Thursday, September 14, 2017

Daily Painting: Frequent Practice is Essential for Mastery

Don't let anything get in the way of your daily art practice!
As a born perfectionist and over thinker, I am not really a huge "doer" when compared to some people. Despite being a quick start, I tend to avoid finishing projects in favour of a shiny new project or idea. Also, my preferred method is to mull things over until I feel like I have everything figured out in order to to avoid nasty mistakes. 

Malcolm Gladwell talked about the need for 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. Some disagree with that number and I would say that it is important to have a lot of focused practice, not just putting in the hours. That may involve taking classes, reading books, watching demos and working on specific tasks to improve where you are weak. Plein air outdoor painting, for instance is a great challenge to take on that will help you quickly nail values and colour in your work. Working from life in the studio is a valuable practice as well, for many of the same reasons, but a little easier since you can control your lighting.

If you want a scientific study to prove the conjecture that producing more work is better than trying to just complete one masterpiece, this quote from the book, Art and Fear, is enlightening:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
The more paintings you have done, the more experience you have gained and as you progress you will find that quality springs from quantity. The more often you create, the better you become at your chosen vocation. Fortunately, over time I have managed to put in a lot of hours and a lot of study, despite myself and can now see the value in having a consistent, regular art practice with focused attention to areas that need work. 

Creating art on a daily basis can be a real life challenge for many of us, whether it is kids, a necessary job that pays the bills, health problems that cause endless appointments or family responsibilities that get in the way. Many of these are an ongoing struggle for me, so I empathize with others who may have even more challenging circumstances. So, how can we possibly have a daily art practice?

One of the best ways to improve quickly and feel more comfortable is to work small - in this way you can incorporate all the elements of a bigger painting - composition, colour, value, texture, big shapes and, most importantly, confidence! Then you can go on to apply the lessons learned to larger pieces.

All this is not to say that there is no value in "book learning" or studying the work of master painters, but there is no substitute for the daily grind of going to your room (as the late Robert Genn recommended) and doing your work.

* photo obviously not mine - can't find the origin to credit, so if anyone knows, please let me know!

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