If there is one thing I hear from students more than anything else, it's the need to learn the fundamentals! In today's scary and confusing world, the notion that there is a shopping list of things to learn, and when you get those things down, everything will be 'ok', is a very comforting and seemingly "actionable" idea.
...So let's take a look at it.
Even a hundred years ago, if you wanted to become a 2D color artist, there was pretty much one path. You started by drawing. You learned to understand how to represent form, tone and volume with a pencil, pen or charcoal. Once you had that down, you learned how to compose those things onto a page and make greyscale comps. From there, you learned how to apply paint and colour theory in one of several, very similar mediums. It was hard, focused work, but the path to mastery and success seems like it was pretty clear.
Then came the dark years. Fine art scoffed at technical mastery and ceased to teach it. People had to find their own way up the mountain, and the outcome was much more based on the idea than the execution.
About 15 years ago now, technique started to make a comeback...people wanted representational art again! Video games, movies and animations all needed figurative work again! Time to start training up a new generation!
But it's not the same. Where once there was one path with some small branches, now there are many. Some people, like Donato Giancola continued with the 'old ways'...others? Not so much. I listened to a Dylan Cole webcast last week where he said that students who wanted to learn to make 2D art for the film industry were probably better off learning 3D instead of drawing as a foundation. My own foundational training was mostly photography. Even within the "drawing" path, there is a much greater focus on individual style.
The problem with putting "Fundamentals" first is that it is putting the cart before the horse. Although I think they stopped halfway, the fine artists had a point: What do you want to say? Without that, all the fundamentals in the world are useless. Let's say you *could* paint like Donato....what would you paint? "Whatever makes me money" is a pretty non-specific answer. Without an idea, without a point of view, without an understanding of what it is you want to say....you got NOTHING.
There are too many "fundamental" skills now to master all of them at once as a student. You have to focus on the ones that will help you create the work you want to create. Mike Mignola can't draw cars. Pascal Campion never draws "correct" hands or feet. Both are masters. Both have learned the skills that they needed to realize what they wanted to say.
Really, that's the point of Jake Parker's "Inktober." Start creating something, start figuring out what you want to say, and the how will develop to support that. Students freak out about the "how" to do something when they have no idea "what" they want to do!
Create the work you feel motivated to create! Do LOTS of personal projects, those will point the way to the kinds of things you should be making. Yes, without the "fundamentals" to support those initial projects, they probably won't match what is in your brain....but then you'll know where you are falling short.
You aren't going to learn it all....and you don't need to. I can drive. I can't drive a tractor trailer. No one says I'm a bad driver because I can't get behind the wheel of a 10 ton truck. If I wanted to, I could go be a professional driver without that skill....and if I wanted to handle a big rig, I wouldn't need to know how to ride a motorcycle.
Ultimately, there are no such things as *THE* fundamentals. There are skills. Mostly, they exist to train your hand and your eye to work together and see better. You should gravitate to the skills and techniques that you need to get what's in your brain to a point where you can show people....if what is in your brain changes (and it should), you'll learn new techniques. This should happen for the rest of your life, embrace it!
Final note: I am not saying that learning stuff is unimportant. You have to work your butt off. You have to study the techniques that you need to be successful. Just make sure you know what those techniques are. If you don't know what you should be practicing, you haven't given enough thought to what you want to be making.
Thanks for reading! Please share with any student friends you have who are freaking about about the "how" and not the "what."