AFTER - Thomas Point - 6"x6" oil on canvas panel - 2010
There is no better way to get better at something than to practice. We’ve all learned how to ride a bike and drive a car, and we learned by practicing, falling down, and probably getting our first traffic ticket.
But there’s more to it than just practice. How I practiced made a huge difference in becoming a better painter. The three principles described below were key. I think you can find analogies to them for anything you want to learn, such as cooking, or playing an instrument. You can see the change in my work through the paintings I’ve used to illustrate this post. There is about a year difference between the Before and After paintings, and during that time I used the techniques described here.
AFTER - Farm Pond Pines - 6"x 6" oil on canvas - 2010
First, you'll have the most effective learning experience if repetition of the whole process is part of your approach. For painting, it's best to paint several small paintings from start to finish each week, spending a short time on each one. Spending many hours on one painting doesn't build the muscle memory that the previous approach gives you, and you'll never become comfortable with the parts of the process that are hard for you. If you have stacks of partly completed paintings sitting around, it's likely because you're getting stuck, and you know what I mean! The same can be said for that piano piece that I can play the first page of so beautifully, and when I get to the last page, I’m slogging my way through it with lots of mistakes.
BEFORE - Afternoon Shadows - 6"x6" gouache on paper - 2009
Second, it’s easier to capture the form in space when working from life rather than from photos. Going from three dimensions to two works best when you do that with your own eyes, rather than relying on your camera, because the lenses in your eyes are so much better. I’m not sure what the analogy is here for playing an instrument, unless it’s playing a real piano rather than an app. Perhaps for baking, it’s doing that from scratch rather than from a mix.
BEFORE - Gilsland Trees - 6"x6" oil on canvas panel - 2009
And finally, it helps in your exercises to paint a subject that's of interest, but isn't something that's really important to you, or that you've promised to paint for someone. Adding that stress subtracts from the learning experience. This is why, when I’m doing exercises, I divide my canvas into four parts. When I do that, it's no longer a frame-able picture, it's purely an exercise, and a weight comes off my shoulders. I know this works for cooking. There’s nothing more stressful than making something for the first time for a dinner party!
Bobbi - Painter. Sketcher. Teacher. Boat and Dog Lover.