How to improve and pay rent at the same time

"You gotta eat, sleep and breathe painting!  If you aren't working every second, you're going to lose out to someone who does work that hard!"


We've all heard it.  We ALL have that fear - We're going to get beaten out by someone who has the luxury of practicing all the time!  As we slog through our day job at Starbucks or Target, we think of "THAT GUY" who is painting and getting better, while we're stuck in retail hell...forever.


You gotta work to get better.  This week we're going to talk about what that means.

As always, I'm going to start with a story.  When I was 13, I taught myself to type.  I was really into the point that when I would go to sleep, I would do typing drills with my fingers without a keyboard.  I wasn't typing, but I was *working* on typing, and it helped me.  (I ended up an extremely fast and accurate typist, but that's for another blog.)  There is more you can do to work on painting and drawing that just sit at your page making marks.  

The flip side story - I knew a guy in art school who was ALWAYS drawing mechs....but he never got better.  Just making marks isn't enough to improve.  You could make 1000 Jackson Pollock style paintings and never learn to paint a cityscape.

Each of us is has our own circumstances - But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the vast majority of us have eyes, ears and smart phones.  When you aren't painting, use the time looking, and recording what you see.  Ok, you have a day job at target.  Start PAYING ATTENTION.  Why are certain colour combinations put together?  Shape combinations?  What do shadows look like in such flat lighting?  If you're a character person, who did you see today that was noteworthy?  The trashiest redneck?  The prettiest woman?  The most stylish guy?  How did they walk?  How did they stand?  Did the flirty high school girl tilt her head when she talked on the phone?

That's just for content.  If you can pay attention to that stuff, you'll paint better.  Hell, try it with yourself.  Close your eyes and try to visualize what your outfit looks like.  Where are the shadows?  Are they warm or cool?

The other thing you can do is story research.  Pixar movies work because of the authenticity.  Look for that.  How did that single mother deal with her screaming 2 year old?  How could you show that in a single image?  How do you capture that amazing combination of exhaustion, love, stress and sense of purpose?  Working in a place like Target gives you an AMAZING opportunity to really study the human story.

You're going to want to paint as much as you can.  You gotta actually exercise those muscles...but looking is probably more valuable anyway.  I was showing my work to Robh Ruppel last year at CTN, and he asked me how I'd gotten so much better than the year before.  I told him I started to see better.  He just nodded and said, "Yep.  That'll do it."

Technique is the thing we usually think we need to focus on.  It almost never is.  Look at work by people like Pascal Campion.  What makes it amazing is the story he is telling, and how you just KNOW it was based on a real situation.  How can you use your situations in your art?

On Thursday, I'm going to talk about some techniques for actually improving your technique when you don't have all day to noodle about.

Thanks for reading!  If this was helpful, please tell your friends, and help me share via social media!  As always, let me know if you have any comments :)