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What painting apples is teaching me

The current focus in my oil painting course is proportional drawing, and my progress is much slower than I would like. Compositions that look deceptively simple turn out to be time-consuming and complicated. So I am always tempted to procrastinate and find reasons not to start the next painting; once I have started, I want to find short-cuts rather than follow the prescribed steps.

I am aware that our attitude will show in our work. Here is an example from my student days. We had to shade an apple for 30 mins in a course on mindfulness and drawing. I still remember how bored and tense I felt. The result? Edgy mind, edgy apple...

Here are some things that are helping me stay on track with my learning:

Weekly goals

I initially wanted to do one homework a day for 5 days a week. I have reduced this to 2-3 exercises - this leaves some breathing space and time to receive feedback if I am not sure about the next step.

Learning to single task

On several occasions, I have put carbon paper the wrong way round or picked the wrong value because my mind was not on the task at hand. My mind is naturally in "plotting and planning" mode, so I do not need further mental stimulation. Whilst I love listening to podcasts or joining a homework group while I paint, I am experimenting with working in silence and just staying with the painting process.

"You need to develop your powers of concentration and understand that trying to multitask will be the death of the process." (Robert Greene, author of the book Mastery)

Putting imperfections into perspective

I am a perfectionist and naturally focussed on what has not gone right. Painting realistically highlights every inaccuracy, and there are always elements that could be done better. I regularly remind myself what I have already learned: I have a better understanding of values and can create the illusion of volume just using paint.

Accepting boredom

I try to approach each homework with a curious, open-minded attitude. Another challenging quote by Robert Greene: "...the initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium... The pain and boredom we experience in the initial stage of learning a skill toughen our minds... Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents. Will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child, will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?”


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