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The Mindset for Optimal Artistic Progress

April 14, 2021 11:39 AM | Dan Nelson


Here is a  recipe for progress as a painter:

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10-parts------“WOW! I’M AWESOME!”

For every 1-part------ “RATS! THAT SUCKS!”

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The reason I mention this is because I have taught hundreds of students over the years, and I’m afraid the great majority of them get this backwards.

We all struggle with that nasty inner-voice of condemnation. Some of us were aided in this struggle by parents who didn’t know how to affirm because they had never been adequately affirmed. (Or else they were just jerky parents, but I digress.)

I’m talking about how you talk to yourself when you’re painting. Sure, every once in awhile you learn a good hard lesson, and it's appropriate to say, “Whoops! I make that mistake a lot.” But in between every one of those inner-rebukes there should be about NINE “Hey! That looks pretty good!”

Frankly, 40 years after the infusion of "Oprah-ism" into our culture, I'm still amazed there are so many people who haven't got the memo: PEOPLE PERFORM BETTER WITH ENCOURAGEMENT.

Drill sergeants have their place. IT'S IN THE MARINES.

In all the rest of life, that's just not the way healthy humans operate.

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Forgive me while I vent for a minute-- If you have EVER had one of those art teachers who belittles, humiliates, shames, or harshly criticizes their students . . . NEVER TAKE A CLASS FROM THEM AGAIN! And more than that-- tell everybody else NOT to take a class from them. They are blight on the industry. If they have to starve for a little while before they shape up, so be it.

Okay, vent finished. I fell better already. Send me your invoice.

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Let me flesh this out by walking you through the typical painting session of a typical painter :

1. TIME TO PAINT!

UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: O, crap! I only have 50 minutes to paint!

HEALTHY RESPONSE: Yay! I have a little time to paint!

2. SET UP EASEL-- have trouble getting one leg set up right.

UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: I hate this stupid easel! It never works!

HEALTHY RESPONSE: Next time I get this out, I'll try to remember my screwdriver.

3. PUT PAINTS ON PALETTE-- missing one color.

UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: --*!#+¡£¢§¶!!!-- Now I can't paint! I'm missing one color!

HEALTHY RESPONSE: Hmm . . . wonder what I can do with a 'limited palette'?

4. START TO SKETCH-- mess up and draw poorly.

UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: --*!#+¡£¢§¶!!!-- I'm such a lousy artist! I can never draw things   right!

HEALTHY RESPONSE: Hmm . . . maybe if I slow down . . . try again . . .  maybe trace a        little, or use a grid . . .

5. START MIXING COLOR-- Accidentally pick up too much of one color.

UNHEALTHY RESPONSE: --*!#+¡£¢§¶!!!-- See!? I always do that! I'm terrible at mixing           colors!

HEALTHY RESPONSE: Hum a bit of your favorite tune. Wipe off brush, mix again.

I know that might be a little bit harsh . . . but I have taught thousands of students over the years, and in every single class I witness at least a couple of those UNHEALTHY RESPONSES. (More than a couple. I'm being generous.)

So it's time I unveil to the world (trumpet fanfare!) Dan Nelson's #1 LAW OF PAINTING:

BE NICE TO YOURSELF!!!! And the #1 COROLLARY to the #1 LAW:

DON'T COMPARE YOURSELF TO ANYBODY ELSE.

Life is short. Enjoy the process. Exorcize bad parenting (if that's what you had); forgive them, and move on. Then exorcize bad self-talk habits. Forgive yourself and move on.

I always close my posts with these words: Happy Painting! And this time I really mean it--

Happy Painting!

Dan


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