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Your Art Discipline

I teach a lot of workshops where people are taking a class for the first time, or just setting up an art practice. Yesterday, I taught a drawing workshop and today I'm teaching pastel. My workshops are chocked full of information and techniques with printed materials to remind you later. It's sort of like taking a crash course in a new language.

In order for this new information to stick, you have to create a new neural pathway-or you have to do it the technique several times before your brain can lock it in the vault. In other words, you need to set up an art practice and have the discipline to do it.

Discipline is a scary word to creative people because its something we shy away from. But discipline is what gets you into the Olympics. Do you think all those athletic young people were born that way? That they just decided to be Olympians and "poof" it happened. Hell no! They set up a disciplined practice to get from hobbyist to professional.

Having discipline means setting boundaries with your family and friends so that every Thursday night is your painting time-or that the kids fend for themselves on Saturday afternoons while you are in class. Or even that the dining room is now odd limits because it's now your painting studio.

Discipline means you walk past the dirty laundry and you pick up your paint brush. You turn the ringer off your phone for three hours. You skip the beers with friends for Sunday Funday and stay home while the house is quiet to work.

Painting is the most fun thing I do all week so I don't really have to have discipline for that-I look forward to it! I set aside two chunks of time (usually 3-4hours) a week to paint. Writing this blog takes discipline. I set it as part of my weekly schedule, along with marketing and entering shows and competitions and preparing my teaching materials for classes, and all the glamorous stuff that goes into being me :)

Discipline for me looks like spending most of my time doing the marketing, advertising, and background work so that for two brief and shining moments a week I can paint what I want to paint.

If you are just getting started with your art practice then you're focusing on skill building. When I did this, I would show up every week for a class with an instructor who would guide and encourage me to achieve my highest potential. Try to get a teacher interested in you and your style and not try to mold you to do it their way or their style. In addition to class, I would repeat the same exercise outside of class for practice. So if I was studying portraiture in class, I would do a study outside of class every week. This helps to cement the neural pathways so that I put into place things I learned in class.

If you consider yourself a "self taught" artist or you can't afford a class right now, you can google videos on You Tube of different artists you wish to learn from. I often do this to see how other artists teach, and paint. I learn much from other artists, and consider other artists my closest friends. I never miss an opportunity to learn from someone else and always remain open and teachable. Growth is key to my success.

Home exercises you can do that will increase your skill level and build your paintings:

Once a week do a different exercise from each list:

1. Drawing Practice:

  • Sit at the kitchen table with a fruit bowl and take each item out one at a time, and sketch it, showing five values from dark to light.

  • Next take the dishes out and start sketching them in groupings using sighting and ellipses to draw stacked cups and saucers.

  • Go for a walk with your sketchbook and choose a building in the distance to sketch using sight sizing and the concept of 5 values.

  • Wait for a person to fall asleep or read, watch tv or otherwise not realise that you are sketching their portrait and see if you can get away with it.

2. Painting Practice:

  • Make a specific date and time to paint and show up every week at that exact time and sit in front of your blank canvas until you actually paint.

  • have an idea for a series and collect reference materials (ex: Tropical Flowers, pick a flower from the neighbor's bush right before your painting date and use it for a model)

  • do a series of 6 pieces in one specific subject then move to another series that you would consider harder. (ex: start with Tropical Flowers then move to Shore Birds)

  • always do something that scares you! If portraits scare you then that should be your next series. If architecture scares you then there you have it.

3. Career Building

  • Read and subscribe to magazine specific to your interest (ex. Pastel Journal for Pastelists, Watercolor magazine for watercolorists, Plein Air magazine for outdoor painters, etc) Pay attention to who's who, and what's happening.

  • Join a club or society so you are surrounded by like-minded artists (ex: Pastel Society of Tampa Bay)

  • Enter your work in member's shows at places where you take classes.

  • Post your work on social media even if you think it is bad. That way your friends and family will know you are interested in art, and will encourage you. Wouldn't you rather get a gift certificate for art classes then a new blender for Christmas?

If you can become disciplined in your art practice, you will grow as an artist and your skills will blossom and flourish. There is no guarantee that you will become professional or famous (all that is not what it's cracked up to be) but you will become the best artist you can be (which is far more important).

A quick word about fame and fortune...Don't get into art for that. Get into art for self-actualization. Don't let your worth as an artist ride on whether someone buys your work or not. Remember one of the most famous artists of all time Van Gogh never sold a painting during his lifetime. Sales do not equal success.

My paintings rarely sell. I would paint them (and do paint them) knowing they may be filed in a closet and not seen by anyone but me. I still have to paint them. Let your success be measured by an internal benchmark that has nothing to do with what other people think.

For example, I'll feel successful when my work is synonymous with conserving endangered places and preservation. My goal is a museum show where I get to make a presentation on the loss of wild places and the need to preserve old growth forests and bayous for our planet's health.

I hope this is helpful in getting you on a disciplined path towards being the best artist you can be.

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Discipline is a word that conjures many emotions for me! It’s a positive element when I’m focused and remain on the task at hand, however, this is rarely so, especially at this moment in my life! I find myself being so overwhelmed, with just about everything, that I can’t cope and am struggling for air! In order to get anything done, I have to force myself into doing!!! Thank you for your words on this perspective, which I value with all my heart 💜, and for this blog which I always look forward to reading…it is certainly a coping mechanism through which I can respond to in all honesty! Furthermore, it makes me realize that there are other ways that…


Thank you for your words of wisdom on discipline in our painting. It rings very true and the suggested activities are appreciated.

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