Do It Daily, Do It Deliberately and Improve Dramatically

To do better at anything, from painting to shooting hoops, there is no substitute for daily, deliberate practice. K. Andres Ericsson and his team have lead the research on deliberate practice, and they tell us being deliberate about practice can shorten the time—thought to be about ten years under normal conditions—to expertise. It requires four things:

  1. Motivation.
  2. Tasks designed to take advantage of existing knowledge.
  3. Immediate feedback.
  4. Repeated performance of the same or similar thing.

If you desire to get better, even much better, at what you do, then read on. If your want to improve and have fun, read on, because practice can also be fun.

It’s best to practice under the guidance of a teacher or mentor, who knows how to structure the necessary tasks and provide immediate feedback on work. Without that immediate feedback, it’s almost impossible to learn efficiently (reduce time to expertise), and improvement will be minimal. I was fortunate to find Joe Paquet, an excellent and accomplished landscape painter, to teach me how to be a better painter. Naively, I thought I could learn what I needed to know in 12 weeks. What I learned in his first 12-week studio class is that I have a lot to learn.

What I want to learn to do skillfully is plein air painting. Plein air is a French term that means painting what you actually see “outside” in open air. It has a strong connection to Impressionist work; after all, the Impressionist painters taught us how to see and depict atmosphere in our paintings. Painting outdoors has its own unique set of challenges: special equipment (compact and lightweight) that can be carried a distance, terrain, bugs, onlookers, weather, and animals (including dogs that belong to people who let them off leash, after which, they will for sure run under your easel or tripod). I don’t mind onlookers, but dogs that are too curious irritate me. And last week, my half-finished painting and paint palette ended up face down in the gravel, my turpentine spilled, and brushes splayed on the road, when I turned away for or 10 seconds and a gust of wind tipped everything over. Nothing broke, and I can finish the painting, so the consequences are minimal.

In spite of the challenges, I love plein air painting, which I’ve been doing about a year.

Boat Ramp on MississippiRock in a Hard Place (2)

I painted the one on the left (oils on 6×6-inch wood panel) last summer. I painting the one on the right (oils on 6×8-inch on linen-covered hardboard panel)  this spring, when I was about halfway through the 12-week class.

What do you want to learn to do better? What’s stopping you? Feel free to leave a comment.

Note: this is the first post in a new category: Plein Air. I plan to post about tools, tips, frustrations, and the fun of plein air painting, when inspired to do so.

 

 

 

What Motivates Us to Make Art?

Advice that’s frequently dispensed to people in creative fields goes something like this. “If you want to be successful, then develop a unique, marketable style. Know what buyers want. Then, go forth and create paintings people will like and buy.”

This may actually be poor advice.

People like paintings of dogs and cats and of kids playing near or in water. This is a good market niche. That doesn’t mean we should start churning out paintings of dogs or cats or kids at the beach in the hope of reaching the market. In fact, artists risk being cliché if they do. I know a woman who paints delightful cows and pigs and, occasionally, sheep. Her paintings sell well, because she has developed technical skills and because she has also developed her talent for seeing and capturing each animal’s special essence. She loves her farm-yard animals and that love shows in her work.

The point I want to make is not that painting any of these “marketable” subjects is wrong. It’s not. But painting simply because there’s a market for certain subjects is poor advice that often results in cliché paintings.

There is a lot of good advice for artists (and writers), too.

Connecting with other artists by studying their works (maybe even copying their style for a while) for the sake of arriving at one’s personal truth is good advice. Creativity coach Eric Maisel says that this kind of connecting “extends tradition” and is a good way to arrive at a personal style.

I love to paint landscapes with oils, frequently in plein air, as do thousands of other painters. I’m not sure my “style” will ever appear. I’m also not sure that it won’t.

 

Music is to Painting …

Consider this:

Does listening to music help us be creative?

I arrived early at Joe Paquet’s Thursday night studio painting class to get set up for three hours of painting and critique. Joe likes to play music while we paint and on that evening, he started out with opera music. The painters around me weren’t diggin’ it. The music wasn’t bringing out our “inner Italian” as Joe had suggested it could do. After awhile, the opera was replaced with another piece of music, and we painted on until it was time to clean up and go home (or stop in at Kelly’s Depot).

I don’t listen to music when I paint, but I know lots of people do. And some research in this area indicates that listening to music, or even an audio story, can help people problem solve. There is a caveat, though. You have to like the music that is playing for it to have a positive effect on brain function.

Apparently, the brain’s default mode is “wandering.” While focusing on tasks requires a lot of effort and is mentally exhausting, the wandering mind activates creative thinking.

I can’t say the music playing on in the background as I painted Thursday night helped me solve the problem of how to paint beautiful branches on the trees in the landscape I was working on. The branches I created did not have the “flowing” quality Joe suggested I could obtain if I “relaxed” and “exhaled slowly.” Perhaps I am too focused (my branches looked a little tense) and I need to listen to music when I paint.

Do you listen to music while you create? Is it helpful? Let’s make this a conversation. Share your thoughts in a comment.

Read more about how music can help you be creative here.

Art Is …

Consider this: Can anyone create art?

The answer depends on who you talk to.

Some people say “true art” can be created only by people who understand that art should exist only for itself and that it doesn’t need to have utility or a function. I’ve tried to imagine what such works of art might be like and everything I think of fails to be useless. Any object placed in a space or on a wall will, at the very least, FILL that space or become something to bump into or trip over. That’s probably not what “some people” think of when they’re creating useless art, but my mind can’t escape from the notion that everything we create has some purpose.

We create in response to what we see, think about, and feel, and we create in order to communicate to others what we see, think about, and feel. Whether or not what we create is “art” depends, again, on who you talk to. Grandma Moses began painting in her seventies, and her artwork never advanced beyond the “primitive” style for which she was famous. Her paintings remain popular today.

Everyone is creative. It’s in our DNA. And anyone can create art. Art is merely the application or expression of creative skill and imagination, which will be discussed in future posts.

What are your thoughts about creating and art? Are you creating?