The Art of Practice

I had an interesting conversation a short time ago while I was in Barcelona on an Urban Sketching workshop. I’d asked my host if anything had surprised her about me, because we had only met and chatted for 5 minutes in December the previous year.

She said, yes, there had been one thing: I’d mentioned to her during our online chats that I get up at 6am and practice gesture drawing for 30 minutes, make breakfast, and then continue the practice for a further 20 minutes. But what surprised her was that I really do what I say.

I guess we’ve all been there at one time or another, telling ourselves we practice or sketch regularly, but are we being honest to ourselves, are we really keeping to our planned routine? I noticed, half a year ago that I was giving myself a lot of slack, not keeping to my envisioned schedules, so I changed my routine and my setup at home to make it as easy and comfortable as possible to just get up and practice, and it seems to be working (even worked for a week in Barcelona).

However, the invested time and regularity of practice is just part of my way to achieving my goals.

Mindfulness is a further important part. I have to be completely present in that very moment. I have to understand or try my hardest to understand what I am doing then and there.

Gesture drawing is about a few lines and shapes that must tell a clean story. What story is the pose telling me? Which lines and shapes can be used? Where is the rhythm? How can the rhythm be tamed, accentuated, put to work for telling the story?

I have the first volume of Walt Stanfield’s Drawn To Life, which is a collection of evening session life drawing handouts and quite hard to read actually. Anyhow, I’ve been chewing myself through it and what I’ve taken out of it is a nagging, self-criticizing voice which keeps asking me what Walt would do with this pose and whether my result would please him or not. I have decided to tell myself, my gesture drawings would not please Walt, but if I put some more effort into them, they may do one day.

I believe this to be a good approach, giving in to the idea that I can’t please the teacher, but I can work harder at improving.

That has helped me understand one of the psychologies behind me posting on Facebook, Instagram and Sktchy: I’m fishing for compliments because it helps me become complacent and feel comfortable at my current skill set. Ok, I don’t want to be too hard on myself, but I think I’m going to have to consider posting on FB and IG (and perhaps even Sktchy) only when I believe I have met a milestone in my progress and even ask explicitly for feedback.

This is also coming from an experience I made on Sktchy a week or two back. I asked for critique and got some. I took it to heart and I believe it moved me on another few inches on this never ending path to mastery.

For more information on the path to mastery, take a look at George Leonard’s book “Mastery, The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment”. I believe it is legally available online in digital form.