Art, but this time I'm doing it on purpose
Wonky heads, weird arms and smudgy faces.
I loved drawing as a child. It was one of the few activities that I could do completely unselfconsicously. But, as I grew older, and became aware of my gawkiness, clumsiness and nerdiness, drawing lost its appeal. I started to feel that any art I created would be immediately judged by others, both in terms of what I had chosen to create and how ‘good’ it was. So I opted out of GCSE art and gradually stopped doing it.
I picked it up again a few years ago, but fell out of the habit again. The problem was, I wasn’t really getting better. I had the same problem with playing the electric guitar
In Peak, Ericsson and Pool write about how people tend to practice a skill:
We all follow pretty much the same pattern with any skill we learn, from baking a pie to writing a descriptive paragraph. We start off with a general idea of what we want to do, get some instruction from a teacher or a coach or a book or a website, practice until we reach an acceptable level, and then let it become automatic.
It’s at this level we plateau, unless we engage in deliberate practice. It is different to the standard model of practice outlined above in that it involves:
Giving a task one’s full attention
Having small, specific steps towards achieving one’s goals
Getting meaningful (i.e. timely and specific) feedback on one’s progress towards both small and overarching goals
Pushing beyond one’s comfort zone and current ability level, one increment at a time.
This last, Ericsson and Pool write, is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice:
If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. The amateur pianist who took half a dozen years of lessons when he was a teenager but who for the past thirty years has been playing the same set of songs in exactly the same way over and over again may have accumulated ten thousand hours of “practice” during that time, but he is no better at playing the piano than he was thirty years ago. Indeed, he’s probably gotten worse.
The reference to ‘ten thousand hours’ relates to a common misconception about expertise which I believe stems from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers1: that is, that one needs to put in ten thousand hours of practice into a skill if one wishes to master it. However, this ignores the fact that the type of practice matters far more. Deliberate practice is what leads to expertise.
Deliberate practice is hard. It can be gruelling. Central to it is the maxim that there’s no such thing as talent. Many would like to believe in talent, because it’s an easy excuse as to why you aren’t able to do something. And I don’t wish to be reductive and do away with talent completely. But I do believe that a so-called ‘natural aptitude’ or predeliction will only take one so far. It’s often the case that those who are ‘talented’ seem like they’re just good at something, but what many do not see are the sheer hours and effort that goes into truly getting good.
Therefore, I am trying to get better at drawing and painting via the principles of deliberate practice. I share below a baseline — where I am right now. I can pick out my weaknesses: proportions are off, shading is smudgy, I struggle with faces. My plan, therefore, is to get better systematically, sharing my progress along the way. I’m going to start with heads, following Loomis’ method.
Here’s some art. If you watch the time-lapse videos, you’ll see my process. I’d love some feedback, so please feel free to get in touch here or via Instagram.
If I’m wrong: sorry, Mr Gladwell.