‘The Ugly Duckling’, Greg Manchess, 5th Grade

“10 Things” is a post of lists, things to keep in mind as you go along. This is a series I’ve begun, based on years of painting experience and research into origins of talent, and how the brain learns. Things about drawing, painting, learning, talent, building a portfolio, working in the business, etc.

There are parallels to all forms of creating. Painting is similar to writing, acting, playing an instrument. Even scientific endeavors follow paths which are similar to all idea creation. Yet, like everything else about being an artist, these things are not set in stone. Staying flexible and thinking against the norm are hallmarks for the painter, but it won’t be easy.

Challenge is the key element. This first list is based on how to keep yourself moving along, and learning.

1. Draw Now. Think Next.

Ideas without followthrough are useless. Conceptual art without skill is nothing. Ideas are cheap. One doesn’t get better at ideas by thinking better thoughts. You must train to learn how to create them, what to do with them. Train yourself to search for the good ones, to generate good ones from practice.

Draw. Draw your fool head off, but draw. Draw first. Think about it next. Contrary to so-called avant guard thinking, drawing doesn’t create answers, it creates more ideas.

2. Learn to be authentic.

No one is quite like you anyway. Forget about being original. “Oh, it’s so original!” Bah. You already are. Take the higher road, and learn to be authentic.

You are already connected. What you have to say is important because we all want to know. Learn to discern, of course, what is important from what is frivolous. It is all stowed inside, as you’ve been working on it already for a long time. You won’t find your style. If you are authentic to who you are, your style finds you.

3. Build luck and use it.

When preparation meets opportunity, it’s called luck. Create your own luck by being prepared to see it when it’s about to happen. Don’t wait for it. You won’t see it if you don’t know what to look for. Luck happens when you are ready for it, and you are ready for it when you’re prepared: training.

4. All painting is re-painting.

Do it again. Drawing it once is never enough. Painting it once isn’t either. Do it over and over, focusing on improvement each time. Got a favorite part of a painting? Learn to paint it out. Learn to paint over it. Do not try to save those good mistakes. Paint them again and this time shoot to get it right…under your control. Nobody is an expert by doing something good once.

5. Create momentum.

Finished one good piece? Great. I’m happy for you, but that’s not momentum. When one painting is done, move into the next as soon as possible. Repetition is key to keeping momentum, and momentum is key to gaining successful training. Repeat your successes.

6. Keep finishing.

Stop quitting. Finish the stupid thing already, so you can move into the next one. Do not allow failure to dictate your progress. You must push against that. Fail and fail again. You will push through that failure and keep moving. But learn from it as you do.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. –Samuel Beckett

7. Seek advice.

Everyone has an opinion, especially about your work. It’s rather easy to recognize the parts of someone else’s work that are problematic. Finding your own? Tough as nails. When someone tells you what’s off about your work, they are usually correct. When they tell you how to repair it, they are nearly always incorrect.

8. Take criticism well.

Which leads me to criticism: learn to take it, and use it well. Do not take it personally, but try to decipher what it is they are coaching you about. You can use that stuff, man. Grow some thick skin. Unless they’re a jerk, there are golden nuggets of wisdom in there. And remember: it’s meant for you, and you are the only one that can use it.

9. Work for good habits.

Training as a painter is like training as an athlete, musician, pilot. Learning a language lights up many of the same parts of your brain as learning to draw a hand. It is now an indisputable fact that the brain is plastic, even into old age.

To your last breath, the brain wants to learn and will do everything it can to get the advantage. It builds nerve fibers to speed up learning. It strengthens the nerves to send signals faster, for efficiency. Trick is, you want to build that stuff for good uses. The brain is just as happy to build strong nerves to reinforce bad habits.

10. Draw through, not around.

Years ago, I was ok at drawing, but I needed to get better. Here’s the problem: I wanted to be the kind of good that when I looked at my own work, I actually liked it. I had to do this, otherwise, I wasn’t about to spend all those years to come away feeling awkward about my attempts. And then quit. No way.

The absolute, drop-to-your-knees, scary part of it was that I realized very quickly that it was going to take training. That every time I drew, I had to get it as right as I could at that very moment. And that was going to take time, effort, and learning to feel a sense of progress, even when it wasn’t working in the least. I was going to have to push through that crap.

The only way to get to that stage is to hunker down, and hone in. The way around is through. Do not look for the shortcuts until later. Train yourself through it, dammit.

The goal doesn’t dwell on the applause– it focuses on the skill.

‘Night Patrol’, Greg Manchess, 2014