7 tips for learning Blender more efficiently

Create: 2018-07-14
Update: 2018-07-14
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Hey ~Contact.FirstName~

I know you joined this email list for the Keyboard Shortcut PDF, but I hope I can give you something else: a guided learning experience. Because I know how annoying it can be to be learning something new and then not knowing what to do next.

To recap my previous emails, these are the tutorial series I recommend you do in order:

  1. The Beginner (Donut) tutorial series, then
  2. The Intermediate Anvil tutorial series

I hope that by now you've had a chance to watch them. But if not, no stress! You've still got time.

This email is about something that applies to you regardless of where you are in learning Blender: mindset and habits.

This is something that took me 10 years to figure out, and if I'd known it at the start it would have vastly increased the speed and quality of what I created in Blender. I'm passing it on to you now so you don't have to suffer like I did.

Here are my 7 Steps for learning blender more effectively...

Step 1: Have a clearly defined goal

"What's the reason you're learning Blender? What do you want to make?"

Answering this simple question could have the greatest effect on your long term learning.

Why? Because there's thousands of blender tutorials on youtube, and you'll never be able to watch or follow them all. So you need a filter, and asking yourself this question does just that.

For example, if you know that you want to make a T-rex, when you see an architecture tutorial you know you can skip it. But when you see a tutorial on creature sculpting, you'll know its something worth learning.

Here's an example of what a clearly defined goal might look like:

  • I want to make a first person shooter game
  • I want to render an architectural animation
  • I want to make a character animation
  • I want to 3d print some jewelry

Even if you're not sure if your goal is achievable, writing it out will at least guide you in the right direction. You may later discover that you don't enjoy it, or that you want to do something else, but that's fine! All that matters now is having something.

And if you're not sure what you want to do, think back to what initially sparked your interest in 3D. Was it a particular video game, animated movie or a render on some website? If you still don't know, try browsing ArtStation, and note what piques your interest.

Step 2: Build an Inspiration Swipefile

What sort of 3d art do you absolutely love?

A great way to stay motivated while learning is to keep a swipefile of inspiration - a Google Doc or Evernote - with all the artwork, animations or games that you love.

I like to browse ArtStation and copy and paste any of the images I like into an Evernote file.

Don't overthink it. Just grab whatever speaks to you.

Here's one I created when I was learning digital painting.

Now make your own! It's actually a fun exercise.

This step may seem unimportant, but when you're pulling your hair out and you feel like giving up, this swipe file will remind you why you got started.

Step 3: Watch tutorials!

Learning anything new requires you to learn from others. And you may be doing this for a while.

Sure, making stuff on your own is important (see next step), but you don't know what you don't know. And so especially at the start, tutorials are essential.

For example, when I was learning to draw I remember repeating sketch after sketch over several days, with the belief that practice alone would make me improve. But after flipping back through the pages I noticed that my drawings weren't really improving.

So I stopped practicing and instead rewatched some drawing tutorials online. To my surprised I'd completely misremembered some facial measurements, so my drawings were way off! Once I fixed this, my drawings improved immediately. Had I not stopped to watch tutorials I wouldn't have improved on my own.

Likewise, if you've just started Blender, and you tried making your own character (without a tutorial), you'll likely be using the wrong method because you won't know any better.

So think of tutorials like training wheels. If you try going cold turkey without them, no amount of faceplanting in the pavement will help you stay upright. Use tutorials until you're confident you can go without them.

Step 4: Don't forget to also fly solo!

On the other end of the spectrum, don't become so attached to tutorials that you never try anything yourself!

I've seen some artists who have an entire portfolio produced entirely from tutorials, with no artworks of their own (which is a bad idea for many reasons).

A huge part of successful learning is application. Which means applying what you've learned to something new.

The process I like to use is 1-on, 1-off:

  • 1 tutorial project
  • 1 project created entirely by myself
  • Rinse and repeat

This cycle ensures that you're keeping the knowledge tank full, while also not being so self confident that you think you've already learned all there is to know.

Step 5: Learn the Fundamentals

Knowing how to use Blender is one thing, but if you want to be a great blender artist, then knowing the fundamentals of art is essential.

In fact knowing the fundamentals is what separates a blender user from a blender artist. Because when you can create aesthetically pleasing artworks, the software isn't important anymore. People love it because of what it is, not because of what was used to create it.

To get started, here's a few fundamentals videos I've made:

  • Understanding Color
  • Understanding Composition
  • Understanding Lighting

There's plenty of books and resources on these topics, but these videos will at least get you started.

Step 6: Daily Practice

If you only take one thing from this email, remember this quote:

"A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules." 
-Anthony Trollope

Practicing Blender everyday - even if only for 30 minutes - will produce higher quality work in 5 years than someone who pulls all nighters for 6 months.

People don't want to hear this, but it's the truth. We all want to read the book "How to get rich in 7 days", and not the practical truth on "Get rich in 60 years".

Just like losing weight, or improving your finances, real art takes time and regular practice.

The long game isn't particularly attractive, but it's the one thing that's almost guaranteed to pay off in the future.

Step 7: Have Fun (or you'll quit)

The hardest part of learning anything is coming back for Day 2.

Because to learn is to repeatedly fail. And much like entering a boxing ring and getting punched in the face, nobody wants to do it willingly.

Learning a new skill sounds fun and romantic, until you've finished a hard day of work and now you just want to relax. Then learning sounds like absolute torture.

But as we addressed in Step 6, coming back every day is the most important thing you can do long term.

And to achieve that, you need to have fun.

Everyone will have different ways of doing this, but I personally like to do some days of hard learning and some days of pleasure projects.

Eg. 5 days of learning something difficult and hard, followed by 2 days of guilt free pleasure projects.

You can adjust this to your own liking, but that's what works for me.


I hope you find this advice useful!

If you like it, check out my post on the 9 Artist Lessons I Learned the Hard Way. Some are already mentioned here, but there's a few new ones as well :)

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