Improving Your Speed In Life Painting Sessions

Isn't it easy to run out of time when working from life? You're happily painting along, immersed in your craft while enjoying some nice music and refreshments. Slowly and unwittingly, you drift off to Artsyland, a realm that knows no time. Every now and then, you sense something is wrong when a break comes way too soon. But then the model resumes her pose, and you quickly fall again under Artsyland's hypnotic spell.

…Suddenly, someone announces "last 5 minutes!"

You blink. "What?! This can't be!" You look at your canvas. You have a rough outline of the head and a hairdo. Breathlessly, you slap down a few shapes that vaguely resemble the features of the face, and you vignette the rest.

I want to assure you that you're not alone. Working within the time constraints of a life session is a challenge for any artist, myself included!

You may be surprised to hear this…

The reason you run out of time isn't that you don't have enough time. You don't have a time problem. You have a goal problem.

To help you with your goal problem,  I'll ask you a question… 

When you attended your last life session,
what was your goal?

Don't just say, "I didn't have a goal." You didn't show up by accident. Something made you want to be there. So what was it? Why did you go? Was it for one of these reasons?

  1. Creating a good piece
  2. Getting better at figure painting
  3. Having fun
These might seem like good goals. But by themselves, each of these is likely to send you straight to Artsyland. Goals like these will continually leave you feeling as though you didn't have enough time.


"Creating a Good Piece"
Is Not a Good Goal

I'll let you in on a secret of mine. For every decent head study I share on Facebook, I've got one zillion "turkeys." If my goal for each of those head studies had been "creating a good piece," I would have been disappointed one zillion times.

We all want to create masterpieces. And every now and then, a life session will yield a great result. But most of the time, it doesn't. My recommendation is this: when you attend a life session, always strive to do your very best, but treat it as practice. When you do this, the pressure of creating a masterpiece is lifted. Now you are free to learn and actually improve your skills.


"Getting Better at Figure Painting"
Is Not a Good Goal

At first glance, this might seem like the "correct answer." But this goal is likely to slow your improvement for one reason—it lacks focus.

A runner's arm muscles are usually not as large as a body builder's. You would think that running—an exercise involving the whole body—would result in large muscles over the whole body. But it's obvious why that isn't so—building large arm muscles simply isn't the focus of running. If you want large arm muscles, you need to choose exercises that focus specifically on arm muscles.

Just like running involves the whole body, life sessions involve every fundamental art discipline (drawing, value, edge, temperature, color). Just like you wouldn't hope to build huge arms from running, you shouldn't hope to improve at any one art discipline unless you set a specific goal.

Instead of your goal being "getting better at figure painting," choose one of the fundamental art disciplines to exercise (drawing, value, edge, temperature or color). Now you've got some real focus!

Now, I know you're thinking, "How does this help me improve my speed?"

Well, like this: When you focus on just one discipline, you say "no" to all the other concerns that vie for your time ("No details, I'm working on value tonight!"). The more you focus on that one discipline, the quicker you'll get at accomplishing it well the next time. Before long, it'll be second nature. When that happens, it's time to focus on the next discipline.


"Having Fun"
Is Not a Good Goal

Actually, "having fun" is not a bad goal. If that's your goal, I'd like to encourage you to never stop having fun! But while "having fun" isn't a bad goal, it's also not a particularly good goal by itself.

If you often experience disappointment when your painting doesn't turn out as well as you had hoped, it may be an indication that, deep down, your goal wasn't really just "to have fun." If this sounds familiar, I'll encourage you to pick just one discipline to work on (read "Why 'Getting Better at Figure Painting' Is Not a Good Goal" above). Not a lot of pressure. Just one thing. If you learned something about that one thing by the end of the session, you've succeeded. And I'll bet you had fun, too.

Next time, in "Improving Your Speed In Life Sessions (Part 2)," I'll take this concept to the next level and share why you need different goals depending on the type of life session.

See you then!

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1 comment:

  1. Great blog Adam. Your writing reflects your kind demeanor.