Not all successful illustrators have undergone formal training. Christof Simons offers some tips on self-tutoring.

Done well, self-tuition is a gift; poorly done, it’s a nightmare on steroids. So, how do you go about it?

  1. Have a clear goal in sight. You will likely realign your targets as you evolve/learn/grow, however, it is important to have a goal. 
  2. Document yourself: Internet articles, the library, YouTube videos (great for artists). The information is out there.
  3. Analyze your documentation: What are the different aspects of your goal? (e.g. Colour study, sketching, composition…)
  4. Set out your path: How will you attain your goal? Define realizable mid- and short-term objectives.
  5. Plan/organize: Focus on one aspect, but meanwhile keep pushing to evolve other aspects as well.
  6. Record: Record your progress to review later. Measuring is knowing. 
  7. (re)Evaluate: Evaluate your progress using your records. Adapt when required, including planning, or goalwise. Listen to your body!

Christof demonstrating a technique to other artists 

Pitfalls to watch out for:

  1. Confusing practice with play/write/doodle time.
  2. Not focusing on your short-term goal. 
  3. Not knowing what to practise = inadequate research.
  4. Only practising the fun parts.
  5. Overburdening yourself. 
  6. Comparing yourself to others: your reference is your former self!
  7. Floating: remember you’re a student of the subject, not its master, especially once you’ve moved forward considerably.

Must do’s

  1. Regular small bits are better than occasional large chunks of practice time. 
  2. Keep practice short enough to keep the focus.
  3. Plan rest into your schedules.
  4. Make it easy to practise (time- and spacewise).
  5. Create good habits (analyse this).   
  6. Tackle difficult parts.
  7. Embrace failure as a lesson.
  8. Experiment, or purposefully make mistakes to correct.
  9. Study people you look up to and visualise how you’d try to accomplish the same. 

Herons, from a calendar project

Experimentation, visualisation and failure will provide invaluable insights on a subject. Self-tuition may be harder than classic education, but your own unique insights more than make up for it. 

Finally, realise that despite its name, self-tuition is rarely done alone, sound-boarding with others helps you better formulate your ideas, and feedback is an invaluable measurement tool (so join critique groups/forums).


Christof Simons is an illustrator/artist working in Ostend, Belgium. He enjoys drawing/painting animals and landscapes and works in inks, or paints in oils. Currently he's busy painting up a calendar featuring both living and extinct animals of the Low Countries. His website is


  1. Some great tip there Christof.

  2. Even plural!! meant to type 'tips'.

  3. Hey Paul, thanks. If you're in for more tips, self tuition has a lot to do with cultivating good habits. James Clear's book 'Atomic Habits' was really helpful for me to better structure my self tuition.



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