I love our couch. It's a beautiful, leather, Restoration Hardware couch. The kind of couch that embraces you. Once you're settled in, it's hard to disengage and do anything. Add a busy work day or lazy weekend afternoon, and you're toast. That couch is where you'll remain until you finally amble off to bed. Which is fine, unless you want to become a better artist.
Growth as an artist requires effort and consistency. There is simply no substitute for hard work. As Kevin MacPherson says, you need to paint "miles and miles of canvas." Unfortunately, life can get in the way. Your relationship. Your kids. Your day job. All important parts of your life that demand attention. Yet somewhere, somehow, you need to get in front of that easel and paint. It's the only way to improve your art.
We all have our excuses. There just isn't any time. I'm too busy. I'm exhausted. But the proverbial devil is in the details. If you track the actual hours of your day, the time wasting culprits will emerge. Things like watching television. Hours on Facebook. Evening wine parties. None of these relaxing pursuits are evil, but they eat away at your day. Before you know it, it's time to hit the sack.
We are what we do. If you want to become a better painter, you have to get off the couch and paint! You have to make it a priority and not an afterthought. Start by setting a schedule for yourself. Maybe that means getting up earlier, so your studio efforts won't compete with family time. Or maybe you tuck a small pochade box in your backpack. Use that lunch hour break to park somewhere in your car and bang out a few plein air studies. They may not be masterpieces, but you'll gain tidbits of knowledge. Little discoveries about brushwork, values, color mixing, edges and design. Some of the studies will be horrendous. But a few gems will emerge. And more importantly, you'll return to work with a smirk on your face. Why? Because you moved forward with your art.
It was Memorial Day weekend. I had several commitments and an event to attend out of town. When things finally slowed down, my couch began whispering. "Come sit down for a bit. Relax. Find a good movie on television." Tempting. But I turned around and headed into my studio. Squeezed out some fresh paint on my palette and affixed a blank canvas on the wall easel. "How about a mountain scene?" I thought to myself.
I dove in, mixing puddles of paint with my palette knife. Soon I had an initial, crude lay in. Nothing to write home about, but a beginning.
Satisfied with the start, I began mixing more subtle color notes. I started to focus on rendering the trees in the foreground. I also danced around the canvas, refining other parts of the piece. Sort of an "all over the canvas" orchestration. Soon the piece took further shape.
At this point I settled into the wonderful state known as "flow." You become unaware of time and remain completely absorbed in what you're doing. It's a far more delicious experience than marooning yourself on the couch, entranced by another episode of NCIS. Wielding palette knife and brush, I squinted and refined. My little painting was beginning to take shape.
All in all, only a few hours of painting time elapsed. The sunlight through my studio window was waning now. It would be dinner time soon. I set down my brush and smiled. I had prevailed over the lure of the couch. My reward was a fine little study. And the sweet feeling of accomplishment.
So, here's the deal. Motivation is an unreliable dance partner. Fatigue will always lead you to the couch and television. Make it a habit to set aside time to paint. Or whatever your artistic passion is. Even when you don't feel like it, pick up that brush and see what happens. Sometimes, not much. But other times, you'll be pleasantly surprised. And that's how you become a better artist. By getting off that couch and diving into your art.