What does it take to be talented?
We've all heard that quote, "10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." One of the most damning criticisms of Modernism is that for most of the past half century, artists were not admired for their skill, but for a demonstrated lack of skill. I've never gone so far as to believe that, although I have raised an eyebrow once or twice over some of the "art" that purports to call itself "art." But there is no doubt that American tastes are swinging more toward Realism, and looking for art that relates to the human experience in some way.
I was listening to this podcast by Juliette Aristides today about how she found her way toward Realism. While I was listening, I was also looking at one of her books, Classical Painting Atelier - in fact, I credit this book, as well as Classical Drawing Atelier, as the motivator behind my investigation of still life painting. But as I was listening to Ms. Aristides and looking at one of my favorite images in the book, "Skinned Rabbit" by Antonio Lopez Garcia, something she said struck a chord:
She was asked what it took to be really good as an artist, and recounted an article she'd read about what it took for people to be brilliant in a variety of fields:
- Study a lot, over 10,000 hours
- Learn your field well
- Practice, refine, and constantly challenge yourself
Constantly challenge yourself.
When I am painting, there is always that moment when I start to say "Oh no, this is a mess," when I have to stop myself from wiping everything off in frustration. I've learned to welcome this moment of fear, because it tells me that I'm not doing just what I know well, that I'm not painting the "easy painting." I've also learned to push through the doubt and remind myself that I can "pull it off." The more I do this, the easier it gets.
Today I set up a painting I've wanted to do for awhile but haven't tried it because of the difficulty.
This is how I usually set up my still life subjects. I've blogged about this on Sue Smith's Studio, but here is a quick rundown.
I have a utility cart that holds my supplies, and on the top, I stack up boxes to get my materials to the height I want. The lamp is a very cheap goose neck desk lamp that has a mind of its own. I've taped two pieces of matboard - one medium gray and one black - together like a hinged book, to set up as a backdrop. Sometimes I will use a colored cloth for this, but today it was the mats.
In the bottom right corner of this photo you can see the "tool" I use as a viewfinder. It's a precut mat with several openings, which I can adjust to allow for a square opening when using a square format. I started by putting tic marks showing the middle and thirds, but the more I paint still life work the less often I need to use this tool. But it's great when starting out or trying to find a dynamic composition.
This is my subject. Click on the image for a full size version, which you can download if you like. If you paint from this, email a photo of your work to me - not larger than 600 px longest side, and I'll post it - we can see all the different points of view. Yes, I admit it is a challenging setup, so put together your own props and have a go at something similar - I'm still happy to post it.
Here is the painting at the end of today's session. The format I like right now is 6 inches x 6 inches, on gessoed panel.
I'll admit, this is the most challenging set-up I've painted to date, and at several points in the process I was feeling pretty disappointed that I couldn't pull it off. I'm still not sure if it reads "bird's nest" or not, and the fault could easily be in the props I used -- a man-made "nest" out of woven twigs from the craft store. But I've been drawn to the interesting shapes and lines ever since I bought it and knew I would paint it someday. I tried drawing it several times, too, but the result was bad - very bad. I used a limited palette here, flake white, chromatic black, transparent yellow, yellow ocher, dark red and a brown (sorry, I don't know which ones, probably brown ocher and a cool red) I may go back into this painting tomorrow. Or, I might just call it good and move on.
While I was working on this painting, one of those memories flashed into my mind - I had been working with a new student, and she had reached "the frustration wall." I said rather flippantly that if she never pushed through her fear, she would never progress, only paint up to what she knew and no further. She told me she "hated" what I was saying at that moment, but came to realize it was the best advice I'd ever given her.
I should listen to myself more often, I guess.
How do you challenge yourself? What "signs" tell you that something good is about to happen? How do you push yourself beyond the fear?
You're going to live the next 10,000 hours or so anyway, so why not? (That's only 8 hours a day for the next 4.5 years give or take...)