Top 5 Tips When Learning Something New

I’m teaching a free Surface Pattern Design Masterclass right now. It’s a 4-part video series. The core lessons are delivered LIVE on my Facebook page, Anne LaFollette Art. For students who actively signed up for the Masterclass through a free link, I’m providing additional recorded tutorials and extra support in the form of cheat sheets and direct access to me.

Students are posting their work in our private Facebook group, Anne’s Art Club, after completing each lesson. It’s so much fun to see their work and see the progress they are making towards creating their very first repeating pattern.

It seems that whenever we are learning something new or embarking on a new journey, whether that’s a new creative venture or learning a new language or exploring a new technology, common themes around how we get stuck emerge.

These Top 5 Tips help me every time I run into a road block or get stuck when I’m trying to create or learn something new.

1.     Create Before You Consume

Turn social media off! This is getting harder and harder to do. We wake up in the morning and reach for our phones. Throughout the day we check Facebook and Instagram. The imagery looks so perfect and yet scrolling and scrolling and scrolling drops us down the rabbit hole. It’s both overwhelming and intimidating and awakens those voices telling us: “I can’t draw….“ I wrote a whole blog post about the “I can’t draw” syndrome.

Start your day instead with your creative practice. Build a morning routine around a refreshing glass of water or your favorite cup of tea or coffee. And savor it in the quiet. Think about the day ahead and invest time in your creative practice. Sit down and sketch. Or take out your paints and paint. You’ll be fresh. Listen for your own voice in the quiet. It’s there. You just need to listen for it.

2.     Baby Steps

If you are learning something new, remember that Rome was not built in a day. I know that’s an old cliché so maybe it’s better to reference actual baby steps. None of us learned to walk in a single day. And when a baby is learning to walk, they have a huge smile on their face. No matter how many times they fall down. They get up and cheerfully try again and again and again until ultimately, they are walking. And then running!

Each small step you make moves you forward. You’re making progress. There is a lot to learn from the journey itself. Don’t rush through it. Embrace taking baby steps knowing that you will accomplish your goal. Everyone is different and it’s important to run your own race at your own pace.

3.     Keep It Simple; Get Fancy Later

Don’t add all the bells and whistles the first time you learn something new. In my surface pattern design masterclass, we start by putting pen to paper and then we digitize our drawings in Adobe Illustrator and add color to them. My guidance for students is to keep it simple to start. Even just one simple flower sketch can turn into a beautiful repeating pattern.

Understanding the overall process from start to finish gives you the big picture and opens up endless possibilities in the field of surface design. Creating that first pattern that repeats seamlessly is the goal. It can be the simplest pattern imaginable. It’s still incredibly valuable because once you know the steps, you can design more complicated patterns quickly.

4.     Progress Not Perfection

Learning something new takes time. Recognize the progress you are making and stick with it. Investing even a small amount of time every day adds up and keeps you moving forward towards your goal. You may experience that “tipping point” faster than you thought when everything starts to make sense and come together.  

If you’ve experienced learning a new language, do you remember how it felt at the beginning? Personally, I sometimes felt like my head was going to explode. At other times, I felt like my head was full of cotton balls. But eventually, it cleared and I could distinguish words from jumbles of sound. Be patient…

5.     Establish Some Constraints.

One of my favorite online art coaches, Carla Sonheim, talks a lot about establishing constraints or ground rules before she starts creating something new. The idea is to narrow down the number of choices you have in order to remove some of the overwhelm when you are about to begin.

Applying this to surface pattern design might look like:

  • Picking 3-5 motifs to draw instead of 20

  • Using 3 colors instead of 10

  • Creating a simple one-dimensional pattern instead of a complex layered pattern

I come back to these tips over and over again in my creative practice and in my business. Sometimes Keep It Simple; Get Fancy Later serves me the best. Sometimes it’s Baby Steps. It’s almost ALWAYS Create Before You Consume.

Which one resonates the most with YOU?

Most importantly, remember:

It’s Never Too Late to Create

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Hi…I’m Anne!
My creative inspiration comes from a lifetime of observation living in, and traveling to, beautiful environments in the United States and abroad.


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