Recently I was thumbing through my old sketch books and encountered some drawings I did of my hands. Looking at the sketches now I see the mistakes but also an important lesson. If you want to improve your artwork, it can be beneficial to try your hand (sorry about the pun) at a less familiar subject. Landscape painters can find value in studying figure work, just as figurative painters can grow by tackling a few landscapes. While we'd all like to have the fluency of John Singer Sargent or Richard Schmid, most of us tend to settle into one discipline. I favor landscapes, but my forays into figure drawing helped a great deal in improving my eye for measurement, volume, edges, form and more. In fact, I need to do more figure work.
There are several figure painters whose work I admire. People like Robert Liberace, Carolyn Anderson and Jeremy Lipking. While these artists are equally fluent with landscapes, one can glean a lot by studying their figure work. Books on figure drawing can also be quite helpful. One that I recommend is Henry Yan's Figure Drawing, Techniques And Tips. Man can this guy draw. All the art in the book came from his class demonstrations and workshop studies.
I have many more wonderful figure drawing books worth exploring, such as the classic Charles Bargue Drawing Course, Sherrie McGraw's "The Language Of Drawing," Harold Speed's "The Practice And Science Of Drawing" to name a few. Whatever your discipline and focus, consider venturing into less familiar territory. If you paint landscapes, consider some figure work. If you do portraits, try going outside and do some plein air studies. If you make jewelry, consider sculpture.
The point is to stretch yourself. If you want to take charge of your artistic growth, step out of your comfort zone. Maybe the reason your work is a bit stilted or stuck lately is because you haven't stretched yourself? Whether you try a different medium or discipline, exploring other forms of artistic expression can pay dividends on your primary work.
Finally, if you're like me then you struggle to find time for your art. Many artists and creatives have day jobs that deny total immersion in their art. The solution is to get creative with your time. For example, I keep a sketch book in my small computer bag. I did the below ball point sketch of a gentleman seated at a recent city council meeting. Such doodles train my eye and the models are free! Whether you're stuck in a laundry mat, waiting in a doctor's office or on a lunch break, such times can be ideal for quick sketching.
Here's the takeaway. Whether you "sketch to stretch" your painting growth or dabble in other artistic disciplines, I think you'll find a pay off. Such efforts can broaden your insights, reignite your creative drive and lead to new breakthroughs. Also, if you get clever you can find little ways to steal some time for such artistic explorations. Give it a try, and best of luck with all your artistic efforts.