Art Tips from History
Practice makes perfect.
The secret to success is consistency of purpose.
Plan your work, and work your plan.
Successful specialists have been quoted for centuries espousing the elements of frequent practice as the golden mean towards any sort of mastery.
If talent is inherited, and luck is random, we have no control over the portions served to us.
What we do have complete control over is discipline and practice.
How to Talk Yourself into Painting More Often
If you’re not making art on a regular basis, and a well-meaning friend or family member tries the ‘How Badly Do You Want It?’ pep talk, ignore them. If that question is coming from you, duck-tape the mouth of that thought.
Asking to quantify your need for creativity implies that if you’re not fitting art into your life, you must not truly want it. We both know you want it, and crave it. Being creative – for one inclined toward such things – is as integral as breathing. Deep, satisfied breathing.
Dreaming vs Practicing
Asking how badly you really want to include creativity in your life is a woefully simplified appraisal. It doesn’t explain what to do with a herd of children to manage, or an exhausting job, or little means for supplies, or the lack of access to instruction. And nowhere in that question is a door to bolt against the goblin cloaked as fear of failure.
Making room in your life for creativity has to come in practical, baby steps. And it must be accompanied by a commitment to reign in disparaging self-talk.
Pay Attention to Yourself
In the midst of encouraging a friend on a new watercolor, she stops me to point out everything that went terribly wrong. I relay something that worked well, and quick as a whip, she counters with another ailment. It’s like playing tennis; I serve a compliment, and she volley’s a criticism, over and over.
After a few rounds, we’re arguing over the rank unworthiness of a sweet beginner’s watercolor.
I begin to realize the cycle of self-criticism is so practiced and harsh, and so engrained, that it has control over the person reciting it, to the last word. That’s called a habit. An art-crushing, learning-stalled, terrible habit.
How Do You Get Better at Something Hard?
Negative review of your own work is an irrevocable approach to inhibit your practice. Unchecked frustration will slow the progress of your skills.
When you catch yourself thinking harsh thoughts while making art, find a photograph of you at the age of 6 or so. Tape it to your workspace.
Now, imagine saying those discouraging, critical things to that child as they hand you their latest attempts at something creative. You’d never say harsh criticisms to a child, would you? I didn’t think so. If a photo of yourself doesn’t work, choose a photo of one of your kids, or a grandchild.
That’s what we are as beginner artists. Just kids, with a brush, some pencils, and pigments, and a wish to create. Go easy on your inner kid.
Create for the Process, Not the Outcome
If a six year old handed you a stick figure missing an arm, you’d find something encouraging to say. Because we all know encouragement works better at sustaining a practice. That rule never changes, for the rest of our lives.
Compare your work to the art you made last month. No comparisons to accomplished, masterful artists allowed.
When surveying your art, put as much scrutiny and conviction into finding what worked – compared to how you previously used that same determination to search for flaws.
Harvest the Good Stuff
While looking for the happy accidents, and signs of progress, take some notes (really, write it down).
Comment on colors, brushwork and approaches you’d like to try in your next piece. This will help dissolve frustration, because you’re actively thinking about, and planning your next painting session. Moving forward.
Commit to researching a solution to something you struggled with in your last painting.
Don’t be victimized by what you don’t know. Notice when you stew on a challenge with no action. (My friend BJK used to mimic this approach by murmuring in monotone – ‘ Don’t mind me. I’ll be over here, in the corner, eating a can of worms.’) Get up from that corner.
Search google and watch youtube video tutorials to make creative decisions on your next painting. Get yourself off the struggle-bus. You’ve *got* to paint more often.
Talking to Myself
As usual, I’m talking to myself here. This week, I feel like I forgot how to draw. Maybe it’s just a lack of focus. Perhaps bad news and worries are bedeviling my noticing skills. I can’t seem to scan a shape and recall it long enough to sketch what I just saw.
If you’re in the same boat this week, let’s take a collective deep breath, and re-commit to the salve of art-making. We can preserve the space where we create things as sacred, and encouraging, so the tenderest parts of us feel the need to return to it, over and over again for shelter.
Thanks for stopping in, and I’ll see you in the next post.
P.S. Watch this 2 minute video and read the accompanying essay from CNN: they asked nine artists why it’s important to be creative during a Pandemic.
P.S.S If you know someone who belittles their creative results, share this with them.
Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir – something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic