Inspiration or procrastination?

Iris Hopp - Inspiration vs Procrastination, angry eyes

It’s a trap! The simple trap I fall in every day: pretending to prepare for action instead of taking action.

Time to draw? Let me check out this video on the anatomy of ears and the new paintings by this amazing artist and this tutorial on correctly holding a pencil and…

I pull this all the time – and I am sure a lot of you recognize the situation…

Studying? Let’s check out this blog post on speed reading, so I can study with more efficiency!

Blogging? Oh, better research the ideal length of a post instead of actually writing one!

Working? Time to write a detailed planning on how to use the time I could spend working instead of planning!

It’s quite dangerous because you feel busy, but you are not doing anything. For an artist, the most common traps are:

  1. Looking for inspiration
  2. Looking for reference

I had to stop myself. It took me a while to distinguish between work and fake work, but I found a trick. If I’m not creating right now, I ask myself:
Am I doing this because it…
“Might be useful” or because it “Answers a problem”?

For example, watching interesting tutorials might be useful.Drawing along with a tutorial on how to draw legs because I’m stuck in my current drawing, that’s an answer to my problem.
Reading Lord of the Rings because it might give me inspiration for a painting? Nah, not so useful. Googling “Devil May Cry castle art” because I want to know how to make a castle look like an evil bastion? That’s more like it!

Devil May Cry - Castle Concept
Seriously, Devil May Cry knows how to give it evil vibes.

Now what can you do when you need inspiration?
Try this little tool :

What if you need a reference?
Google your keyword and don’t allow yourself to scroll down the first page.
Now, of course you can have fun. My problem is that I started lying to myself – I pretended to work when I was goofing off. Afterwards, I felt bad… Now when I goof off, it’s well-earned!
Let’s become more productive! Now tell me, was this post an answer to your problem? 😉

– Iris

Organizing Your Drawing Archive: naming your files

Why do you want a drawing archive? The answer decides how you will organize your archive.
For me, seeing my own progress is the most important. My archive is a bit like a timeline.

Here’s my current folder:

Iris Hopp - drawing archive folder 2015 JanuaryFirst I have my main archive folder, dubbed “Tekenstudie” (Dutch for “Drawing Study”). That folder is divided into years and then into months (1 January, 2 February, 3 March, …). My commissions have a separate folder.
The file names have a set format: date – keywords – imag/ref/life – time

1. Date
I start with the date in the format YYYYMMDD, so I can easily compare pictures from a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, … As a bonus, the images are automatically sorted! When I use “sort by date”, the computer sorts when the file was created, not when the drawing was actually made 🙂

Iris Hopp - dragons date file name example
For art made over several days, I use YYYYMMDD+DD (separate dates), or YYYYMMDD-DD (time span).

2. Keywords
Next, I pick at least one keyword. Why? When you compare old and new drawings, you understand your improvement better when you compare the same subject. We could compare this year’s dragons to last year’s calligraphy, but will that tell us how far we’ve come?

3. imag/ref/life
Now the third tag is very important: imag/ref/life. What does this mean? The tag “imag” is for a drawing made from my imagination. When I used an example, like a picture, I add “ref”, short for “reference”. If I drew from a real life object, the tag is “life” as in “drawing from life”. For a combination you could use a tag like “imag+ref”.
Why does this matter? Because the quality of your drawing changes with it. Your referenced work might be technically better, but maybe your work from imagination is more colourful and interesting. Your experience and style creates a gap between the work from imagination, reference and life… Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges.

4. Time
Lastly, I keep track of how much time I spend drawing. This is a personal quirk, but I still think it’s interesting to note how long a drawing took you. Over time you get faster and it will be another way to show that you’ve improved. Or it shows you that you draw too fast! I need a course in Patience 101
If you also want to sort by medium, you can make subfolders like “Oil”, “Digital”, “Sketchbook”. I don’t do this because I like the monthly overview. Oh, and because it feels better to open a stuffed folder and saying “woah, I drew a lot that month!” than opening a subfolder and saying “oh, I made seven ink paintings”.

If you were doubting how to sort your art, I hope this helps. Maybe you have a totally different system: tell me in the comments! How many of you have no system at all, but instead a bunch of files named “gfhljehu”? 😉

– Iris

Why the ballpoint pen beats the pencil for sketching

How do you make sure you can practice anywhere, anytime? Bring a sketchbook! There’s always one in my bag or backpack. The best ones are A5-sized with a hard cover, like this Moleskin (Amazon link). The small size makes it easy to pull out and use anywhere. Secondly, thanks to the hard cover you don’t need an extra surface to draw on. I even sketch while waiting in line in the supermarket.

