“The drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence, but by oft falling” – Lucretius
For a long time now, I’ve been publishing the results of my drawing and painting practice here.
People sometimes tell me I’m hard working. They tell me I have a strong work ethic. Sometimes they say I must have a lot of will power.
But words like ‘will power’ and ‘work ethic’ suggest that you have to force yourself to do something, to make yourself keep going, and force is a form of violence.
In my experience, that’s not the best way to make a hole in the stone.
I think a much better way to make progress, the way I try to progress these days, is like raindrops.
Each day, one more drop.
This approach is not without its frustrations. It demands patience and a certain amount of faith. Often you can’t see the progress from day to day, even for a long time. But then one day, you notice a small dent in the stone.
Just enough to keep you going.
Wearing Down The Stone
When I first started my composition practice, I didn’t see any real progress for quite some time. Here’s some of the early drawings
Not exactly inspiring.
It’s just as well I was enjoying the practice, it would have been much harder to keep going otherwise. There is a school of thought that says practice is most effective when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, stretch yourself. It says that practice, if you want it to be effective, is necessarily hard work and unpleasant.
The first part of that makes a lot of sense. Stretching muscles builds strength, whether they are physical or metaphorical muscles. But there’s no law that says your practice has to be an unpleasant experience in order to be effective. In fact, I think the opposite is the case. Practice is much more effective when we enjoy it.
Here’s some more of my composition drawings a few months later. The point here is not so much that there’s been incredible progress, it’s that I’m still going.
Although actually, the drawings are starting to look a bit more balanced if you ask me.
As I write this, I’ve been going for over a year. This kind of thing has recently started to appear in my sketch book:
The stone is gradually wearing away. Soon I’ll be able to see right through it, and design and composition will no longer be the weakest part of my drawing and painting.
To me, these most recent drawings are clear evidence that my skill with design and composition has improved to a point where my designs are noticeably better than they were. And because this is a skill I’ve developed, it will naturally feed into everything I do. My sense of spacing has got better.
I don’t need to remember long lists of compositional rules. I don’t need mathematical formulas. I’m building up a natural feel for design, but not natural in the sense that I was born with it. I most certainly wasn’t. It’s natural in the sense that it happens fairly easily as part of all my drawing now, and that will be increasingly so the more I practice it.
Perhaps it would be nice if there was some quick fix that would help us get better at something without having to put in all those hours of practice.
But there isn’t. If you make the practice enjoyable, though, and start small, you’re much more likely to keep going. Just by enjoying your practice and keeping it going, you’re much more likely achieve your goals.
One drop at a time, and the patience to see it through. That’s all it takes.
So, why 1,366 steps?
Simple, really. I just counted the number of composition practice drawings I’ve done since I started with the practice last year. I must say, I’ve enjoyed every one.
Thanks, as always,
Posted: December 3rd 2012
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