We are all familiar with the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’.
But it turns out that’s not necessarily true. I’ve been learning that practice actually makes ‘permanent’.
Researchers Doug Lemov, Katie Yezzi, and Erica Woolway have been delving deep into practice in their book ‘Practice Perfect’ that I’ve been reading this week.
They are clear that just repeating the same way of doing something over and over won’t necessarily make you better. Not even if you do the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell popularised is needed to make someone great at something.
Repetition WILL embed that technique in muscle memory or mental circuitry – making it a habit – but that will happen whether your technique is good or not.
What’s really interesting for those of you learning to paint, is the importance they therefore place on doing the RIGHT kind of practice.
Their focus is often on sports and also teaching, but here are some key take-aways I’ve gleaned from the book that are really applicable to learning to paint:
- push yourself to practice something a bit more difficult than you feel comfortable (but not SO hard that you are likely to fail at it)
- observe the skill being ‘modelled’ (or demonstrated) AND described thoroughly – then try to imitate it as best you can (‘copying’ can be hugely freeing in this context and a great way to learn skills)
- assess each practice session by identifying both the things you did WELL as well as the things that could be improved – it’s just as important to keep practising the things you did well so you get EVEN better at doing them
- strive to correct your errors, but see them as a TOTALLY normal part of learning and improving
So, in terms of learning to paint in a realistic way – I think it’s really important to practice painting subjects with very different challenges to them.
This could be either –
painting different visual textures (subjects that are shiny, rough, hairy, patterned etc) which requires that you practice new and different brush techniques in order to recreate those markings –
painting different coloured subjects which has you practicing colour mixing
So if you’re serious about improving your skills, it’s really helpful to make a plan of the paintings, and sketchbook exercises you’ll do, making sure you get a good mix of different subjects and skills to try… and then assess them afterwards, looking for the areas to work on next.
It’s exactly what I do when I plan out the Step-by-Step tutorials and PracticePics in my online School – but there’s no reason why you can’t apply these principles to your own practice sessions too to maximise their value to you.
This way you can develop your skills and ultimately your enjoyment of the process.
And, in turn, as their little video states – mastering the skills will allow your creativity to increase too!
Please let me know in the comments if you have any top tips for practicing right, or if you’ve struggled in the past to make your painting practice count.