I'm not great at art. I'm ok, and it's taken me a long time to get where I am so I am well aware of how far I've come. But I'm also at the point where I can see exactly what I lack and where, and that can be a frustrating thing. Some people will give up here, and say they'll never be good enough and throw in the towel. But it's so key here to focus and work harder than ever.
So I'm in what I think is a Level Up phase. I have learned techniques that do not work for me. Or even hinder me. And some techniques I'm learning to use in a new way. And some stuff I'm just finally remembering I'm supposed to fucking do in the first place. Which brings us to:
Step 1. SLOW DOWN
I am so fucking eager sometimes to just get an image out that I'm sure is going to be so amazing. I'm inspired, I can feel it, something good is happening. So I just start throwing paint at things. And then I make a million mistakes. No perspective, I didn't think about the composition, that pose is so bland, HOW did I come up with this terrible color palette? And before you know it, I've thrown it away and felt worse than if I made nothing at all.
I now actively remind myself to not get carried away. Good things come in time.
Step 2. FIND YOUR TECHNIQUE
Photoshop can hinder me, because I'll never stop the doodle phase and it's hard for me to get started. But that doesn't make it not worthwhile. Now, I start in pencil, making thumbnails and messing around and willing to commit to making all my mistakes here because I know it's not the final.
But wait! I didn't start here. I AM USING PHOTOGRAPHIC REFERENCE AND YOU SHOULD TOO.
I submit for your enjoyment me messing around in the garage:
Doing simple stuff like this jumps you forward immediately. Especially when it's your own. Not google image search, not a rabbit hole of "inspiration". Just make a fucking pose and get someone in your house (or a delay shutter) to take the damn picture.
I have read Gurney's Color and Light and Imaginary Realism what seems like a thousand times. But those books have such a density of information I think it's impossible to absorb in one thousand sittings. And you can remember techniques, but to remember them when you're so inspired you just need to get paint on canvas? Harder. But it's even worse when you're making those mistakes directly on the canvas, wasting time, energy, and paint figuring out why that hand looks so terrible.
So unless I'm thumbnailing and I'm just thinking about shapes, I'm taking pictures. I'm replicating lighting, or cloth folds or perspective as much as possible. There is no amount of preparing you can do that won't help you make something even more awesome than you were hoping.
EVERY SINGLE TIME you paint from life, or reference, you are both leveling up skill, adding images to your mental library, and making a painting that's going to be more engaging, more professional, and more likely to get noticed. And you'll be happier too, instead of abandoning your Could-Have-Been-Something-Masterpiece because you're tired of sucking at art.
3. YOU OWN THE SOFTWARE, IT DOESN'T OWN YOU
So. Back to the image. I scan it. I bring it into photoshop. And I start using liquefy. Multiply some darker values. Play with scale, composition, flow. Flip it every which way. Identify awful mistakes and fix them. Sometimes I take new pictures. Sometimes I bring the photograph in and play with some color and composition in there. The point here is experimentation. I use photoshop to make my mistakes. There can be nothing wrong with anything I make in here because: it's all throw away. I am not committed to anything until I start laying brush strokes.
Step 4. WALK AWAY
You think you know everything about art. You have stared at the screen for hours and your eyes are burning. You're pretty sure it's good enough. You want to just get to painting. You just noticed you lost two instagram followers because you haven't posted in three days. You feel like if you don't get it done right now it won't ever happen. IT'S OK. This isn't a race, even though the world feels like it sometimes.
5. DON'T HATE YOURSELF FOR BEING AN IDIOT
I have been filming everything I do. The setup for recording can be tedious and sometimes you just want to get to work. But most recently I've been working on a painting I was really hoping to get the timelapse up for on youtube or even gumroad. But I just transferred all the files to make room on my card and guess what - the autofocus has been on the ENTIRE TIME, which means you can see me in 1080p glory and my painting is just a blur. I wanted to cry. But - you can't. People make mistakes. You can wallow, or you can pick yourself up and move on and remember and learn from that mistake. Don't do it again.
Still kind of want to cry though.