Carin is a Dutch artist living on the island of Vlieland in the Wadden Sea. I love visiting her blog, Caatje’s Artsy Stuff, and catching up with her adventures–she travels a lot and keeps a travel journal as well as an art journal. She recently wrote a post about practicing, and I liked what she had to say so much I asked if she’d write a little more and expand on the idea of the importance of practice to share with us. She graciously agreed, and here’s what she has to say:
I’ve seen it happen more than once that people wonder why their work is no good, why it’s so hard, why others make it look so easy. How come they can’t do it? Does this mean that they just suck and should stop making things? Why does what they see in their heads not come out that way on the page or canvas? The people who say this most often are the ones who just started out or who put in very little creative time on a regular basis. Yes, they are overly critical, but often they also simply lack practice.
It’s odd really. When it comes to driving a car, learning to read or write, do a triple axel in figure skating or get good at just about any job, most people find it completely logical that they will need to put in the hours and effort to get good at something. But when it comes to art, some think it just magically happens. Nobody expects you to win a Nobel prize for literature the first time you write an essay, if they ever expect it at all. But if you can’t deliver a perfect picture every time you make art it is assumed you lack talent and aptitude.
Why do so many people who want to be creative go no further than the ready-made kit with instructions? Because that’s the only way they will get satisfactory results right away! You can be proud of what you’ve made, but it’s not art. It’s a copy of somebody else’s ideas. Nothing wrong with that, but if you want to put your own mark on things you are going to have to learn how to make those marks and develop your own ideas.
If you really want to find your own voice and style you’re going to have to put in the hours and the effort. There’s no fast way to being skilled. Anybody who’s good at anything had to work hard to get there. It’s a difficult lesson, but the quicker you learn it the more you’ll enjoy your art making.
I myself am not a professional artist and have no intention to be one, but I do want to improve my skills, learn things and find my own way of doing what I call my ‘artsy stuff’. I take this practice very seriously. And practice can be fun! The easiest way to practice is to find something that interests you and then just go and do it, learning as you go. Follow an idea and see where it takes you. You will make mistakes, but that’s okay. The cliché is true: we learn from our mistakes.
An example of how I make my art practice fun can be found in the pictures in this post. I practice my skills for drawing the clothed female figure by doing drawings and paintings after pictures from magazines and mail order catalogues. It’s cheap and the models are always available (and stand perfectly still). I don’t consider these drawings art per se, but they are practice and therefore just as important. They are a way to learn about lines and shapes and they will help me to one day do these figures from my imagination. By putting my personal mark on these pictures they can still make me feel artsy. You have to be willing to do things like that, to put in time just for yourself and your skills.
There is a scene in the movie Sneakers where Robert Redford comes to the door of his former girlfriend’s house to discuss sneaky spy stuff (it’s a fun movie, go see it). She now works as a piano teacher and one of her students, a young girl, just walks out the door. The teacher says goodbye to the student with these immortal words: “Remember: practice! Practice!”
Those words have been stuck in my mind ever since and I often say them to myself in exactly the same voice, with a big fake Russian accent going “Prrrractisss! Prrractisss!” They have become like a personal mantra and I strongly suggest you make them yours.
Excellent advice, of course, but even better: Carin has given us all permission to spend as much time as we can drawing and painting and sketching. We can spend hours at it with the perfect excuse: we’re practicing! And what could be better than that?
See more of Carin’s work on her blog.
For more ideas about how to practice and create your own personal style, check out The Artist Unique: Inspiration and Techniques to Discover Your Creative Signatureby Carmen Torbus.
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