Practice can be Playful

When we learn a new technique or try something new typically it doesn't turn out perfect the first time. Let's take coloring folds in a dress as an example. You have gotten step-by-step instructions from a class instructor to help you create beautiful folds with magnificent depth. In the class you follow the instructions, and the results are pretty good, and you are proud of yourself. Two weeks later you see a project with a beautiful dress, and you decide you want to bring that dress to life using the same steps from that class you took. You know you did it before in a class so you are confident you can do it again even though this is a different dress, and you want to use different colors. You are ready to create this amazing dress you see in your head but now how to get that on the paper.

As you start out you remember some of the instructions from that class you took a couple of weeks ago, but the folds in this dress aren’t looking like what you did in class. Now you feel like a failure and decide you are no good at this art stuff. If this scenario sounds familiar to you then stop beating yourself up. It is not as horrible as you think. There was only one missing thing here and it was "practice". Yes, I said that ugly word that people don't like to hear but it is true. We learn so many things in the classes we take but what we fail to do is practice what we learn. It's like a child who wants to be a basketball star. He learns how to make a 3-point shot. Then expects that he will automatically hit the shot every time during the next game. That is unrealistic. You need to practice what you learn until it is happens without thinking about it.

Practice gets a bad rap. There are very few people who enjoy practicing (I happen to be one of those crazy people). People hate to practice because it is the boring work. The details that are not the exciting part is what we typically must practice. Like holding your marker or your pencil in your hand. Who needs to practice this - yeah that's boring? The thing is that the way you hold your marker or pencil could be the main reason you are struggling to get the beautiful strokes you want on to your paper. What we don't realize is that it doesn't take long to improve when you practice. The biggest issue is simply getting started.

Practice can be fun. Just because it’s fun, it doesn't have to undermine how serious you are about improving your art. When you get the results you are looking for you will be thankful for the fun practice.

Before we talk about different ways to have fun while practicing. Let's talk about how to structure your practice. First, to get started with practicing it needs to be easy. If you are going to decide to work on something you perceive as difficult then it will be too easy to put it off and never practice. All difficult things need to be broken down into easy parts. Let's say we will practice drawing a face well that needs to be broken down into small parts, so it doesn't seem so daunting. So, let's start with just focusing on the eyes. But wait, even that needs to be broken down into smaller parts, there are many we could practice such as the iris, the eyelid, the tear duct, or the eyeball. When we practice creating an eye, we practice one part at a time. Taking a few minutes to color three irises will not take much time but can be fun trying different colors. After you are done then self-evaluate just the iris which ones you like and which ones you don't. Tomorrow do the same thing again - this time with different colors. Spending 10 min a day for a week just making colorful irises gives you the confidence to tackle more of the eye.

As I said earlier practice does not have to be boring you can decide to turn your practice time into fun time by playing a game with yourself. For me, I like to challenge myself. I play lots of be better than the last time games, because it keeps me motivated and thinking about my next practice session. Here are a few other ideas of games you can play with yourself to keep you motivated to practice:

  • Let's color 10 in 20 minutes (10 of whatever you are working on)

  • Limit your practice to using only one color

  • Practice using random colors

  • Limit your practice to one sketchbook - always date each entry

  • Create practice on flash cards (3" x 5" cards) - make notes on the back for future reference

  • Practice with a friend and swap papers

  • Make a wall of fame for your practice sheets--only the best practice of the week gets posted on the wall or cork board

  • Try a different medium

  • Play fun music in the background to keep you in a good mood even if you mess up

These are just a few things you can do. While there are rules for effective practicing, such as repetition and self-evaluation, there are no rules limiting how much fun you sprinkle in your practice routine. Most people confuse discipline and dedication in their understanding of practice. Most people do not practice because they think they lack the discipline to do the grueling work each day. The reason I am not a ballerina is because I lack the discipline to dance everyday as if that is a grueling effort. Yet, talk to any successful ballerina and they will say they have worked hard but they loved every moment of it. That doesn't sound grueling to me. It sounds like they found a way to make their practice playful.

Here in the Practice Corner, we take techniques and break them down into easy parts so that we can practice them until they become second nature. Once you print off your practice sheets it’s easy to sit down for a few minutes and have fun practicing, all the while really learning and absorbing your new techniques and building confidence along the way.

How will you add fun in your practice today?

What's happening in the Corner . . .

Has colder weather arrived where you live? Do you find yourself inside trying to stay warm? Why not pick up some knitting needles and start knitting a warm scarf. Hey, hold the presses, we don't knit here we color. So join us this month as we pick up our markers, colored pencils, and/or watercolors and learn to create a knit texture on paper!

If you are reading this after we moved on to the next technique, you can find the Work-at-Your-Own-Pace Practice for Texture:Knit here.

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