There are photos circulating on the internet of before and after shots of artist's work from ten and twenty years ago, and this amazing transformation to their work today. The problem is that the drawings of the before shots are horrible, and most of the after shots look either traced or made with a grid. In almost all of the examples, there isn't much difference in the knowledge, just the skill.
I did the drawing to the right about fifteen years ago, roughly three or four years before I began working with Daniel Greene. Although it has many flaws, I think it shows a certain amount of knowledge and skill. It isn't downright awful (if I do say so myself). It was drawn from life in a three hour session at The National Arts Club in NYC. I clearly remember the day. Still in art school at the time, and somewhat nervous about even being there, I was minding my own business and drawing. A very famous pastel painter happened to be there. He walked by me and said "It looks like you swallowed a Dean Cornwell book." I think he meant it as an insult but I just looked up and said thank you. To me it was a compliment!
I don't think there are many cases where artists have absolutely no skill when they are young. Most working artists today that I know personally, actually had a tremendous amount of skill when they were young.
I am not posting this to discourage young people who want to be painters, I am posting this because I believe the article to be a misrepresentation. Basically, all the article says is "If you copy enough photos, eventually you will get better at it"
Before I began painting in oil, I worked in colored pencil, even on figurative work. In fact, when I began painting, I toned my canvas to the same color as my charcoal papers, and used only four colors on my palette, White, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, and Terra Rosa, which matched the four colored pencils I favored most.
I spent six months living in France when I was younger.
One of my first jobs was a Dragon I created for a dentist in Seattle. I made enough to pay for the trip. Below is a shot of the dragon. One of my very first oil paintings actually also.