am i improving? (part 2)

In part 1 I discussed how progress is a carrot on a stick tied to you; and why you should focus in the moment and on your current abilities, and not compare yourself to a projected future ideal. In this part 2 I’ll be discussing ways you can be moving forward with your goals and learn more efficiently.

Consistency is king. I could end it here. Practicing everyday is paramount to improving. If you can assign time everyday to practicing, you’ll develop a momentum and a habit that will discipline you and keep you from procrastinating.

I set a goal to paint everyday at the beginning of this year. I haven’t missed a single day. And there has been obstacles and times where I could’ve easily excused myself for not sitting down and painting, but I refused to stop the momentum.


Digital sketch. Original by John Singer Sargent

Now the goal was to ‘paint everday’, not ‘paint a portrait’ or ‘paint for 6 hours’. My goal was very achievable on a day to day basis. Even if I could assign 15 minutes out of my day, I had achieved my goal. If I were extremely busy that day, or just didn’t ‘feel it’, at the bare minimum, I could’ve still painted a piece of fruit or an object.

You have to set up something achievable and realistic to help maintain your drive and focus. If you set the bar too high, you might miss your goal and break the momentum, and then start procrastinating.

What’s something you want to practice on everyday? Set up a minimum time for it and work on that and forget about trying to make a pretty picture. If you want to get better at portraits, commit at the very least 10 minutes out of your day practicing portraits. In a week, that’s over an hour of practice. Have you committed an hour of practice to a portrait in the last week or so?

To grow is to work outside your comfort zone. Just enough to stretch it, but not too much to break it

If you’ve been practicing consistently the same thing day in and day out, and start noticing you’re getting bored, its because what you’re doing isn’t challenging enough. If you’re getting frustrated, then its too hard and you need to scale back a little bit.

If you’re a beginner at portrait work, focus on the structures of the facial features and not too much on the ‘likeness’. Don’t use celebrities as reference. You’ll focus too much on getting the likeness and not enough on the lines and proportions of the face.

Work from old masters works; their portrait works are usually in good lighting and are easier to work from. Flip them upside down as Betty Edwards would have you do to better see the ‘shapes’ and not the symbols or what you think a facial feature looks like.

Date and archive you work

You don’t have to horde every picture you make. But you should be archiving a piece of work on a weekly basis. You can go back and check on older works and spot the difference. Improving is a gradual process and you won’t notice it because you’ll always be seeing you work.

Whenever you feel like you’re stagnating and are getting discouraged, go back on your previous work and reaffirm your brain that you are improving so it can shut up about progress.

In closing, be patient and take it day by day. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself by trying to cram hours into one day, and then procrastinating the rest. Set up a limit or a ‘bare minimum’ allotment of time to work on something everyday. Even if its just 5 minutes. Put on a timer and work on it for 5 minutes. Don’t think about it, just start. Momentum is a powerful thing. You’ll be surprised on the habits you will build through consistent effort.


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