"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can really go." - T S Elliott.
Painting, with the intention of pushing yourself beyond that which you can comfortably do, will take you further. That's easier said than done, of course. I have used my painting above to illustrate this article as it was pivotal in my own journey as an artist.
Creating a plan for achieving whatever you want begins with knowing precisely what you want to achieve and creating a list of things that will take you there.
To help, I have divided the task into three stages...
You may not know what to put on your list; after all you cannot know what it is you don't know, if you see what I mean. However only you know what you like, what you’re trying to achieve, and whether the results satisfy you or not. Without these thoughts it’s impossible to know how to make any adjustments in your work. That's where the first stage comes in, the one we avoid because it's hard! If you really don't know what areas you need to work on there are a couple of things you can do. You can ask an art teacher, or someone who you know will be honest and whose work you admire, what they think you need to work on or, think about the work of artists that you admire and ask yourself what is it about the way they paint that attracts you?
Also ask yourself the following questions, this will give you a plan without which you will meander around, dissatisfied with yourself and not knowing why. Try to avoid vague descriptions like "I want my paintings to be better" as this will not lead to a specific action.
- Am I willing to do the work it takes to learn new skills?
- What do I want to achieve with my art?
- What will it take to achieve it?
- What is preventing me from achieving it?
- What can I do to acquire or further the skills I need?
- Who can help me identify the skills I need and provide feedback?
- What specific activities will help me learn these new skills?
- How far do I want to go with my art?
- Am I currently going in the direction I'd like to?
Each time you paint choose a specific action from your list of things to work on, write it down in a sketch book perhaps, and work on that one thing. Don't worry about the others, we all move forward one step at a time. You can either practice this separately or practice on the painting you're working on. Make notes as you go so you can refer back to them. Having all this in one place, like a book, will also help you see how you're progressing.
It’s easy to begin with one thing in mind, get distracted in the process, and end up doing something else. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but following each idea as it shows up also means you may not be practising the skills from your list. So begin each painting session having already chosen which area you want to work on and maintain that focus. Having a predetermined area on which to focus on also prevents mindless painting, or simply repeating what you've always done because you’re good at it, or because you are procrastinating! While doing something that you’re good at is certainly enjoyable, it’s exactly the opposite of challenging yourself and moving forward.
Making adjustments to the way you normally work, identifying and learning how to correct errors or change things will all help you achieve what you want from your painting.
Try things, and if they don't work, don't abandon the idea – try again and keep trying until it does. If it's something you want to achieve isn't it worth the effort?
There are two kinds of feedback: self-evaluation or from teachers/mentors.
You need to find someone who can give honest feedback on how you're doing.
You also need to become experts at self-evaluation, not an easy thing to do, but absolutely necessary as only you know what it is you are trying to achieve. In my next article I will provide you with some guidance on how to evaluate your own work.
I've also written an article demonstrating how creating challenges for yourself helps put your plan into action and how to evaluate your own work.
If you've been stuck-in-a-rut I hope this article will help you move forward.