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How to design an art practice routine
Weekly letter #38
Well hi, friend. 😊 It's been a few extra weeks since last time. Things have been a bit busy and confused here, (as they frequently are in my life…) But I'm alive and well. Hope you are, as well.
As always, I'm finding myself having to go back and read through my last letter to figure out what's happened since. In my previous one, I was still feeling a bit down about AI and the state of the world for us creatives. But I was kind of feeling my way back into an art practice with some charcoal portraits.
And I'm happy to say that I've regained even more of my motivation to paint lately.
The other day, I was workshopping with myself, in my journal, trying to figure out what I want my art practice to look like. What I actually want to accomplish. Because I've been feeling a bit directionless lately, not having a vision of where I want to go. From my journaling session, I figured out three things:
I want to focus on birds, because it's what I'm most passionate about. But I want to paint birds (and animals) in nature, in context. Not just against white backgrounds. So I'm going to have to do something about my complete inability to paint backgrounds and landscapes...
I want to learn, and dare, to paint larger works.
I want to start exhibiting my art, and getting it into stores and galleries when I'm ready.
I'm excited about this vision, and feeling more energetic than I have in a long time. So often, when I lose motivation, it's because I don't feel challenged and I don't have a clear goal. But as soon as I do, everything else falls into place. (I'm such a Capricorn...)
I've designed a new, hopefully somewhat daily, art practice routine for myself. It's similar to the one I had a few years ago, and that I made one of my first YouTube videos about.
I start out by filling a few sketchbook pages with pencil sketches. From photos, but preferably video references, of animals. Pausing, sketching, pausing, sketching. This is what I teach in my Pencil Sketching For Beginner Artists course. I do it to practice my hand-eye-coordination, eye measurement skills, and accuracy. And also to look for interesting poses and compositions that I might paint in the future.
Then I move on to watercolor sketching. In my original routine, I practiced freehand watercolor sketching birds. And I might still do a little bit of that, for fun. But now, I want to mainly practice landscapes and nature motifs. And so this part of the session will consist of lots of little thumbnails with quick studies, value studies (for practicing light/shadow), and color studies. I don't know what it is about landscapes that confuse and derail me so much, but I find it extremely difficult to simplify a complex nature scene, and to render it elegantly in watercolor without overworking it. Doing lots of small studies is by far the best way to practice this, since I'm forced to keep my brushstrokes simple. And I get in many "reps" in a small amount of time.
And then lastly, I'll work on actual paintings. And here I want to incorporate some more planning and sketching. Up until now, I've mostly just been sketching and painting all in one go, from the same refererence. Now, I want to practice building larger compositions - a full scene with a mood and a “story”. For that, I'll need to use my imagination more, work from several different references, and do color and value studies, before I approach the painting. Patience has never been a virtue of mine, but I'll need to develop it if I want to create the types of paintings I see in my mind's eye.
Do you have a practice routine? What does it look like? 😊
If you want to get more deliberate and focused in your practice, I recommend doing a similar journaling session with yourself, to figure out your goals. You could ask yourself:
What gives me the most joy to paint? Or would give me the most joy?
What comes easily to me?
What do I wish I was better at?
What other artists do I admire the most, and what do they have in common?
What specific artworks do I admire, and what is it I love about them?
What do I wish my art could look like in 3 years?
What would I really love to be known for?
The goal here is to zoom in on the one thing you would most love to excel at, putting all other things aside for a while. Seeing that thing in your mind's eye. And then figuring out what's missing from your current skillset in order to get there. Do you need to study anatomy so that you can finally paint hands correctly? Or learn more about color theory so that you can achieve that vibrant look you're after? Maybe you need to master a certain tool or brush technique.
Make a list of the specific skills that you can start Google/YouTube searching for tutorials and courses on right away. And from that, you can design your own practice routine including a few "sets and reps" of each of the skills you want to master. I love the gym analogy here, because it takes the guesswork away. Even on a day where you don't feel particularly inspired to paint, you can still sit down and do your sets and reps, knowing that you've worked on your skills that day.
I'm itching to do my practice routine right now. 😌
Wishing you a pleasant weekend. Mine will mostly consist of painting, binge-reading, and some final wedding preparations. Because, yes: We're getting married on Tuesday! Finally, after 15 years together, and 13 years engaged. Better late than never, right? 😅 I'll tell you more about it next week.
Until then, happy friday. 🖤
Some favorite things:
Book Lovers by Emily Henry. Ugh! *chef’s kiss* A feel-good romance completely to my taste. And so funny, I frequently laughed out loud.
Our new indoor hydroponic garden:
I’ve realized that, although I have an urge to grow some of my own vegetables, I truly don’t enjoy doing so outdoors. When I’m outdoors, I prefer to walk peacefully in the woods, listening to birds. Or relax on my patio. I don’t want to be on my knees in the dirt, sweating in the baking sun, harassed by flies and mosquitos, waging war against weeds, insects, deer, and the weather, just to get my little basket of carrots and potatoes. I’ve been trying to “enjoy gardening” for three years now, and failed miserably each time. So when I realized you can grow quite a lot of things indoors, year-round, in water, without worrying about weather and temperature and crop cycling and soil ph and fertilization and weeds and pests - I was all over it. This is my type of gardening: neat, clean, and with clear instructions. 😂 Anyone else here have a hydroponic garden?
He also answers questions about it in his podcast:
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Cal Newport makes me smarter and keeps me sane. Don't know what I'd do without him.
This video, by Merphy Napier, on how to read better:
This video by Matthew White, that made me motivated as hell to step up my watercolor game:
(He also talks about the importance of a practice routine. 🥳
Oh and my darling, the European Robin: 🧡
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