Getting Better Faster – Painting with 80/20 Rule

Getting Better Faster – Painting with 80/20 Rule


There are things I do almost every time I
paint. I follow a process. I follow a process when I set up my easel,
my paints and brushes, stain the canvas… If I want to paint quicker, I premix a bunch
of colors. Batch the paint mixing to save time. I can do that while I wait for the stain to
dry. I usually spend 2 to 3 hours on a plein air
painting. Today, I’m doing quicksketch painting. I found that when I limit myself to just 25
to 30 minutes, I still capture most of it. I lose some of the details, and the shapes
might not be as accurate. But by spending just 20% of the time, and
focusing on the most important 20% of information, I can get 80% there. Good ol’ 80/20 rule. I’m not saying you should do this to increase
your output of paintings to sell. You could I guess. But I think this is useful to artists, especially
students, because it increases the value of each minute of practice. It speeds up your fail rate. You get to practice the most important 80%
of the concepts 5 times instead of just once. You get to fail quicker. Learn from more mistakes. Fail quicker. Fix more mistakes. Try things that you wouldn’t try on a longer
painting. Fail quicker! That’s huge when learning to do anything. Being efficient and practicing smart, compounded
over 5 to 10 years… You do the math. Of course, practicing those subtle details
is important too. So I don’t want to diminish the value of
longer studies. Both have their merits. But to learn those important fundamental concepts
that will make the biggest impact in your work. That’s where quicksketch is king. You know that guy in your art class that got
really really good in like 2-3 years? And then that other guy that’s been bouncing
around workshops for 10 years. The guy looking for a secret, the perfect
pencil to use. What’s the difference between these two
guys? Of course, the first guy draws a lot more. But those students that stand out. The ones that obviously developed faster than
everyone else, they didn’t just practice hard. They practiced smart. I lost some white! I lost some… My chunk of white’s over back there! Oh no, I think I see it! Alright, so we’re closer to the lagoon now. More looking straight at it instead of down at it. But I’m seeing a lot of zigzags,
so I’m gonna go with that patern. Maybe even add a cloud pattern up there,
just a little bit of a zigzag. I know right now it’s really soft up in the sky but I could cheat the edges if I want. I can sharpen them up. We tend to think we don’t have enough time. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished
in just a few minutes. When we remove the minutia and focus only
on the few most important things, we can capture the moment in just a few moments. The things you choose to focus on can change
depending on what you think is important or what you’re studying. Today I’m focused on composition, depth,
and simplicity of values. Compositionally I usually go with my gut. Work on my intuition by placing things where
they feel good. Designing shapes to feel good. To add depth I’m thinking about atmospheric
perspective. Typically I’ll consider 3 layers: foreground,
middle ground, and background. The foreground has more contrast of values
and colors. There are more details and the edges are sharper. As we go towards the background, we lose the
contrast, we lose the details, and we lose the sharp edges. Simplicity of values means I’m trying to
group things together into large shapes of value. I’ll add subtle variations within, but I
want it to read as a large clean shape. For example, I have the mountain as 1 shape,
the trees in the middle ground as another shape, the sand as another shape, and the grass
as another with a gradation of light to dark from top to bottom. You can see I even grouped the sky and the
distant mountain together to separate the white clouds. But you don’t want every group to be a different
value. Simplify your values. I used the same value for the closer mountain,
the trees and the bottom of the grass. Same value for the sky, the distant mountain,
and the distant grass. And the same value for the water and the sand. The clouds have their own bright white, but
I put a few strokes of very light sand to add more contrast in the foreground. Times up. 2 successful color studies. When I don’t want to play it safe, when
I’m looking for something exciting to happen, I’ll break from the process. I’ll try something new. Most of the time the results are unexpected
and undesirable. I end up having to fix it. But in the process of fixing it, I get something
new. That rare moment when the results are desirable
is called a happy accident. Though it’s not an accident at all. It’s an intentional break from the process
to allow for happy accidents. To fail quickly. To learn from the desirable and undesirable
results. So, follow a process when you want things
to be efficient and predictable. But don’t forget to experiment. Break from the process to discover something
new.

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