Now have a look at my old sketchbooks:early 2013 SB Iris HoppIris Hopp Sketchbook pageslate 2013 SB Iris Hopp Do you see what has stayed the same over the years? The ballpoint pen. When you think about drawing, often pencils come to mind, but I love ballpoints! There are actually a lot of artists who scribble away with ballpoint pens.
But why?
My main reason to switch to a ballpoint pen was… smudging.

smudge 2012 sketch Iris Hopp
My poor drawing :'(

Now with a pencil you can avoid smudging too… drawing with your arm, not resting your hand on the page… But with my small A5-sketchbook, I was constantly turning my pages into a grey mess. Do you know the silverlike stain you get on your hands? It is easier to just use a tool that doesn’t smudge.
Oh, the day that I started doodling with a ballpoint pen. Wonderful! Amazing! Glorious! It’s just so comfortable: no worries about smudging away my art. Since then I’ve used the ballpoint everyday.

The Ballpoint to the Rescue! But…
Ballpoint pen BIC subtitle banner

So, cleanliness is a big advantage of the ballpoint pen. But isn’t it more difficult to draw with than a pencil?
Well… it depends on the ballpoint. Not only the brand, but also the model. You have any kind of ballpoint like a 14 karat gold ballpoint  (Amazon link) which you’ll never use, but also cheap gel pens from hotel rooms.
A gel pen or a very liquid ballpoint pen will be difficult to control, because the ink comes out smoothly and consistently. That’s a good trait for writing, but for drawing you want a stubborn, fairly dry ballpoint pen. You’ll be surprised to find ballpoints that draw exactly like a pencil! With pressure, you can vary lightness and thickness. This way, you can sketch very lightly before going over the drawing with your final lines, just like with a pencil. Of course, erasing is still reserved for pencils. There are erasable ballpoint pens, but they are not up to the same quality as pencils yet.
I also found that ballpoint pens have a good grip on the paper, sometimes more so than pencils.

So how do I choose my ballpoints? First of all, I test out all free ballpoints I can get my hands on. Am I a cheapo for that? I don’t know… wouldn’t a company be happy when I use their branded ballpoint pen & tell everyone how good it is? 😉 It’s amazing how often ballpoint pens are given away during promotions and in goodie bags.
Secondly, when I buy a ballpoint pen, I opt for a bulk package of the retractable black ones from BIC. I couldn’t find the exact model on Amazon, but I think that this model comes the closest (Amazon link) .
I prefer the retractable ones because I always lose the caps. 😳
BIC is dirt cheap too. In fact, I also buy mechanical pencils from BIC (Amazon link) because of their cheap price combined with the bright colours 😀
Oh, I’m so superficial.

Other criteria for picking a ballpoint? Size doesn’t matter. I do advice getting a dark colour though, like black or dark blue. You need your drawing to stand out on the white paper!
Now what would be a bad ballpoint? The main difference between a good and a bad ballpoint pen is blotching. Let me show you the problem:

Iris Hopp - blotchy ballpoint pen

But heck, does it matter? Just grab a ballpoint, try it for a few days & then decide whether you like it! It’s not a big deal like choosing a new drawing tablet would be 🙂

“But I don’t like the look of ballpoint drawings”
The Look of Ballpoint Drawings - subtitle banner

Don’t worry! You’ll just have to find the right ballpoint for you. Now that sounds a bit cheesy. Wait, I’ll show you. Could you guess that this image has been drawn with ballpoint pens only?

Redhead Girl, Ballpoint pen, by VianaArts

I didn’t know it either, but there are so many colours and types of ballpoints out there… there are no limits! Heck, you can even buy ballpoints with invisible ink. Eh… so you can reuse your drawing paper, I guess?

Anyway, I love ballpoint pens. I’ll just give you a quick overview of the pros and cons!

– dries out if unused for a long time
– ink flows slower in freezing temperatures (I know because I sketched outside during the winter…)
– ballpoints can smudge too, if your rub over the ink in the millisecond before it dries
– you can’t erase it

Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? First of all, don’t let your pen go unused. Draw every day! Secondly, you don’t have to draw in freezing temperatures. Thirdly, you most likely won’t touch the ink before it dries. And lastly, being unable to erase it is a way to increase your line confidence!
However, a downside to ballpoint pens versus hand-sharpened, classic pencils is that you cannot draw broad strokes.

late 2014 SB A4 Iris HoppPros:
The biggest pro is that a ballpoint pen draws like a pencil. There’s a reason why pencils are so popular – because they are awesome. If only they wouldn’t smudge…
So an important advantage of the ballpoint pen is: cleanliness! No accidental smudging anymore 🙂
– draw light or bold lines by varying pressure (which translates into sketching first and then drawing the final version, and also enables you to vary shade colour)
– you develop drawing confidence because you work with ink
– a wide selection of stylus and ink types, sizes and colour

And lastly, you can show off with a fancy, 14 karat gold ballpoint pen that you’ll never need. I hope it’s refillable.

Whew, I’m amazed that a rave about ballpoints turns out this long!
Now… what do YOU think of the ballpoint pen? Hate or love it?

– Iris

P.S.: completely irrelevant but funny, here’s my favourite ballpoint pen review on Amazon.


Reader David J. Teter gave a great tip in the comments: the ink of cheaper ballpoints might fade, so if you want your drawings to last, choose a ballpoint pen that states to use “india ink” or “permanent ink”.


How do you become successful thanks to someone saying that you can’t?

When you want to become an artist, plenty of people will say that you can’t. How do they help you become successful? Because they tell you why you fail.

