day. So now it’s become habitual for me to get in the writing mood when I’m on the couch. I find if I try to write on my desktop, I can’t get into the mood.

Treat It Like A Job

Hear me out on this one. Even if you don’t plan on turning art into a career, to at least build that discipline to get better, treat it like a job. Why? Well, let’s think about what a job entails. In a typical job, you have a set amount of hours that you work. If you work those hours, you get paid. You usually have tasks that you have to do during those hours, which typically include deadlines of some sort.  

So treat art like a job. You have a set amount of time each day that you must work on art, be it learning or doing. During that time, you have set tasks that you need to perform. Perhaps you need to watch a tutorial on how to draw a nose so then you can practice one. Or maybe you need to do thirty minutes’ worth of gesture drawing.

This is deliberate, structured learning. Which, by the way, is another secret – artists are always learning. We don’t stop.

Now that we’ve learned how to build the discipline, what about maintaining it?

Maintaining Discipline

Doing something that may, occasionally, become a chore is hard to keep the momentum going. Trust me; no one enjoys slogging through the fundamentals when they could be drawing fun things instead. But those studies are necessary if you want to get better at your art. Furthermore, if you’re going to turn your digital art skills into a career, there are going to be times you have to push yourself through not wanting to do art at all.

So how do we go about maintaining that discipline we built?

Keep to a Schedule

Remember how you built that habit of drawing every day? So what about that day you couldn’t draw because you didn’t feel like it. You promised yourself that you’d make up for it the next day by drawing for two hours instead of one. But the next day, you just ran out of energy after an hour and fifteen minutes. You lost forty-five minutes that you’ll never get back. It becomes a snowball effect.

 

This is why you not only need to build a habit but to maintain discipline; you need to create and stick to a schedule.

Of course, there are going to be times that something comes up. Life happens, and that’s fine. Stick to your chosen schedule as much as you possibly can.

And for those of you saying, “I don’t have time to draw every day,” yes, you likely do. Spend a week and journal out every block of time in set intervals. You’ll start to notice big chunks of time that you can convert into drawing time, most likely.    

Let Others Know This is Important To You

Believe it or not, sometimes we do need that outside encouragement to maintain our discipline. By letting others in your life know that this is important to you, you’re also encouraging them to help keep you on task. It can be some friends, a community, your loved ones – it doesn’t matter who. As long as they’re going to put you in check by asking, “Hey, did you do your drawing today?” Or perhaps they’ll ask you about your latest piece.

I’m part of a Discord art community where we remind each other every day, “you better be drawing.” It is pretty helpful.

Bringing Back Some Motivation

Remember, motivation isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing we don’t want to rely upon entirely if we’re going to get better at doing art. But if you’re starting to feel yourself sliding back into bad habits of watching Netflix rather than doing art, sometimes bringing out what motivated us in the first place is a good idea.

At the time of this writing, I lost one of my cats suddenly due to a birth defect that went undetected for four years a little over a week ago. I’m going to tell you; it destroyed me. I almost gave up art entirely, as I had been setting myself up to draw her next when she started displaying signs of being sick.

One of my Discords pinged with an announcement. Oh. My favorite artist was streaming. I’ll watch that, it’ll help take my mind off things, and I can interact with the community there.  

Motivation vs. Discipline:  Bringing back Motivation

I will tell you right now; it brought me back from the brink. It motivated me because I wanted to be part of this awesome community. I wanted to create things on the same level as this artist.  So I worked on the piece to the left.

So, sometimes, we do need to refresh ourselves with a tiny spike of motivation.

But what about those times that we absolutely must take a break?

Knowing When To Give Yourself a Break

Speaking from experience, life happens. There are going to be things that destroy your discipline and make it, so you don’t want to do art at all. Significant life events, or hell, even that you’ve gone on a vacation, and you forgot to bring your tablet along.

It’s okay to give yourself a break. I know that goes against everything I just said about “drawing every day” and “maintaining discipline” and “treating it like a job.”  

If you don’t give yourself that break, however, you will burn out. The key is to push yourself as much as you can without hitting that breaking point of burn out. Burn out will potentially turn you away from art forever, which isn’t the goal.

Don’t let a break turn into something long term, however. It’s up to you to decide what is long term for you. Perhaps it’s a few days, a week, a month. When you come back, get right back into that schedule.

Better yet, in the short term – put breaks in your schedule. Maybe it works best for you to take one day off a week from art. Or you need an hour or two a night to unwind before bed. I know after 30 minutes of gesture drawing in an hour-long session, I need to take a break because my hand cramped up.

Pushing Through The Worst Times

I already touched upon this a little in an earlier chunk speaking of going back to motivation, but there will be times that you need to push through the lack of wanting to draw to keep going. Maybe you have an art block or self-doubt that has taken you over. Or, again, life happened.  

How, though, do you get through them?

Keep It Small

Motivation vs. Discipline: Encouragement

Sometimes you’re not going to be able to get back to your schedule or maintain it. And after being away from it, it may not be possible due to a multitude of reasons for you to get right back into it.

So keep it small. Do at least a line on canvas or a short sketch. You can at least say you did something for the day, which is better than nothing. Build back up to your schedule as you feel able, but make it your goal to get back to it.

Seek Encouragement

Reach out to your communities, friends, or loved ones that are your art support. Seek encouragement from them by letting them know exactly what you’re going through – especially if it’s something mental holding you back from getting back to your schedule. They can, and hopefully will nudge you into getting back on the right track.

Reward Yourself

For every drawing you do, every bit of your schedule you get back, reward yourself. Give yourself ten minutes of Netflix. Studies show that positive reinforcement is more effective than negative when learning something, that includes attempting to get yourself back into good habits.

Draw What You Want

There are going to be things that you need to learn to draw that you hate drawing. For me, it’s buildings. I hate perspective with a passion; I hate straight lines. So my perspective assignments are my most avoided ones ever. I still do them, but they get put at the bottom of the priority totem pole. Because by drawing what I like, I maintain that sense of enjoyment in the process rather than slogging through it and hating every second.

Motivation vs. Discipline:  Do what you love

Conclusion

In the great debate of motivation vs. discipline, discipline will win out on keeping that forward momentum even when you don’t want to do art as motivation will peter out eventually. Remember to build a habit, build a schedule, and keep to it as much as possible. And when you can’t? Get back to it as soon as possible.

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