All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Importance of Practice and How to Do It

Now that winter has ended for most of us, are you out painting yet?

"It's a beautiful day, just perfect for plein air painting!  I think I'll grab my easel and—oh, I think I forgot to scrape the palette last time.  And I didn't clean my brushes, either, so I'll have to do that first, too.  And I really did mean to change the turps...."

Excuses like these for not painting are plentiful.  It's so easy to accept the difficulties in getting started and instead to search for old friends on Facebook.

I have the occasional student who claims the only time she finds time to paint is at workshops—which she takes only once a year.  This is like picking up the tennis racket once a year and hoping to play a good game. 

Maybe your goal isn't to become a master painter or even a professional.  But if you would like to improve your hobby so that it becomes more satisfying, then you must practice.  Practice doesn't always make perfect, but it will make "better."   And the more you practice, the better you become.  (Especially if you go about it mindfully.)

Practice become easier if you prepare for it, remove obstacles or make it more enjoyable.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Have your gear ready to go at all times.  I keep my tripod and pochade box, brushes and paints, turps can and panels, plus a backpack with accessories, ready to go, all piled up in one spot.  I can be out the door in 60 seconds.
  • Clean your gear after your last painting session.  Fill your turps can with clean turps (or odorless mineral spirits).  Clean and dry your brushes.  Scrape the palette and clean it.  This clean-up should be part of your regular routine—painting isn't just about the painting, but also about the cleaning up.
  • Set a regular day or time for outdoor painting. Yes, this is difficult to do in some parts of the world where the weather is mercurial, but if you set a schedule, it becomes easier.  If you really don't feel like painting on your scheduled day, at least go out with pencil and sketchbook.  Most painters don't draw enough. Drawing will improve your observational and painting skills like you wouldn't believe.
  • Even on bad weather days, try to stick to your schedule.  Go to the studio.  Look over old plein air paintings and see if one might inspire a studio painting.
  • Follow your painting session with a relaxing walk or hike.  This can serve as a healthy reward after you paint, and I personally find that a walk feels good after standing in one spot for two hours.
  • Join a plein air painting group that meets regularly.  Sometimes it's helpful to have another person handy to provide the motivation.
  • Introduce something new into your painting so you'll get out and experiment.  Everyone loves to learn something new, and newness can be a powerful motivator.  Maybe add a new color to your palette.  Try out a new box of pastels.  If you paint with only a brush, try painting with only a knife.  
  • Paint with a project in mind.  Perhaps you might gather reference material for a larger, more finished studio painting.  Or maybe you'd like to document some historic buildings in your county.  Give your project a definite scope and a deadline—and stick to it.

Even if painting is just a hobby for you, you probably would like to get better at it—wouldn't you?

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