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Thoughts About Daily Practice : #30x30Direct Watercolor

May 20, 2020

With #30×30 fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about The Value of Daily Practice.

I started this painting marathon a few years back, to see if I can trick all of you into helping me paint.

There’s nothing like taking peer-pressure and a little FOMO, and turning that into something good for you.

Now that I’ve convinced a few thousand of you to go along with it, I’m in the enviable position of having no choice! It’s easy for me to tell the fam, I can’t paint the window trim, clean the garage, do whatever – because it’s #30×30 and I have work to do! See you next month chores and distractions!

(Thanks to all of you for that btw.)

But I do think – if you have serious ambitions about art – you really need to make the art-habit happen permanently.

Just like exercise or playing an instrument, it has to be integrated into your daily life.

So how can we make this happen? Let’s boil down some thoughts:

Less Education, More Practice 

Yes, education (art classes, technique videos, workshops) this can help – but – taking classes should not replace practice.

Art is like body building.

People can show you a technique – but no amount of tips and tricks will help you lift the weight yourself. It’s physically impossible until you build the muscle.

Nobody doubts this about weight lifting, because you can see muscles. It’s less obvious with art, because muscle-memory is invisible.

Still – it’s literally impossible to watch something for the very first time, and immediately use what you’ve learned. You physically can’t do it until you etch the hand-eye pathways into your brain – with some practice!

So – if you’re spending more time taking classes (or worse, watching videos) than you’ve been spending on practicing skills – try flipping that around.

Self-training should be at least 100x the amount of time spent in classes.

Maybe you need BIG GOALS as well as little ones.

School, and later work, kind of ruins all of us.

When you’re being pushed by grades and assignments – sure, you do the work – but you’re not necessarily learning self-discipline. You’re doing it because someone’s making you do it.

#30×30 is a way to borrow motivation from others. To sign up for a mutual light-shaming :) And I suppose there are enough online challenges. (I like the community around #InkTober for instance – (thanks Jake Parker!)). A person could jump from one peer-group to the next and cobble together a kind of full-time support group. Or of course there’s drawing clubs – like Urban Sketchers! Joining a monthly meet-up (when we’re out of lockdown) will get you 1/30th of the way there :)

So clearly – we can’t entirely rely on art-clubs and social-media challenges.

I think we need BIG PERSONAL GOALS.

Things that are so difficult, they are always there in the background. Things that won’t be eclipsed by smaller successes. Sure you finished this one marathon – but there’s always a bigger goal on the horizon!

Some of mine are:

  • Master the art of Painting Big – Before I die I want to have at least one wall size painting I’m proud of. I’m a speed painter. I’m quite bad at anything that takes more than a few days to complete. This is an aspect of art that’s been blocking me for years, and I’m going to beat it one day.
  • Have a Solo Show Once a Year  – I want to be at the level where I can reliably produce 25 truly great paintings a year. Sounds do-able you say? I need to make two great paintings a month! Not every painting turns out, because my standards are always rising. Sometimes it’s 1 in 3. Sometimes it’s less! If you start talking only the very best-of-the-best – what if it’s one in 10? 20? – If I want to start showing professionally, this is something I have to overcome – and I don’t see any other way besides daily practice.
  • I’d like to Produce a Book Every Year  – Creating original painting is well and good, but I think people need other ways to collect and participate. Publishing artist monographs gives people who can’t necessarily afford to buy originals a way to engage with your work. I won’t be making a book out of this year’s #30×30, but I hope to have something else to announce before the end of 2020.

You need a Studio Space.

Even if it’s a closet. Or the space under the stairs like Harry Potter.

I made my first studio space by setting up a row of shelves a few feet out from a wall, making a little hidden ‘room/hallway/crawlspace’ where I had a folding chair and a tv-tray.  Later I moved to the garage, and I’d go paint for an hour before I had to leave for whatever terrible day job I had at the time. I think I was working as a paint-mixer back then. At least I was learning color theory!

