'You don't have to be better than anyone else, just be better than yourself.'
I'm trying to turn that old saying into truth once again, as I'm sure most artists do from time to time. I've been challenging myself to have more of a tender touch in my drawings lately, especially with the white chalk on my figure studies, and I'm already noticing progress. It's amazing what mindfulness can do for you and your art!
I already practice mindfulness in my day-to-day life, mostly focusing on nutrition and mental clarity, but I have noticed that a little intention can go a long way in many more aspects of one's artistic and professional life as well. Once you decide to practice mindfulness it easily becomes like second nature, and just deciding where to channel your new power first will be the hardest part!
What is 'being mindful'?
When I use the term 'mindfulness' I am referring to performing an action or having a thought with intention. So much of our daily routine happens automatically, and even though we are conscious of what we are doing, we are not being conscientious about each specific task at hand. To bring mindfulness into our routine, one must only pick one aspect of your day and ask 'why?' Why do I do this in this way? What prevents me doing it another way? Or perhaps, Is this the way I want to act or think about this action? Is this daily decision going to help me or harm me in the future?
By taking the time to ask ourselves these questions occasionally, we can help ourselves maintain a healthy and productive life that is always improving. I cannot emphasize this enough, there is always, always room for improvement in one's life. I am constantly evaluating my health, happiness, productivity, and outside relationships to find small ways to clean house or spruce up my own mind and body. In no way am I trying to gloat, but I am currently in the best physical shape of my life, in the healthiest relationship in my life, am making the most strides as a career artist, and am living the dream in Hawai'i... and I can truthfully credit it all to mindfulness and self-critique.
If you don't like something about your life, change it. Progress needs a proactive attitude.
One should never stagnate or be content with the status quo. Every day you can be a slightly better version of the you you were the day before. I'm not trying to sound like some dental office motivational poster, but take a page out of the old Tony Robbins handbook and look at what you're doing and ask yourself if you like it.
Now as I was saying in the beginning, whenever I take that same daily mindfulness and apply it to my art, I absolutely notice improvements, and usually much faster than naturally occurs. Of course if you practice anything long enough you will get better at it regardless of how consciously in-tune you are trying to be, but why not practice with intention and get better by leaps and bounds?!
The best way I have found to improve with intention is to be very specific where I am channelling that energy. I don't just tell myself, 'get better at drawing'. I would tell myself, 'get better at drawing hair', or more specifically, 'get better at drawing dreadlocks', then 'get better at drawing straight hair', and so on. Practicing your focal point is crucial of course, but practicing with intention by really concentrating on each line and referencing other artists' techniques or photos and doing it over and again until you get it right on every piece you work on will give you dramatically better results than just repeating steps alone or copying other artists. I find that trying to envision my desired effect before beginning each piece really helps to train your hand to create what's in your brain.
So for my most recent drawing-with-intention exercise, I have been trying to have a lighter touch with my charcoals and especially with the white chalk I use on the toned paper during the weekly figure drawing sessions I attend. When a subject is bathed in bright light, it's easy to record it as all the same value, however, fine-tuning and slight adjustments is what makes a good drawing into a great one. Usually I am a very careful drawer, but, alas, I am human and can get lazy from time to time so my intention is to be more sensitive all of the time because.....
One should never waste an opportunity to create beautiful art!
Above and below are examples; the drawings on the left are perfectly fine figure studies showing showing correct proportion and volume, but the drawings on the right depict specific musculature and slight bone protrusion and are all-in-all much stronger pieces. With just a little forethought and clarity of intended result, my figures gained a new level of realism. And these drawings were done only about a month apart and in the same amount of time, so this was not a result of great leaps in learning. This difference is all credit of my decision to be more conscientious about how hard or soft I press with my charcoal pencil which goes hand-in-hand with paying closer attention to slight variations in the model rather than blanketing him or her in the same even lighting.
To sum up, basically I looked at my past work and decided it could better. Then I figured out specifically how, and made a mindful decision each time I worked in charcoal. The results are already notable and very pleasing. This is actually an ongoing focal point of my mindfulness so I will be concentrating on this aspect for a few months until it becomes second nature. Once I am satisfied in my advances, I'll probably find some other little thing to nitpick and so on and so forth. I have spoken with professional artists two and three times my age who say they still make advances in their art so I greatly look forward to forever improving:)
Words to Live By: Always make sure you are being an active participant in your own life.
I would love to hear about your current or next art-with-intention focus! Leave me a note in the comment section.