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.



Posted in Artwork, Deliberate Practice, Playbook Strategy

Peeling Away the Layers with Practice


Red Onion study on 8 x 6 inch linen panel.

This little study happened because I needed to get my daily practice done and it was already dark outside. Instead of looking for an interesting tree to paint, I looked through the cupboard and found a lovely red onion and a faded green dish rag. I haven’t tried a still life painting in a while, so I had to think about different things — how to paint a sphere and folds in a cloth and the texture of the basket. Changing things up a bit can be fun (or not). This was a fun study to do.

Painting every day is both hard and easy. It’s hard because there are days I don’t want to go out, or my schedule is tight and adding more to it feels like more work. It’s easy because I paint without any expectation for how a piece should turn out and I can quit when the time (60 minutes) is up. Sometimes, if a piece is going well, I’ll stick with it for a few more minutes, adding the tree branches or touching up a shadow or adding a highlight. Overall, though, I take whatever I have at the end of practice and call it good. I could, for example, go back in and touch up the “too dark” spot by the onion stem, but so far I’ve left it alone.

We need a strategy if we have goals, and I do have goals. The strategy is the road map that provides direction and milestones. I set a goal to paint 50 studies in 50 days. I did #23 yesterday. I’ll be honest, I hear lots of excuses in my thoughts throughout the day and I feel resistant to going outdoors under a very gray skies. Yesterday was one of those days. But my beautiful onion ended up on the cutting board over the weekend and the yam I do have wasn’t that interesting, so I got my practice in between rainstorms.

When I set this goal, I foresaw that I would have days when I didn’t want to paint, so I asked a friend if she would provide accountability for me. I send her a photo of whatever I’ve painted every day. If I miss 2 days in a row, I will pay her for a coaching session (she’s also a life coach). She’s ready to be my “repair shop” if I lose momentum and need a tune up.

Then yesterday, I had a different thought of a more serious nature. I thought that I should quit painting. I was surprised when that idea popped up, because painting is what I want to do. It’s a goal. It’s connected to other important goals, and quitting has not been one of my options — until yesterday. Maybe what I felt was like a Check Engine light that I need to pay attention to. I need to think more about what all this practice has uncovered.