Getting with the Program

I was listening to a podcast over at Accidental Creative where Todd Henry was interviewing Cal Newport and discussing his book called, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”  They discussed the principals of following your passion and how to do the one thing that most advice writers do not put much emphasis on, which is deciding passion truly looks like or how it is developed. [Link to the podcast]

His basic advice is to focus on craftsmanship.  When you take a look at the visual arts, the idea of treating art like it is a craft to be honed is almost blasphemy.  Everyone is supposedly an artist on the inside and the only thing that matters is expression.  I disagree with that notion.  While I do like to see people expressing themselves, I think that it is a skill building that separates the professional artist from the hobbyist.  This is probably true of almost any creative field.


Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.  -Edward Degas


Daily Doodle 1-31-13

This is just a drawing from a photo I found on Facebook.

Life Sketch 1-31-13

For some reason, talking and hatching go together even though they shouldn’t because I pay no attention to light sources. Since my model moved before I could get any shadow shapes in place, I would have made a better drawing had I stopped when she got up.

Baby sketch 1-31-13

A sketch of my daughter that I plan to use for a watercolor painting

Because the discussion of deep work intrigued me, I went to Cal Newport’s blog called Study Hacks to read more.  I found an article called Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working (and Here’s What to Do About It…) where I read up on the topic to get a better understanding of the discussion they were having on the podcast.  Because I had already done my sketches before I read this article, it seemed almost ironic that my day was a perfect example of what he was talking about.

I have big issues with proportions.  I either make something too long or too wide in nearly every sketch.  I don’t know why I do it, but I do know how to fix it.  Measure a million times, or even better, do a sight size drawing.  Why don’t I do it?  Because I want to get it done.  Why do I want to get it done?  To say I did it so I can tell myself I am working. That is called shallow work. It is doing nothing for me as far as skill building. (just being honest here)

As you can see, the first two sketches are examples of shallow work.  The last one, however is a sketch that I really want to use to make a “real” work of art.  It is personal and not just “practice.”  I am willing to do it over and over to get results that are pleasing.  I want to come out of the other side of this with a piece to hang on my wall.  This is an example of deep work.  I am focused because it is meaningful and solves a problem that means something to me.  I did all the steps he lists in his article.

  • I prepared by opening this up in a photo editor and looking at it with several kinds of alterations to understand the shadows and proportions.
  • I clarified by looking up several tutorials and getting a clear idea of what I wanted this to look like and how to make it look that way.
  • My stretch will come into play when I actually put this on watercolor paper and start painting it.  I am so new to watercolor that this will be a distinct challenge.
  • When it comes time to obsess, I am going to limit myself to working on this in absolute focus.  It working without a clear focus that seems to get me into all sorts of trouble, artistically.

Deliberate practice with a higher goal in mind is what I am truly after this year.  I know the theory.  Theory is just shallow work until it is applied to deep work with substance.  I do want to keep the pencil moving, but I think I want to move it with more value and purpose than I have been doing lately.  I am considering toying with a loose schedule for myself that includes some of the concepts discussed in these articles.

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