Why do we draw and paint?
There are lots of very profound discussions around why human beings have made art since the dawn of their time, but for me it comes down to two simple reasons...
Firstly, I enjoy the actual process. I find it therapeutic.
I suspect it's a form of meditation and we've all heard how switching off and "being in the now" is great for our health.
Secondly, it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to create something that is pleasing to my eye.
Putting modesty aside, I think we all find the compliments of others very rewarding.
I believe the more our pictures please us, the more joy we take from art as a hobby. And a hobby is all about joy. It's why people spend money on art classes.
You'll have heard the saying "practice makes perfect" and "repetition is the mother of skill".
In fact, performance experts across a range of fields (from sport to music to medicine) are telling us that the best performers in the world are no different to you and I - they've just clocked up more hours of practice.
But more than just the amount of practice, it's the right kind of practice.
And that's what I hope to show you in the rest of this article.
I want to convince you that a relatively small amount of good-quality practice can transform you as an artist!
One of the challenges we face as artists, especially if like me you're drawn to realism, is that it takes so damn long.
But you can spend hours on one picture, and only repeat a few techniques a small number of times.
A good analogy is the game of golf (and bear with me here - you don't have to know a thing about the sport to follow along!)...
A round of golf takes 4 to 5 hours to complete.
In that time, a good amateur golfer will hit about 80 shots.
Nearly all of those shots will be different - some powerful shots, some short chips, some from long grass, some from short grass, some off a slope, some into wind... you get the idea.
The point is, even during a typical 5-hour round, a golfer will repeat (i.e. practice) a specific shot no more than a couple of times at best.
To get good at golf you cannot just play full games of golf.
You have to go to the practice range.
At the range, a golfer can hit those 80 shots not in 4 or 5 hours, but in about 45 minutes. In an hour and half, she has doubled the amount of practice she gets on the course, in a third of the time.
Practicing the various individual shots in golf, multiple times, allows her to walk on to the course with confidence.
And that's not all...
A bad shot at the range doesn't matter. It costs you nothing. There's no pressure to make a good score.
So you experiment. You get creative. And you have fun.
You discover certain 'go-to' shots that you know you can rely on in a tricky situation. In short, you really learn about yourself, the golfer.
So apply that analogy to art.
A full painting (let's say it's a landscape) is the round of golf. Can we easily put 4 or 5 hours into a painting?
The golf range is your sketchbook.
The individual, pressure-free shots at the range become the small, isolated studies in that sketchbook - a tree, some water reflections, a textured rock face, foreground grasses, stormy clouds, and so on.
Of course, I'm not suggesting you can't improve your skills by painting full pictures. You'll learn things you can never get from small studies in a sketchbook - such as overall harmony and colour balance, for example.
But for so many of us full pictures are the only form of art we attempt. The sketchbook, if it even exists, stays on the shelf.
If that's you, you're seriously stifling your ability to improve.
Plus, I'd be willing to bet you feel a certain amount of undue stress and tension when painting? Quite simply, because you're investing a lot of your time and energy into making something you hope turns out looking really good.
So the FIRST KEY to bigger, faster improvement is to do what all top artists, athletes and rock stars do... practice the parts that make up the whole.
You can easily achieve this by creating smaller 'cameo' studies in a sketchbook.
You'll be able to create many isolated studies in the time it takes to produce one full painting.
Plus, there isn't that pressure of having invested a lot of time into a piece and thinking "I really, really don't want to mess this up now"!
The SECOND KEY is to remember that practice actually makes permanent and only purposeful practice makes perfect.
It's no use just aimlessly doodling!
You want to create yourself a plan. Nothing rigid or forced - just something with a bit of structure and purpose so that every drawing or painting session moves you forward.
The THIRD KEY is to find yourself a mentor.
Observing an expert who's already made the mistakes and spent thousands of hours honing their skills, massively cuts down on your learning curve.
If you're a member of ArtTutor, there is ample opportunity to observe and learn from a range of experts in your chosen painting medium.
When you combine these 3 elements - practicing the building blocks, practicing with purpose and structure, and learning from a mentor, you cannot fail to improve... significantly and quickly.
Commit some time each week to working in your sketchbook or practice portfolio.
If your thing is portraits right now, draw or paint some studies of eyes. Or an open and closed mouth. Or a few different types of hair.
Think about your weak areas or where your paintings tend to go wrong, and focus on those initially.
Use Flickr's Creative Commons program to search millions of images you can use a reference material.
And find yourself a mentor.
Take a class locally or if that's not practical, search for video lessons on YouTube.
And if you want a shortcut to the above, become a member at ArtTutor...
We've done the hard work for you and created over 20 drawing and painting courses based specifically on the principles in this article. Plus you're getting access to world class mentors from the comfort of your own home.
It cuts your learning curve down to the absolute minimum and you'll be creating artwork you didn't think you were capable of.
Finally, let me leave you with this...
In golf there are literally an infinite number of shots that can be played. In art, there are an infinite number of subjects you can paint in an infinite number of styles.
You obviously can't practice them all.
But you don't have to.
As you begin practicing a wider range of subjects, more often (in the way sketchbook studies allow) your brain does something amazing...
It begins to fill in all kinds of gaps for you because it has lots more references to draw upon. That close up study of an eye might help you to draw this odd reflection in the wine glass.
So go forth and practice with purpose and watch how your artwork transforms.
After you've finished that glass of wine of course ;)home - how to practice your art