There was an interesting comment on this blog post on the colour of shadows recently that really gave me pause for thought. Here’s the comment:
Do you think of matching colour this way as a sort of training wheels that you get to take off at some point? It seems quite labor intensive to paint something this way beyond a simple study. Do you find that as you have been doing more and more of these studies you have a better guess at what the value, hue, chroma is when you look at a new subject?
I’ve seen this phrase “training wheels” used often in art forums, in relation to many different things.
Sometimes it’s drawing with a grid, or using a viewfinder to select a composition. I’ve seen value scales referred to as training wheels, and dividers for measuring drawings.
It bothers me because it comes from what I believe is a basic and very grave mistake in mindset that artists – and pretty much only artists – have about their approach to learning.
It’s that you have to use these helpers at the beginning in order to get your skills down, then you never have to go back to them again.
And more; if you’re using them, that means you’re still learning. You’re not professional. You haven’t made it yet. You haven’t arrived. You’re somehow…less.
Think about this: Musicians don’t stop practising scales when they can play one well. They practice scales their entire lives. At least, if they want to keep progressing they do.
Athletes don’t stop training when they reach a certain level of skill development and fitness. They keep training. They don’t try to just turn up and perform. They’d quickly find themselves at the bottom of the league tables if they did.
Why should artists be any different?
There’s a sneakily pejorative aspect to that mindset. It’s a trick our brains play upon us, and it will only slow our progress.
So no, I don’t see it as training wheels. It is labour intensive, but if you want to draw and paint realism well, you have to accept this: It’s hard work, and demands a lot of different skills, developed to a high level, working together.
There is no end to the development of those skills. I still use a colour checker, and I’m still constantly learning new things about colour. I still paint cubes and spheres, and I still learn from every study I do.
With regard to colour mixing, certainly I am better than I used to be at getting in the right ball park more quickly.
That’s because, with practice, I’m gradually developing more detailed knowledge of my tube pigments and what combinations get me in which area of the colour space. Certainly I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge about value which helps keep me from making basic mistakes.
But I want to continue to improve, and for that reason I’ll keep practising methodically, and looking for ways to improve my practice methods.
Another reader here recently commented with one of my favourite stories about a musician.
Pablo Casals is widely regarded as one the best ‘Cello players ever to have lived. When asked why, into his 90’s, he still continued to do daily practice, he answered that he believed he was starting to see some progress.
If we want to improve, and if we want to help to bring realism as whole up from the sad state it’s got into over the last couple of generations, then we need to do the same.
Best wishes, and thanks for reading,
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