Posted in Creativity, Deliberate Practice, Playbook Strategy, Plein Air

Showing Up Matters Most


A blank canvas, or the blank page, IS uncertainty. Every time I set up to paint, I feel uncertain about many things. I’m unsure of my ability to paint a tree trunk or water so it looks “right.” I don’t know if the composition I see is the best composition. Perhaps there is a better one. I don’t feel confident about a lot of the decisions I’ll make while painting. I’m not certain I can convey what I’m thinking in this blog post. The only way  that I know of to move from uncertainty to less uncertainty is to keep trying. And that’s the beauty of deliberate practice.

We can work with a coach or teacher, who will assign things to practice doing. Or we can design our own deliberate practice. I attended a workshop in September and the woman who taught the workshop told us that doing 50 studies in 50 days would really help us to improve our plein air work. I’ve started a new 6 x 8-inch painting every day since September 24. I have to paint for one hour, but I don’t have to finish the piece. Removing the requirement to “finish” what I start has been liberating! Rather than being focused on the product (finished art), I stay focused on the practice. Each painting is an opportunity to practice doing what is difficult and finding answers to overcome limitations. I’ve learned a lot about the work of painting. Just as important, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Some of the most important (to me) things I’ve learned include:

  • Keep it simple. What I can accomplish in a given period of time is DIRECTLY related to the level of complexity I choose to introduce in to a study. EVERY different element (water, clouds, trees, rocks, hills, sunlight and shadows, color, distance, and on and on) ups the ante and increases uncertainty, because more things must be resolved. I continue to struggle with this even after doing 31 starts. But it is essential for me to understand not only what I can paint but also how much time it will take. Plein air (working on location) painting is challenging, because the sun is always moving, which causes colors to change and shadows to move so things can look different very quickly.
  • Every effort is successful on some level if I’m learning. The criteria for my deliberate practice is to show up every day, start a new painting, and paint for one hour. About one in five paintings is what I’d consider good enough to show someone. More often, though, the paintings themselves are not that great. Since I’m not focused as much on overall results, I can appreciate the little things in each piece and I can see where I’m improving.

I could go on for a while about all that I’ve learned, but this is enough for today. It’s not perfect, but if some small part of this resonates, the effort was successful.




2 thoughts on “Showing Up Matters Most

  1. You have conveyed the heartbeat of what plein air is about, all its’ regards and frustration. I have painted en plein air for about 11 years off and on through several of those years. This year I think that I feel the most comfortable and yet what you wrote in your first paragraph could have been written by me! The unknown is met every time I go out to paint. I really like the exercise that you undertook of painting every day for a determined amount of days to learn to let go of the end product. I still grasp onto that idea that a painting needs to be finished, though not as much which is absolutely freeing. Wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Margaret. Truly, every painting/study I start causes me to hesitate and think, “OMG! How am I going to do this?” One other thing I’ve learned about myself from working toward the 50 studies in 50 days is that I can’t let daily painting be an “option.” It has to be something I just do — like eating or brushing my teeth. When I leave it as an option, I struggle with myself about whether or not to do it. I’m finding that when I don’t leave it as an option, I don’t waste time deciding. And I love the freedom to just paint, like I did when I was taking art classes in school, and not worry about whether everything I do is good enough to sell or show people.

    I just ordered more panels to paint, and I’m thinking about being even more structured with my deliberate practice. The leaves are falling off the trees here in Minnesota, which leaves us with all those bare branches. I know I need to paint the “mass” rather than the individual branches, but I “see” the branches. So I need to figure out how I can represent the gray mass in a way that is pleasing to me. It may take a few paintings to get that one thing accomplished.

    I hope you can give yourself some freedom to just paint. : )


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