2021 Art Retrospective
the year of experimentation

2021 was a pretty eventful year for me artistically. A good year? Debatable. Eventful? Sounds about right.

I wouldn't say that it was the fastest progression ever, but it certainly was chock full of stuff that wasn't present in previous years. A lot more experimentation, side tangents, and unlearning a bunch of bad habits that I didn't realize were bad habits; the usual issues of being self-taught.

It also marks the first full year that I went completely independent from social media and started building a small art hub in the middle of nowhere, which means that a large portion of my progression is now accessible online. Here's hoping that it keeps going.

With that, let's get started.

Doodles and Automatic Drawings

Near the beginning of the year, I decided to start doing some doodles. I felt that I was lacking confidence regarding my lines, and I was being timid in how I was approaching my work. I figured that doing some abstract doodling and automatic drawing would alleviate some of those issues. And it did.

In the middle of June I found that I was getting more confident with my strokes, regardless of the tool, and the speed at which I was doing my work was moving towards the sweet spot (which was my "natural tempo"). My use of shapes was also getting better, albeit quite slowly. I didn't fully grasp or acknowledge shape design until a few months into 2022.

I applied the exercises I was doing and did a small series of pieces where I drew figures and then doodled their clothing on top. I liked the results, but I found that the process was simply too tedious. Sure, it was brainless, but it still took a lot of time. I'd say that the average time to complete one of those pieces was 6-8 hours. As comparison, my average painting would take me around the same time, and that's with colour plus all of the sketching and planning.

Pieces #82 and #84

It was a nice little side tangent, but I wasn't too interested in coming back to do more of these. I may do a similar process, but probably not using lines. I didn't find it very fun, looking back. It further cemented the fact that I enjoyed painting in colour much more.

Style and Process Confusion

Speaking of painting in colour, it was something that I wasn't acknowledging that was inherently part of me as an artist. I was still trying to force lineart and then colouring on top a few months into the year (as seen from #76 and #80, pieces which I absolutely hate).

It took me a while to unlearn the fact that my process didn't have to be this way. Lining and then colouring was how I did my process in 2017 to 2018, and 2020 was when I started approaching a more painterly method (with some lines still). So this year ended up being the crossroads, where I was trying to merge the two with no success and ended up with two options: commit to a very colouring book approach, or do it in a more painterly manner.

Both have their merits, of course. Lining can be very clean and methodical—you know exactly where you are in the process: line first, then colour. The painterly approach, on the other hand, starts blurring those lines. You can have an undersketch, sure, but a lot of painting is defining edges while colouring. I find painting to be more loose and free, but you'll likely get lost if you don't know what you're doing.

In the end, I ended up committing to painting instead of lining. The final piece of the year, #105, was when I finally confirmed that painting is the direction I wanted to be heading. I barely did a sketch to prep and 99% of the background and figure were improvised during the painting process, but I still enjoyed that more than if I lined and then coloured. Sure, there's a lot of jungle to wade through when painting, but I personally found it so much more engaging than lining my work.

Painting Studies and Master Copies

Sometime in April when I restarted my art journal, I realized that I was doing too many drawing studies and not enough painting studies. Similarly, I was doing a lot of original paintings but not enough original drawings. Essentially I was practicing completely backwards, considering my weaknesses. Not good.

As a result, I was more committed to doing more painting studies this year. Out of those studies, five of them were master copies. One was a copy of Rembrandt, two were copies of John Singer Sargent (one of them was shown in this art journal entry), one was of Monet, and the last one I did at the end of the year was a copy of Fragonard, an artist which I hadn't even heard of until this year.

Monet study (left), Fragonard study (right)

This was the first year I touched on doing master copies, and I wish I started sooner. I learned a lot about colour, particularly from both Monet and Fragonard. In the case of the Monet study, he used a lot of desaturated colours, but when they are paired with saturated colours he can make colours take on a different hue regardless of its actual hue.

