The Importance of Good Habits

Armand Cabrera
“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.” ~Charles Dickens
Good habits are essential for good painting.
Good habits include organization, discipline and a strong work ethic. While it is possible to succeed without these attributes, having them makes the difficult task of painting easier.
I recommend cultivating good habits from the beginning by implementing a routine for getting paintings done.
I have already outlined some steps for working outdoors in my articles called traveling light. This article will focus on the studio.
The number one thing you need is uninterrupted time to focus on your work. Multitasking and successful painting don’t go together well, so turn off the computer and PDA’s, screen calls before picking up the phone and keep distractions out of your studio.

Make sure you have some space that is setup as a studio, someplace where things will stay as they are when you aren’t working. Even if it is only a corner of a room, it is important to have a space that is dedicated to painting.

When I was starting out and in a small apartment I used my living room. I lived by myself and had no TV, so it was a great space for me. Then, when I was renting houses, I had a spare bedroom or a garage that worked. Now that I own my house, I use the basement as my studio when I am not painting outside. If you can afford it, a separate studio that is away from your house, even if it is on your property, is an even better solution.

My space is organized and things are neat and clean when I’m not working.

I have shelves for frames, panels and canvases and racks for wet paintings.

I have staging areas for framing and packaging work when I ship to galleries or shows.

My office is separate from my painting space.
I can view my studio easel from my desk while I work on business or use the computers for research and writing.

When you work, have a plan. If you don’t feel like tackling a painting from beginning to end, practice some aspect like drawing or color mixing or value control. Make good use of your time to maximize your effort. Focus on one thing at a time and always go into the process with idea you will do the best you can. Just going through the motions is a waste of time and you will not be able to improve your ability one bit. Focused effort, consistency and routine will go a long way towards a positive outcome for what ever you decide to accomplish.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~Aristotle

14 thoughts on “The Importance of Good Habits

  1. Very organized. I currently work in my living room. I only watch educational dvds and shows on pbs like Passport and Palette. I am definitely trying to create better habits even if it is picking up a pencil and doodling while talking on the phone.
    Good post.

  2. Gregory,

    I did the same thing. I enjoyed my living room/studio when I had one. I had no cable and no TV. I would rent DVD’s and watch them on my computer, which had a fairly large monitor for back then. I was not living with anyone at the time and the whole apartment was only 700 square feet. I would hang the bigger paintings in my kitchen so I could get far enough away from them to actually see the whole canvas at once.

  3. What a great studio! I'm currently making the best of my garage, but looking at your pics gives me some ideas to make mine work better.

    I was noticing your easel – do you like it? Do you find that the outer square frame useful for big paintings? Anything you don't like about it?

  4. Terry,

    The Hughes easel is great. It was easy to assemble, it is well made and the counterbalance system is a joy to use. I have not needed to use the outer frame extensions because I don't paint bigger than 48×60.
    Even though the easel is big, I have no trouble moving it around on my carpeted floor. I have found no drawbacks to using it.

  5. Thanks for this article Aramnd. I've been having a discussion about "having fun" painting.
    You know that to be a better painter takes hard work and concetrated effort. Being organized and avoiding distractions are important parts of creating art.

  6. I have just discovered your blog from Stapleton's site, and am woozy from all the valuable advice! My basement has newly become my 'studio', which will help with time efficiency. But as a beginner, what discourages me most is how long it takes me to complete even a small painting. In my head I plan many interesting things to paint, but the reality is at this present rate I can hardly finish a 5"x7" under 5 hours. This counts the initial sketch to the wrestling with color, temperature etc. Your fast paintings are a marvel- do you have any advice for someone, trying not to overwork and 'noodle' a painting to death, but who still can't seem to quicken? Thank you!

  7. Judy,

    I find the biggest hindrance to painting quickly is a lack of traditional drawing skills. People spend most of their time correcting their proportions, colors and values. This is a problem of drawing, not painting.
    To improve ones drawing skills I would recommend drawing and painting only from life for two years. Work in black and white which will force you to think about design more and relieve you of worrying about color. Start simply with cubes and spheres and work your way up to more complex subjects. There are books I recommend on my website
    scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the books
    Particularly Drawing Lessons by J.D Harding and Drawing Made Easy by E. G. Lutz.

  8. Armand,
    Great article. My studio is a spare bedroom on ther first floor of our home. All the other bedrooms are upstairs, so during the week(I still have a day job), I work at night and since it is the only bedroom downstairs I can work uninterrupted and not wake up my wife or daughter. It works great for now.

  9. Hi Armand,
    Is that a fluorescent light fixture above your easel? I may be moving to a new house where I will have a separate room for my studio. I would appreciate any tips you could give on lighting.

  10. Great post Mr Cabrera! I myself have started to discover just how I work most efficiently.

    When I started painting I lived in New York, In a room the size of a dime in the middle of the lower east side. Least efficient, not only because of the size, but for the distractions. Then I moved out to Brooklyn, larger room, got all the bits and bobs to make it my "studio with a bed sofa" Didn't work either, it was too comfortable. I moved back to Sweden before this summer, and set up a studio in my parents garage. Pretty good, but still you'd have your nice mom pop her head in from time to time asking if you want some tea, or getting the gardening hose out. Nice in the beginning, but absolutely MADDENING after about 25 times.

    "Now that's it" I thought, I gotta make the leap and actually rent a studio, away from where i live. I just don't have the self-control to stay away from all the distractions. Particularly the internet. I have NO internet connection in the new studio. I will be taking the bus in, getting there at 7, and staying till about 8 or 10 at night. Small town, no nightlife/cafe-life to speak of. I'm quite excited to see whats gonna happen! The studio has three rooms, and two of them are going to be gallery spaces. I posted some pics on my blog, pre-moving in ( which i did yesterday) Its kind of expensive, but hey, sell some paintings damn it! I need that fire stoked under my ass i think.

    In the end it all boils down to finding how one works and motivates oneself best, be it living on the edge of poverty to painting in you kitchen surrounded by loved ones.

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