I’ve done a lot of street sketching – that’s what 90% of this blog is about.

Using the world as your studio is certainly a solution.

But it can take too much time to get out and put yourself in front of a subject! Half your working day is spent travelling to the drawing spot.

So – when you’re ready to take your training to the next level – you need to take this step.

There’s three things I like about having a full-time studio space:

  • Hang your own work near your easel  – It makes a huge difference seeing your own work every day. It’s a kind of mental-focus-lock on your own style. Spend a few moments before every painting absorbing your own brush-strokes, your own color sense, your own compositional balance. Always be comparing work-in-progress to your current ‘top ten’ (or five or three – whatever you have). It’s a visual reminder of how you saved a floundering painting last time. (Every painting flounders in the middle stages). Replace your ‘top ten’ regularly until, eventually, you’ll have solidly defined what you like. You’ll have a target to aim for, and confidence that your own work is good.
  • Don’t Ever Completely Clean Up – Sure – I like to be organized, but – I don’t like to put everthing away. I want zero friction between me and painting. You need to be able to walk in the room and start immediately. If I’m away from my watercolor for a few days, I keep spritzing my paint every night so it’s fresh when I come back. For oils, I just leave wet paint out on the palette and put glass jars over the piles. If you never let your oil brushes dry, you never have to truly clean them. Just wipe down with linseed oil and resume painting within two or three days. These are a few ways to make the act of starting frictionless.
  • Make it your Desert Island – The biggest secret to my own daily practice is ‘going to work’. We drive a few minutes to the studio, and, once I’m there, there’s nothing else to do besides paint. Sure I take phone breaks. But I don’t have a tv, or a computer to play games. (My weakness). And it’s a pain to drive home at rush hour. So once I get into the studio, I can sometimes work till 11 at night. I don’t know how many people can have this privilege of space and free time. But you need to try this immensely satisfying feeling of having as much time as you need to paint.

Ok, I better close it there.

I hope you’re gearing up for a great month of painting with us!

Get your projects lined up, be ready with enough reference to work from, make sure you order paint and paper to last the whole month.

See you on the Facebook group! ~ m

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2020 7:56 PM

    Great article, Marc, so motivating! I am fired up, have my fullsheet Waterford papers ripped and folded into good size workbooks. TV table may be added to my set-up to make it ever more streamlined. And Monday…we’re off! 👏💞👍

  2. May 26, 2020 7:58 PM

    This is so well-said. Can I print it and hand out to my classes? I suppose I could re-write it in my own words, but not sure it would be so clear. Thanks for putting in all down.

  3. May 26, 2020 8:44 PM

    Hello Marc,
    Thanks for your advices. Very helpful. I have one question that I hope is not too personal. How do you choose your goals?

    • May 26, 2020 9:54 PM

      Every year I try to move my goals out a little further. It should be something that seems nearly impossible, but something that I would love it if I only got half way :)

  4. Sandra Kadowaki permalink
    May 26, 2020 10:23 PM

    Thanks for this Marc! I met you at the Urban Sketchers Montreal expo last fall – your work is inspiring, even moreso in person. I’m mustering up my courage to try this challenge this year – I have much to work on, so I will do my best to stop watching videos of other people painting (I am so guilty of that!), and get to more painting myself! Accountability will be good for me…

  5. Kathy Wesson permalink
    May 26, 2020 11:50 PM

    That was invaluable. Thank you Marc. I’ve had a daily practice during quarantine and everything you say rings true and gives me confidence I’m heading in the right direction. Bring it on 30×30!

  6. lindamirth permalink
    May 27, 2020 9:20 PM

    Marc, This was an excellent post, thank you!


  7. Demetra permalink
    June 1, 2020 11:38 AM

    I like to join but via Instagram. When I search #30×30DirectWatercolor It does not find it..?
    Could you let me know if it is possible or not..


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