One example was when he paired the saturated blue of the sky with the desaturated blue of the clouds. Through contrasting saturations, he managed to make the desaturated blue look warmer, moving towards orange (as orange is the complementary colour of blue), which fits his purpose well in creating a sunset-like scene.

For the other studies like Sargent and Rembrandt, it was all about simplification, especially Sargent. From close up the painting looks abstract and barely rendered, but when looked at as a whole, everything fits together. Being able to simplify like that and yet still emulate detail is something that a lot of master painters specialize in, so I'm always taking that into consideration when doing my own work.

In this particular case it was master copies based off of paintings, but I also did some copies through drawings. Not only from masters, but from other artists as well. It really is important to study the work of artists and not just from photo reference or life. It gives clues as to how you should interpret your reference, which helps towards developing your personal style more effectively.


I also participated in this year's Inktober, joined by fellow neighbours Murid and Maya. The last Inktober I participated in was in 2017, which is a considerable gap in terms of artistic skill, so I was looking forward to it.

Day 1 and Day 13 respectively

And of course, like many things, it was good to start, but by the end I was miserable. I was getting lethargic by the midpoint, which I was expecting even before the challenge started. I had a bunch of midterms during that time so that wasn't helping my situation.

The last ten or so prompts hit me pretty badly, though. I had some ideas for the earlier prompts going into the challenge, but by the end I was running out of things to draw. The drawings at the end were either heavily referenced, or very simple. I wasn't too pleased by my performance.

I'd say that this year's Inktober ran less smoothly than the one I did in 2017, purely because of the prompts. I made my own prompt list for the last Inktober, so my problem wasn't creating ideas, it was executing them. My issue this time around was I had no ideas and I had to draw them—that's like trying to divide by zero.

I'll still consider joining Inktober in the years to come, but I'll be making my own prompt list in that case. Also, I'll likely do it digitally instead of using inks. It kind of defeats the point of Inktober, but I see it as more of a drawing challenge based on consistency rather than accepting permanent mistakes; I'm used to that already, since I draw so much in pen outside of doing digital work.

What I'd Do Differently

I mentioned in an art journal entry in 2022 that I should've done more original drawings this year, because that was the weakest part of my process in terms of stylization. My overall painting process was also weak, that was why I was doing a bunch of painting and master studies. I had that part covered, but I didn't cover stylized drawings as much as I should have.

I also wish I would've gotten into the habit of doing anatomical interpretation. I was doing some studies of Bridgman and also some Loomis heads, and while those are good in their own way, I think it would've helped more to look at actual human figures and then interpret the simplifications of Bridgman and Loomis from those. That way, I'd know how to break down a real human figure into simple components, instead of just copying what are essentially a bunch of textbook examples.

I should've worked on longer figure studies. I did so many 30 second gesture drawings from 2017 to 2020 but wholly neglected to do figure drawings longer than 2 minutes, and that became a huge issue. It basically led to me being unable to touch on the more simpler sides of anatomy, since I only touched on the core gesture. I did do some 2-5 minute figure drawings this year, but I don't believe it was enough to be pleased about.

Lastly, I wish I didn't make such a fool out of myself by relying so much on brushes that had certain blending properties. Most of my inability to use 99% of the brushes in Procreate was because I didn't change the opacity of the brush when I needed to. I thought that if the brush didn't behave how I wanted it to at full opacity, then the brush sucks. Nope. I was just being stupid. And I didn't realize my stupidity until the end of the year. Fantastic.

Other Mishaps

There were other random things that I undertook through the year that I would like to briefly cover as well.

I finished Lesson 1 of Drawabox. This was like 3 years in the making. The last challenge was to draw 250 boxes freehand in perspective, which I completely failed to do in 2018. I tried it again this year, and like I detailed in this journal entry, I also did the entire lesson preceding the challenge before finishing the last 69 boxes. Ouch.

I joined a daily sketch community and quit after two weeks. I thought it would be interesting to try out doing a little bit of daily sketching, just as a way to exercise the habit. Suffice to say, it was awful.

