Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Tutorial on Online Tutorials

A lot of people describe tutorials as being double-edged swords, either because the work is impossible to replicate or too easy to replicate (and therefore commonplace). The truth is actually a little grimmer. Tutorials are more than just double-edged swords; they're like swords with lit sticks of dynamite for handles. They can taint all of your future work with repetitive effects and debilitate your ability to learn new programs. The tutorial is a powerful tool that can be used for good but careless reading can actually hurt you!

The reason I don't like tutorials is because people read through them thoroughly and then they typecast their own artistic methods to fit them: "Okay so I'm making fire for the eightieth time in Photoshop. I have to use this exact setting and use these exact filters and . . ." What you'll end up with is a very boring string of work—if you're lucky. A lot of people are hard pressed to even find a use for what they've "learned" in tutorials because their exact settings/techniques don't end up working with the rest of the project. When artists start thinking that they always have to do it the same way with the same settings they produce boring, bland and just plain bad work.

The problem is that people read tutorials and see them as techniques and settings instead of taking away the artistic principles behind them. It's easy to get caught up in the minor nuances that make up the effect or technique in the tutorial. The problem with this is that people absorb the technical details but they completely forget the greater picture of what they're trying to do in the first place. It's not just the readers who are the offenders though; the writers of tutorials are to blame as well.

A big problem is that people who write tutorials get caught up in technical details as well. They write tutorials with pin-point accuracy and include picture examples so that people can feel safe as they follow along. A lot of tutorials you see on the web (Program based mostly) are full of numbers and settings and are completely lacking in theory and practice. A good tutorial is one that acts both as an instruction set and an artistic lesson.

As I've been saying, what people should get from tutorials are the principles and ideas behind them that often go overlooked. This isn't always easy with the incredibly wide-spread availability of tutorials for various things; many of these tutorials aren't heavy on artistic theory anyway. What I like to do is browse through tutorials and when I see one I like, I don't read it. I look at what it's about, the brief overview, and then I go off and try to do it by myself without reading any part of the tutorial. If I get lost at a certain point I'll go back and see what they did but I won't read that damn thing until I hit a bump in the road. I find that my method leads to more creative learning and a lot less disappointment.

The point of it all is to learn to think for yourself and experiment with the tools you have at your disposal. You'll gain a lot more from learning what the specific function of a tool or menu is than you will from simply learning someone else's method of using it. Self-learning is one of the most powerful ways there is for learning computer programs; for traditional technique it varies. With drawing and sculpting it’s pretty safe to use the "look and try to replicate" approach. Complex and/or dangerous trades like jewelry crafting and pottery making should be studied thoroughly using the appropriate texts.

Overall I think tutorials can be beneficial to just about anyone who wants to learn more, as long as they're used correctly. Finding tutorials that focus on possible variations is a definite plus. Another good technique is to seek out as many tutorials on your specific subject as possible and compare them to each other. As long as you read responsibly and try to take away artistic principles instead of quick fixes and settings, you should be fine. Just remember: nothing compares to a well-written book on the matter!

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