Practice and Process


Armand Cabrera


“Theory has no place in an artist’s basic education. It is the eye and the hand that should be exercised during the impressionable years of youth. It is always possible to later acquire the accessory knowledge involved in the production of a work of art, but never — and I want to stress that point — never can the will, perseverance, and tenacity of a mature man make up for insufficient practice. And can there be such anguish compared to that felt by the artist who sees the realization of his dream compromised by weak execution?”

William Adolphe Bouguereau

People are always trying to come up with new ways of learning how to draw and paint. Mostly to sell a book or some other block of information to put money in the authors pocket.  This produces an endless stream of media garbage about drawing and painting in two weeks or how to draw trees or horses or smiley faces. It is usually a scheme to remove the long hours of practice from the equation.

Students spend their time seeking the magical pencil or brush that their favorite artist uses. They are looking for that one brand of paint or canvas to solve their problem. They believe that with the right materials they will be freed from the drudgery of miles of repetitive work needed to succeed.  

The real process of drawing and painting is learning to see in a way that strips away preconceived notions and symbols we accept as truth but are not. It is also learning control of a chosen medium, hand eye coordination and a keen observation of the world and people around us. It is part memorization and construction of known quantities of visual information we have collected.

 Representational art has been around for about two thousand years or more in its current iterations and the best systems of training encourage lots of practice combined with curiosity and experimentation. Practice focusing on small tasks and problem solving leads to a synthesis of ideas and craft toward the formulation of the abilities needed to create a work of art. It is a balance of construction, observation and imagination. Too much reliance on any one part or the exclusion of any one produces inferior work in my opinion. In my thinking, art is the synthesis of fact and symbol, each artist mixes those ingredients in their own measure to arrive at a recognizable truth for the viewer of their work.

I remind people of this because lately I see a lot of younger people interested in art get caught up in measuring. They measure their ability, they measure their aptitude, and they measure their perceived talent. They worry their process is not like someone else’s or their work is or isn’t (fill in the blank). All this navel gazing is counterproductive in my opinion and just delays the important work needed to be completed to achieve a level of professionalism as an artist.  I think it is better to just work as hard as you can. Keep your heroes and villains and think about how you will accomplish your goals but stay focused on practice and let process develop naturally.

7 thoughts on “Practice and Process

  1. Good post armand, perfectly relevant to how I was feeling a little on the blue side of things this Sunday afternoon. I realize how slow the process of painting is. I mean I try to put in at least 2-3 hrs everyday on a sketch or the start of another. Only to realize I've learned just a bit more than last week and a tad more from before then. In between all that, Im still left with the ideas of doing it this way or that way..:
    It's kinda like caught in a tailspin of things, in hopes that one particular door will finally find you. Then painting could get just a little bit easier.

  2. This is an excellent, concise writing that re-charged my batteries for the 'miles of repetitive work needed to succeed'. As I was reading I kept substituting the 'martial arts' for 'representational art'. I have had decades of karate training, and continually observe they really are the same, in the approach most definitely.

  3. Judy and Jon,

    I hear this a lot from other professionals, so it must be a pro thing; if you want to be good at something and stay on top you have to commit to a life of practice and improvement.

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