Why I Stopped Painting and Started Drawing : The Art of Flexibility.


During July, my sons have a three week break from school. It’s mid-winter, and the risk of cabin-fever is high. Adjustments to the usual schedule must be made for everyone's sanity, and - let's be honest - to prevent scenes that end with someone shouting, "I will throw you through the nearest window if you can't leave your brother alone!"

Since painting requires a degree of concentration that will never be achieved on school break, I'm learning to adjust my art schedule so I can cater for everyone’s needs while still feeding my creative cravings.

These holidays I chose to catch up on my art-related reading.  

While leafing through the pages of Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work (a book aimed at teaching creative types how to put themselves and their art out there instead of being hermit crabs), I came across this sentence:

If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.

The point Kleon was making is that taking an interest in the work of others is an important way to develop your own skills, broaden your creative horizons and learn from what has already been done before you. It’s also a good way of not ending up an introspective, self-absorbed git - which, at the very least makes you, and perhaps also your work, more like-able.

While agreeing with Kleon on this, his quote also got me thinking about the stages we go through to learn a new skill: Regularly reading stories will help you when it comes to writing; Practicing scales will improve piano playing, but what related activities help someone become a better painter?

Aside from Kleon’s advice to observe others’ artwork, my first guess would be drawing.

Drawing and sketching are to painting what standing and walking are to running. Pretty essential base skills.

Which got me thinking: I don’t do nearly enough drawing.

Of course, each painting I do begins with a drawing - and that’s valuable practice in itself, but if I don’t have time to get stuck into a whole painting, then I often ditch any sort of art-making endeavour till I can.

Imagine though, (I thought to myself) how beneficial it would be if, instead of waiting for a greater time slot, I just filled in a spare 15-30 minutes with a quick sketch or a more considered drawing?

Imagine (and I was really beginning to imagine now) how much nicer it would feel to step up to a blank canvas having already knocked out a few concentrated sketches of the subject matter before I’d even opened a tube of paint.

This is not an earth-shattering revelation for most of you I’m sure. Many artists do this. I've often got a sketch book close by, but to be more frequent and disciplined in drawing - with a view to improving future paintings... this was a good reminder.

There is a lot to be said for observing something and drawing it multiple times before painting it. I tried it with a pinecone, and by the third attempt, my confidence in handling its shapes and dimensions on the page were much greater, and I was already getting a feel for which details were important, and which would only get messy in a painting context.

Then there’s the benefit of feeling freer to experiment and try new things. It might be different for others, but I can’t help feeling more invested in a painting than I do with a drawing. It’s easier to pull out the coloured pencils or pastels and play around with them than it is to mix paints (though the reduced colour selection is frustrating). If things don’t turn out well, it bothers me less.

So, these holidays I set myself the task of trying to turn out a small sketch each day. I didn't always manage it, (curse my perfectionist tendencies with their symptoms of procrastination!) but I got more art done than I usually would in July.

And now, when I do have uninterrupted painting hours back at my disposal, I already have a collection of subject matter all practiced and ready to try tackling with a paintbrush.

Not only that, I’ve maintained my sanity through what would previously have been a sadly unproductive patch on my creative calendar. My local glazier however, is a tad disappointed not to have seen an increase in business...

What about you? How do you maintain skills and continue practicing your interests when you hit a change in routine? – Leave a comment and let me know.


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