Saturday, December 31, 2022

No Boring Mastery Here


11/2/22 Self-portrait in poor lighting... not my best look.

Writer and artist Austin Kleon has an intriguing post about the art of imperfection. It’s about happy accidents, allowing mistakes and repairs to show, and wabi-sabi. According to Austin’s matrix (go look at his post), the opposite end of the spectrum from imperfections and unintended actions are perfection and deliberate actions, with the result being boring mastery. I think we all know artists who may have fallen into this quadrant after years of success. They have boiled down their success to a formula that they keep following with perfect proficiency (rewarded by sales and acclaim). Unfortunately, the consequence is that they aren’t trying anything new.

I would hope that I never get to the point where I fall into boring mastery of any skill (which seems unlikely, as there’s always more to learn). In fact, I’d have to say that I spent most of 2022 in the other quadrants struggling, making mistakes and happy accidents, and pushing myself to keep going.

6/29/22 A violin busker at Wallingford Farmers Market

Although I took a few formal classes and workshops in drawing trees, taking on large urban scenes, and crosshatching, my most challenging learning opportunities were self-initiated and self-directed (and sometimes self-tortured). The biggest and longest challenge was the 100 days I spent in February through May trying to develop skills in drawing from memory and imagination. Whew – that was tough!

Then right on the heels of that, I spent 30 days in June making daily compositional studies. Studying composition with Ian Roberts’ YouTube tutorials possibly had the greatest impact on my art life in that it changed the way I see and approach composition.

The rest of the year I tried smaller, self-directed experiments and challenges, most of which are ongoing. During and after France Van Stone’s crosshatching courses, I used InkTober to continue practicing “dirty crosshatching,” especially with portraiture, which is a subject area I had been wanting to develop.

11/22/22 Compositional study from photo

Inspired by YouTubes, friends and other artists I follow, I’ve been poking around in the painting world – without ever touching a paint brush! Primary and secondary triads, the Zorn palette, “underpainting” – I’m teaching myself to think like a painter (and maybe someday I might even paint, but I’m in no hurry; there’s plenty to learn just using dry materials).

One surprising outcome of all my self-study was that I finally embraced drawing from photo references. As a dyed-in-the-wool urban sketcher, I resisted using photos for most of my first decade of drawing. I still believe strongly that drawing from direct observation is the most effective way to develop skills – and I believe there’s no substitute for it. But I now also see the value of using photo references for deliberate practice. Chiefly, using photos enables me to practice specific techniques and skills more often – and a key to developing skills is always practice. Accepting photo references as a part of learning became a learning in and of itself.

7/7/22 Geese at Gas Works Park

In summary, 2022 was a year of frustration, struggle, happy accidents, imperfection, joyous discovery and just about everything except boring mastery, which made it a very good year, indeed. I look forward to whatever new things I learn in 2023. Best wishes to you for a creative year ahead!

(On the last day of the year, my mom used to say it was good practice to pay bills, return letters and phone calls, and otherwise tie up loose ends before midnight so that old business wouldn’t be carried into the fresh year. Shown in this post are a few random sketches from 2022 that I never got around to blogging about. In most cases, my intention was to develop themes of related sketches to blog about together, but these ended up being one-offs.)

8/19/22 Ducks at Green Lake


  1. You've had a year of giving yourself lots of challenges! I really admire that about you. I'm one of those who is a little too content to move out of my comfort zone. I'll need to work on that in 2023! Happy New Year to you and Greg!

    1. Thank you, Joan! Best wishes to you and Jerry, too!

  2. Where do you like to get your photo references from?

    1. Almost all of my portrait reference photos come from Earthsworld, a photographer on Instagram who allows free use of his work:
      I use my own photos when I need landscape/urban photo references.


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