Plein Air at Morrison's Lodge, Merlin, Oregon

Plein Air at Morrison’s Lodge, Merlin, Oregon

My husband and I just spent a wonderful weekend with friends at Morrison’s Lodge, on the Rogue River near Merlin, OR. I devoted one day to plein air painting in this beautiful spot… It was a fun way to interact with all ages, from kids to adult. They really enjoyed seeing the two paintings that I completed coming together, and changing radically from one hour to the next.

One of the analogies I made when talking to them about my art was that just like any other art form, painting takes practice. Kids can really relate to practicing piano, violin or guitar. I was able to tell them that I have been practicing my art for over 25 years, just as someone who plays in a symphony would practice. I have taken intensive classes, and solicited criticism of my work too.

Learning to paint has been a result of studying from the Masters of my craft and choosing to do directed practice. Two articles I read this morning really emphasize this idea of focusing your efforts:

Lisa Call, a highly successful textile artist, talks about how we use our 10,000 hours of practice on her blog. I would encourage you to read the entire article!

One of the keys to improvement and conscious practice is getting critical feedback. Lisa says:

  • “Get critical and immediate feedback on your artwork. Better yet – learn to give yourself valuable critical feedback. Surgeons get better over time because they get immediate feedback to their work. Interestingly radiologists reading mammograms do not get better over time because they do no receive any sort of immediate critical feedback on their work. It can take years before their mistakes are discovered. This idea of critical and immediate feedback seems to be key in improving our skills.”

Donna Zagotta, one of my most influential art mentors, has produced an entire series of blog posts on Deliberate Practice. Her article “Heading in the Right Direction” points out some ways to direct your practice:

“There are 4 major components to a Deliberate Practice Program:

  1. Know precisely where you want to go
  2. Make a list of small and specific actions for getting there
  3. Work one step at a time
  4. Feedback and evaluation”

Donna keeps a list of artists whose work she admires so that she can study what ways she might improve her own work. She continues her series on today’s blog post: That Time of Year.

One of my goals for this year has been to improve my use of expressive line and mark-making. Interestingly, this goal came about because a painting received a compliment from an instructor! He said that my mark-making in an experimental painting was expressive. I actually felt that this element was the least successful part of the painting, and decided to try to focus more effort on making marks that were pleasing to me. In order to do that, I read books on the subject, including Steven Aimone’s book: Expressive Drawing: A Practical Guide to Freeing the Artist Within .

I also decided to do some experimenting with different materials for drawing and mark-making. Because I was open to experimenting, I found some new, more pleasing, techniques that worked for me. I also figured out which methods felt less natural for me. Zentangle was one style that immediately felt natural to me. I enjoy the meditative process and have incorporated several elements from this art form into my watercolor paintings. Look at my Down on the Farm series and see if you can spot some areas influenced by Zentangle. What works for you? I’d be interested to hear your comments.

If you are looking for some feedback or direction in your own work, you might want to look at signing up for one of my upcoming classes. Former students have some great things to say. October and November are great months to spend time in the studio with other like-minded artists! I hope you can join me.




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