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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Improve Your Painting With A Self-Styled Study Course

Make A Plan, Time Block and Then Do It!
Every artist I know has a deep desire to get better at their craft. In fact, that desire for improvement often serves as the inspiration for that next piece. I'm going to just kill it this time, is a refrain that often goes through my head as I lay in that first pass. But sometimes what happens is that the new piece - and the one after that - doesn't show much growth. And while the pieces we're churning out may be solid and of high quality, we want to take our work to the next level.

Whether I like it or not, a good old "back to the basics" regimen of study and practice sessions bring new levels of skill. I've talked before about cleaning your studio, etc. to bring about better painting. But sometimes organizing or listening to different music while you work just isn't enough to bring about better paintings. Oil painting - any art - requires life long study and practice.

The best way to approach the goal of self-study is be organized and specific.You have to take the time to make a plan of attack. If I were to breakdown my process, it would look something like this:

1. Make A List
First, I get out a piece of paper and pencil (stepping away from the computer and actually using a writing utensil seems to bring about a higher level of thought for me for some reason). I make the heading: 2016 Self-Styled Study Course. I feel quite official doing that. I jot down maybe five "commitment" activities. After some personal history with doing this, I try not to be overly optimistic. I want my study program to be solid, but realistic in terms of scale and time requirements. For example:

1. Study Andrew Loomis's Figure Drawing For All It's Worth. With two workshops coming up involving the figure, I want to be as prepared as possible.
2. Study Andrew Loomis's Creative Illustration (I really want to understand the intricacies of composition and this book came highly recommended).
3. Research and sign up for one to two workshops during the next year.
4. Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts twice in the next month.
5. Make one random sketch per day while I'm watching tv, in the car - as a passenger - or in a restaurant.

2. Time Block
Ladies and gentlemen, your list of all the things you're going to do will not happen without designating a specific period of time you're going to do them. You'll end up saying, Yeah, I'm going to get to that book as soon as I've finished this painting, the laundry, and the dogs have been walked...oops! Where did my day go again?!  Don't wait for a convenient time. Pick a start and finish time, and treat it like a paid time commitment.

For my current Self-Styled Study Course, I've designated 8 am to 9am to read the Loomis texts. I chose that time because usually I'm just messing around on the computer anyway during the early morning hours. I've also written in two dates on my calendars to visit the DIA - coordinating it with my out-of-home studio time which happens to be just a few minutes from the museum. If I end up being in the neighborhood before that date - fine. I'll be ahead of the game.

3. Tell A Few People
There's nothing like accountability to help you live up to your plans. Ask your friends to try and remember to ask you about your progress.

4. A Few Words About Workshops
I cannot say enough about what a great investment it is to take a quality workshop from the multitude that are available out there. Of course, it's much more convenient and less costly if the workshop is near your hometown, but if there's a dream artist you'd love to work with - go for it! I once traveled 14 hours to attend a David Gray workshop and it was worth every penny and minute spent driving (listening to books on tape the whole time).

It's a very bonding experience to be with like-minded people who share the same goals and dreams. Best of all, it's incredibly thrilling to learn from an artist whose work you have admired for years. This year, I've settled on Casey Childs's workshop in April (traveling about 8 hours to Virgina) and Alyssa Monks' s held very near my home in Michigan in September. I sent my deposits and registration forms in for both workshops and I can't wait!

Loomis's Texts I'm Studying - I'm actually reading them and doing the exercises!
I am still painting!   
work in progress, sneak peek:
Pinned, work in progress - approximately 24x36 Just thought I'd share.
 I'll post the final version  soon.

 To be clear, I'm not suggesting you stop your regular painting altogether. You may have a show to prepare for, a class to teach or commissions to finish. But a yearly Self-Styled Study Course really can bring your work to that next level. Let me know if you do and what types of activities you come up with. I'd really like to hear! Email me at or post a comment.

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