by Fiona Valentine
This blog post is a painting how to with a difference. Before I dive in to why I think choosing one medium is the secret to painting success, let me say that I love that there are SO many options for painting. Each medium offers a unique set of skills to learn, characteristics to explore and story telling possibilities. Painting just never gets old! The more how to paint techniques we learn, the more we realize we need to learn, keeping us challenged and interested.
There is always a new artist to discover and get to know who opens our eyes to the possibilities of painting in a fresh and exciting way. And don’t get me started on the excitement of buying new brushes and paint!
With all of these options, it’s easy to try to do it all. How to paint watercolour, how to paint oil, how to paint acrylic. Like a humming bird, we sip and try and flit about from idea to technique to workshop to “shiny new thing” following our bliss. There is certainly a lot of fun to be had exploring our options.
The down side of all this abundance is that we still only have 24 hours in a day. Each medium or technique takes dedicated practice before we can achieve the results we dream about. For this reason, focus is a bonus. Choosing one medium to focus on is the secret to painting success because we make faster progress.
How To Paint with Success: Focus
Choosing one medium and practicing the basic techniques at length might seem “boring” when there are so many exciting ideas to explore, but in my experience, the real joy of painting is in having a painting routine and bite sized goals.
Showing up, having a plan and enjoying the simple pleasure of regular practice is worth it . The process of learning to paint is delightful. Sure, we have moments of frustration over disappointing results, but if we find joy in the process we have arrived!
The joy of the journey is what keeps us painting and although we all want to create paintings we can be proud of, a little patience and willingness to make bad paintings on the way to making good ones is helpful. As is taking the time to practice skills.
Sometimes, we don’t even know how mastery happens. We just keep showing up and one day, that elusive skill that our instructors make look so easy that has been a mystery to us for months opens up and wonder of wonders, we can do it! That, my friend, is an exciting moment.
Have you ever had the experience of attending a live workshop or watching a DVD by an artist you are excited about, watching them do their thing and thinking “Oh, I can do that! Now I get it.” only to try what they made look simple and fail miserably. It’s tempting to think “I don’t have what it takes” or “Why do I bother? I’ll never be any good!” That is not a feel good moment.
The trick is to remember how many “fails” that artist had before they stood up in front of you and demonstrated their brush strokes with all the freedom and finesse of a figure skater gliding around the ice.
The value of focus is that all that repetition is moving your skills forward rather than spreading your experience too widely to be effective.
How To Paint With Success: Practice
Practice is math, really. Repeat the correct technique enough times in the right way and you will master it. The problem is, we put crazy expectations on ourselves of achieving mastery on the first try, or the third try or even the 10th try. Been there? Me, too.
The reality is it’s probably going to take a few more tries than that. I know you know this, but that little voice in your head that says “Oh, why do I bother?” needs to hear it again. You just reply right back. “Thank you for your feedback. I think you are being rather harsh and I’m willing to be patient in waiting for results.” It’s quite effective. I promise. Your inner critic needs to know who's boss. Just don’t let anyone catch you talking to yourself.
So, rather than jump around viewing all the exciting painting options and trying new ones in the hope of finding “the one” we can conquer quickly, let’s remember that it’s not the thing I do once that leads to success, it’s the thing I do often, over and over that leads to success.
I have found such joy in changing my goal from finishing a great painting to showing up and enjoying my creativity today. It’s helpful to divide whatever painting time you have into painting something you like as best you can and time where you practice a particular skill.
I enjoy my painting time so much more when I set small goals to practice the skill that’s next for me and paint as I can not as I can’t. I’ve learned over the years, that improvement isn’t visible at the daily level, but over time. That skill I practiced six months ago for a few weeks without seeing ANY improvement has all of a sudden become a skill I have.
I don’t know how it happened, but somehow it did. It helps me show up and keep trying on the NEXT skill I need, knowing if I just keep going for a few weeks, one day I’ll look back and I’ll be able to do this technique, too!
This might all sound obvious, but I’ve found I need to remind myself of the obvious often. Kindness to myself and thinking encouraging thoughts really helps me keep at it. I need affirmations like
This kind of simple self talk is CRUCIAL to staying with it long enough to paint the way we long to. The trouble is, it wouldn’t make for a very exciting workshop. Can you imagine?
“Here, workshop students, watch me talk to myself out loud. First, I’ll play the villain, then I’ll counteract that bit of sabotage with a cunning bit of affirmation.”
I hardly think we’ll sell tickets, but in our own studios, it’s dynamite to shut down our inner critic with some creative truth.
So, put on some music, write down that skill you need to work on and get practicing! Book some time in your diary for practice along with time for painting a subject you are excited to try.
How To Paint With Success: Bite Size Goals
I like bite size goals. Painting a flat wash. Painting a gradation. Soft edges vs hard edges. Mixing greens. Tree foliage practice. Cloud studies. Atmospheric perspective. Something I can practice often for a few weeks. Even 10 or 20 minutes helps! Sometimes just aim for quantity. Other times, slow down and aim for quality. Both are important.
Try these goals on for size:
Bite sized goals lead to a creative PROCESS we love. Unrealistic expectations of painting a master piece every time I show up to paint just lead to discouragement and overwhelm.
With all of that in mind, choosing one medium to focus on is a great help! If you can spend all of your time practicing the skills, brushwork, colour mixing and techniques for that one medium, you will see results so much more quickly than if you are trying something new every time you paint. Cycle through the basics of Colour, Drawing, Composition, Brushwork, Edges to name a few.
Having one painting really work can give you the boost you need to work through the next 10 dreadful paintings, knowing sooner or later, you'll get a another good one.
So, choose the one medium you can't live without, set some practice goals and keep at it. Before you know it those skills will be yours! You can grab my practice worksheet freebie to help you choose some quality practice objectives.
Hi, I'm Fiona. I'm an artist and art coach. I help aspiring artists build a creative habit and conquer the basics of painting so they can make beautiful art.
You have more than enough creativity and talent. You need knowledge, practice and a creative process that really works.
I'm here to help!