Many look at the glamorised television shows and think ‘I can do that’. Like being a footballer, anyone can kick the ball, but the level of skill needed to rise to the top is considerable and beyond the capabilities of many people.
What I describe here is a common path. It is not the only path, but this is the one that inculcates the correct skill set. Do not believe siren voices that say you can do it by a shorter method. You may be able to. You may even be successful, but this method provides a surer path, and provides alternative routes if you realise you are on the wrong road.
First thing I would say is start young (although I ran a Foundation course for adult returners that was very successful). Not, as one fool told me “because I’ve been doing my bedroom regularly since I was 5” but because the core skill is to have a visual curiosity. To build your own vision this needs feeding. My dad taught me to draw when I was about four – I mean draw, not just hold a pencil. He taught me to look, and if you start drawing for half an hour or so every day you will also sharpen your eye. So keep a sketch book – carry one with you and every time you sit, draw. Don’t mess with your phone, take off the ear phones and tune into the reality around you.
A sketch book, not a scrap book – keep one of those if you want – but a book you draw in will build your own visual vocabulary. No pen? Use whatever comes to hand – a lipstick, stick dipped in mud, learn to make marks, understand their symbology and build your own visual vocabulary. Do it steadily and it will build into you own visual library. Experiment, change the parameters, take risks and it will open your mind as well as your eyes.
Do some research into how your eyes work – I recommend a book called ‘The Eye and Brain’ by E. L Gregory – old but still an excellent primer. Look at galleries and exhibitions – fine and applied art, locally and national. Immerse yourself in the visual language of art and design, theatre and music of all sorts.
If you find none of this appealing do something else.