Header: Boticelli’s La Calunnia, an interpretation of a painting by Apelles, from a description in an ancient text.
Nulla Dies Sine Linea
“Not a day without a line.”
So goes the motto of the Art Students League of New York, considered one of the most influential art schools in America. Yet, it’s not a structured one. Founded in 1875, it was revolutionary for its time, rebelling against rigid educational conventions by letting students self-direct without degree programs or required courses for a tuition of $5 a month.
The League in 1940. From their website.
145 years passed. Georgia O’Keefe and Norman Rockwell studied there. Its alumni founded modernism and pop art. But its patrons in the Vanderbilt family came and went. It almost closed up in World War II, dropping to 200 students as college-age males were drafted and women went to the factories. Billionaires’ Row grew around its little old building on 57th Street, but it never raised its monthly tuition over $300. Yet it persists, an indie art school plugging away underneath the most expensive condo tower in the world.
The motto’s a bit older.
It was coined by the Greek painter Apelles of Kos sometime in the B.C. 400’s, written down by Pliny the Elder a few centuries later, and has persisted in the western art world since.
Apelles, court painter to Alexander the Great, was considered the best artist of his time. He could supposedly draw a perfect likeness from memory with ash from a fireplace, and paint animals so well it fooled real ones. It’s impossible to attribute his skills to one thing, but “it was a regular custom … never to let a day of business to be so fully occupied that he did not practise his art by drawing a line,” explains Pliny.
None of his work survives, but this suspected reproduction was found at Pompeii.
There’s a reason learning to draw takes years: your brain is literally reshaping itself. It rearranges the white matter in your frontal cortex and enhances its connectivity with the parietal. Hand-eye coordination and attention span increase. In your body, it improves fine motor skills and buffs a range of muscles from your fingers to your back.
But to get those sick stat boosts, you have to stay in “drawing mode” long enough for your body to adapt to it. And the most reliable way to do that is to draw every day.
I’m not saying do five drawings a day. I’m not saying bust out a finished painting every day. Maybe once you’re pro level, you can make that your goal. But right now, you’ve just gotten home from an 12-hour work day at the business factory. You have to make dinner, do laundry, clean up after a kid, or all of the above. It’s all you can do not to break your nose collapsing face-forward. Art is out of the question.
…Not quite, though. Before you go to bed, pick up your tablet pen and doodle some lines on a small canvas. You don’t even have to save it. But now you haven’t had a “zero day.”
Clip Studio Paint, 1,000 by 1,000 px, about 10 minutes. I worked from the top left to the bottom right. It was improvised, but notice how the lines got neater and less sporadic as I went, just from falling into the rhythm of it and realizing what I was doing.
Feel bad for abandoning your passion project? Draw your character’s face, or a single panel border. Now it’s not abandoned anymore. Just looking at it and adding to it regularly keeps it fresh in your mind.
Making this your resolution attacks your mental roadblocks from both ends, ensuring you draw, but also that you don’t feel bad for not drawing enough:
As artists, and as people in the modern world, we often live with the shame of not working hard enough to meet an imagined standard. But if doing something every day is your only requirement, then if you’ve done something today, you’re a success. And once you’ve started drawing, you might find you want to continue.
Don’t torture yourself even if you miss one, though, just resolve anew not to miss the next. It’s the trying that counts. If you only draw 90% of the days, you’ll still reap most of the benefits. If you only draw 50%, that still puts you ahead of everyone who only does it on weekends.
Just do what you can. The important part is not to stop.
January is Month One, dedicated to the Wacom One. Released January 7th, the new version is a drawing monitor—our lowest-priced yet, offering all Wacom’s build quality for half the cost of a Cintiq.
A large part of motivating yourself to practice is making digital art more convenient for yourself. And I can attest that it works. It fits neatly in a backpack. It can run off your laptop’s battery. It can connect to Galaxy smartphones. You can even draw in bed. Within my ongoing resolution, my resolution for the coming month is to do something with it every day.
Since we started late (I got my One halfway through the month), I’ll be extending this theme into February, so make sure to check back.
And while you’re at it, check out the Wacom One.
About the Author
CS Jones is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and illustrator. Some days he still forgets to draw. On those days, he reminds himself that a line can refer to writing, too. His other work is best seen at thecsjones.com or @thecsjones on Instagram.