“I’m not making any progress,” a reader lamented to me about her painting class. “It’s like I’m watching people zoom past me in their muscle cars while I’m potting along in my Kia Rio.”
Feeling stuck happens to all of us at some point. Here are 12 practical suggestions to reignite your learning.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Different people bring different intelligences to painting. That’s what makes artwork so fascinating. Moreover, we all have periods when we excel, and periods when we flounder. Think of the Homecoming Queens who fade into obscurity or the billionaires who started as high-school dropouts.
Expand your learning opportunities. That doesn’t necessarily mean taking more classes. Reading, videos, and painting groups are great ways to absorb more ideas painlessly. A student told me recently that Alla Prima by Richard Schmid is now available for free online. Since it’s roughly $300 at Amazon, that’s an opportunity to read a classic no starving artist can afford to buy.
Practice regularly. Consistency is key when it comes to improving any skill, including painting. Set aside dedicated time to work, and make painting a habit. You’ll fall into the groove more easily if it’s more familiar.
Start with the basics. Sometimes, going back to fundamentals will help you overcome a plateau. Focus on drawing, value, color, and composition.
Study other artists. I love ambling around galleries and museums, but looking at work online is the next best thing. Modern imaging is so sophisticated that you may learn more about the artists’ brushwork and technique online than from the ‘safe’ distance in the physical place. Applying critical analysis to masterworks will help you better understand the painting.
Break out of your rut. I know I’ve said that working will net you more than shopping, but some experimentation with new techniques and materials can reignite your creativity. You also might find new approaches that resonate with you.
Take a workshop. The great advantage of a workshop is that it’s immersive. You stop worrying about everyday life. You make new friends who are as passionate about painting as you are. There’s time for a deep dive into new ideas, techniques, and you may come away with a whole new perspective on painting.
Apply critical analysis to your own work. I teach this skill a few times a year, because self-critique is the greatest skill an artist can possess. It separates you from your emotional response to you can see, objectively, what needs to be strengthened.
Break down complex subjects. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If you’re tackling complex ideas or compositions, break them down into smaller, manageable parts. That stops you from being overwhelmed. I’ll be teaching this process in my next online class, High, Wide and Handsome, which starts on June 12.
Seek constructive feedback. Share your work with trusted peers or insightful non-painters. Different perspectives can provide fresh insights and help you identify areas for growth.
Embrace your errors. The most successful artists I know aren’t fazed by failures. They analyze them, set them aside, and move on. Painting is just one long series of goofs and meandering byways. By focusing on the process, rather than the results, you make room for brilliant discovery.
Be patient. If it’s worth doing, it will take time and effort. Stay motivated, set realistic goals, and celebrate small victories along the way.
My 2024 workshops:
- Find your authentic Voice in plein air: Austin, TX, March 18-22, 2024.
- Towards Amazing Color: Sedona, AZ, March 25-29, 2024.
- Painting in Paradise: Rockport, ME, July 8-12, 2024.
- Sea & Sky at Schoodic, August 4-9, 2024.
- Find your authentic voice in plein air: Berkshires, August 12-16, 2024.
- Art and Adventure at Sea: Paint Aboard Schooner American Eagle, September 15-19, 2024.
- Immersive In-Person Workshop: Rockport, ME, October 7-11, 2024.