It wasn't until the end of those two weeks that I realized what the main problem was with daily sketching: you're not building anything up skill-wise. Sure, you're building a habit, but I wasn't being fulfilled by the things that I was drawing. These were one-shot pieces, things that I'll draw only one time because the prompt told me to and never again.

It was the same experience I faced in Inktober: I hated the prompts. It was difficult to think of something that plays off the prompt and draw something. And most of the time, the prompt left me devoid of ideas. I would often search up images related to the prompt and draw directly from reference. It was boring and uninspiring.

If I'm going to do another daily sketch challenge, I'm going to be making my own prompts, or have none at all. I think I'll enjoy myself more that way. Even then, I don't think drawing daily equals improvement. Deliberate practice with a well-defined direction is infinitely better than daily practice going in every direction possible.

I joined a social platform made for artists... and quit that too. Artfol is essentially a close cousin of Instagram in terms of its features. It has the usual profile with a gallery of the artist's posts, and posts are actually displayed to others in chronological order (coming from the old days of IG). They also added the retweeting/reblogging system that you see in Twitter and Tumblr respectively.

After a while of use, I ended up obtaining an unhealthy compulsion to check the app. It was no different from IG, for me personally. In reality, I wasn't as up to socializing with other artists than I thought I did.

Not to mention, I actually don't like the reblog feature. It's a nice gesture, sure, but only once in a while. If the person that I'm following reblogs too much and rarely posts their own work, then I'm going to unfollow them. I'm not here for other people, I'm here for them, and if that's what I'm not getting, then I'm leaving.

It didn't take me long for me to leave the platform and delete my account. I wasn't getting any use out of it. It was a decent art community, but from all of the experiences from other apps, I gather that I don't work well in social media, period, regardless if it's open-source, privacy driven, no predatory tactics, welcoming community, or whatever. It's a bad time all around for me.

Favourite Pieces

I don't have very many favourites from this year, considering that I didn't even know what I wanted to do in terms of process, so I was either experimenting, or entirely lost. Nevertheless, I picked three that I thought were decent. To me, anyway.


#85 - This was my second-to-last doodle clothing piece that I did. Despite the clothing itself not being thematic like some of the other ones in the series, I find that this was my cleanest execution out of all of them. The other pieces had issues with proportions or sloppy linework that bothered me quite a bit.

#90 (left) and #105 (right)

#90 - these two characters were an idea I had a long time ago, and it was the first time I made a piece featuring them both. I was a bit more experimental with my colour choices compared to previous pieces (like putting green and blue hues in certain spots to add some variety). I did this all with one brush (round opacity), asides from the airbrush, which was a nice little challenge.

#105 - this was after getting my head out of the gutter and I finally figured out how to use every brush by changing its opacity. It was the first time I was able to manually create texture in an original piece that wasn't based on a post-processing technique or relying on a brush's gimmick to do it for me, so I was very excited.

Some Final Statistics

I created 37 finished pieces this year, which amounts to around 3 pieces a month. But considering that I often work in bursts, it's probably more accurate to say that it was around 6-7 pieces every 2 to 3 months. This doesn't include the 31 drawings I did for Inktober.

I did 32 painting studies, 5 of which are master studies like I mentioned earlier.

I filled up 335 sheets of paper, completing my first art binder (which I talk about in detail in this article). However, most of those sheets of paper (around a half to two-thirds) were automatic drawings done with a brush pen.

Concluding Thoughts

I think this year was substantially different from previous years because I was thinking more about art and how I practiced instead of just practicing. I realize that art is not only about technical skill, but it is also a method of thought—a way of seeing the world.

The art journal that I maintained throughout the year reinforced this, because I had to document my work in a way that doesn't just show results, but the process as well—the craft and thought that goes into artistic practice. That led to me being more deliberate in my work, which I think helped with growth despite the fact that I didn't "grind" as much as previous years.

This was a year of sorting the wheat from the chaff; finding out what things worked and what didn't. I wouldn't say that this was a distinct year for results, but I think it serves as a massive stepping stone in deciding the type of work that I'll be creating in the future.

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