The perfect example is this talk, “Why you will fail to have a great career”.

Just reading the title, doesn’t this feel like a very negative video? When I watch it, I feel energized and motivated.
Say what?
It took a switch in mindset – from feeling afraid to feeling inspired.
When people tell you to give up…

“There’s no future in art.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“You should get a real job.”

Just ask why. I don’t even argue with anyone. I ask why, listen to them with a bit of nodding and then go away or change the subject.


Often you’ll find that they don’t have a reason for saying so, they’re just being negative! But when they do give you a good reason for failure, you will also know what you need to become successful.
What reasons for failure does the video give you? Lack of passion. Not aiming high. Making excuses.
If you turn those around, you have the tools for success: work with passion, aim high and go for it!

“I had a dream once, kid. But… but then you were born.” – Larry Smith

– Iris

Need a place to start? Loomis: Free to Download & Figure Drawing Master

When people ask me how they can learn to draw, I always recommend “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain(Amazon link). It’s a book for everyone. Even if you never held a pencil before, you can learn to draw with it. The downside of the book is that it focuses on copying rather than using your imagination. That’s kind of a bummer. “Hey, I’m an artist, but I can’t create new stuff.”
Good news: there are more books that teach how to draw for beginners.

Mr Andrew Loomis himselfMeet Loomis, the man who will teach you to draw people from imagination!

He is an expert in drawing figures and has a book aimed at beginners: Fun with a Pencil. His book starts off so easy that you’d think it’s a joke! But gradually he adds more information and before you know it, your drawings turn from cartoon faces into real characters. His books are among the best to learn drawing humans.

The best part? You can download the books for free here:

I prefer printed books, but have been using the PDFs so far. The real ones are on my wish list!

Fun with a Pencil will start you off with simple cartoon heads before introducing realistic faces. After the heads, you will learn to draw the whole body – even in movement! At the end, you get a quick introduction to perspective and light.

Now, why is Loomis so popular (even long after his passing)? It’s because he teaches you a solid drawing method. You learn a skill you can use throughout your art career. For example, I applied his construction method to animal drawing 🙂

Loomis - Fun with a Pencil, example pages
A few examples from “Fun with a Pencil”


When you finish the first book, Fun with a Pencil, there will be more of his (free!) books waiting for you. Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth and Drawing the Heads and the Hands are my favourites. They teach all you need about drawing humans. Oh, except for genitals. So eh… you’ll have to figure that out yourself, I guess?

So check him out & happy drawing!

– Iris

Why would I end up an artist? I wanted to be a caveman

Caveman artist

What do you want to be when you grow up? At 23, I finally have an answer. I want to be an artist.

It took me a while to decide. In university I mixed culture and biology. Yes, it was interesting. I dissected a rat and then went to a lecture on Asian art. As a teenager, my dream was opening a pet store. My childhood dream was becoming a caveman. Weird how I went from dreaming of lush, curly hair all over me to plucking of my eyebrows.

Why art?

I have always been scared of art. I couldn’t paint like Rubens. Drawing was nothing but frustration. No talent, no future.

You need to be born with a gift for art.

That’s what I believed.

But a new idea sprang. You could learn. I understood that Rubens didn’t come out of the womb with a pencil in his hand. He practiced. All the great artists practiced. They got better till they became masters. What does this mean? That there is hope.

Current artists show  that you can go from an average doodler to a professional painter. Do you want examples? There’s Algenpfleger (before & after), MindCandyMan (before & after) and Marek Okon (before & after) .

I had to start somewhere.

A lot of art books are step-by-steps or aimed at artists with experience, but luckily some people recommended me books to get started. Books like “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (Amazon link) assume that you have zero experience and teach you drawing methods instead of only showing you steps.
I started drawing just one hour a day.

I saw my art improving every day! This was my progress in one week:

Ivy leaf - first drawings by Iris Hopp

I passed the first stage. I went from being an “absolute beginner” to being just a  beginner. There is much more to learn… (wait for it, I’ll show you my level of car drawing in just a second). I want to be a good artist. That will take time and effort. That will take an awful lot of drawing practice!

My plan is to create a portfolio and go to art school. This means self-studying art for half a year. Isn’t it contradictory to first study art and then go to art school? There are two reasons for this. First of all, I will know whether I have the drive to buckle down and study art. Doodling is fun. Measuring perspective and analyzing anatomy… well, that’s not as fun as doodling.

The better my portfolio, the higher my chance of getting into a good art school. I have a lot of stuff to learn.

For example, drawing cars. Don’t laugh, but this is my attempt at drawing cars:

car sketches sketchbook

See? I am nowhere yet. The good side of sucking really bad is that there will be improvement. Even if I don’t get on Rubens’ level, hard work will get me beyond where I am now.

It takes some courage to acknowledge failure. I have a Tumblr to showcase my “happy accidents”. Those paintings made me go “Ooh, maybe I do stand a chance”, but I was hiding the bad work. Even worse, there were weeks of not painting at all.

“Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.”

I have to draw every day. I don’t want to be a caveman, I want to be an artist. A pretty good one.

– Iris