Tag Archives: learning

This kid looks miserable.

kid with hand decorated sheet cake

I don't know how old I was. Based on that haircut, probably about 8 or 9 years old.

My mom, bless her heart, helped me bake the cake and make all the different colors of frosting (By "helped" I mean she most likely did all the baking. There's a ton of frosting so I suspect I mixed that). I had an idea in my head for decorating the cake. It was so ALIVE in there. All the beautiful colors, the magnificent overflowing cornucopia, the joyous statement of "Happy Thanksgiving!", the beautiful border of realistic looking flowers.

The actual decoration fell short of my expectations. There's that darn perfectionism.

Some things the kid in the picture needs to hear:

Have you ever decorated a cake before? No. Well then why are you beating yourself up over the outcome? You did a pretty good job for an 8-year-old who hasn't been to culinary school. And you did all that from your head? Not too shabby. No it didn't live up to your expectations. In hind sight, did you have all the knowledge and tools to create something to match your expectations? No. You did the best you could with what you had. Did you learn something from doing this? Yes. You learned you can draw pretty well from your head, in frosting, and you learned where your knowledge gaps are so you can collect information to fill those gaps if you want to. Did you enjoy playing with the frosting and hanging out with your mom? Yes. Well then it was time well spent.

Happy Holidays everyone :)

various drawing pencils
If I only had that brand of pencil, then I could draw like so-and-so.

When starting out many artists hunt for the magic pencil. We read books on what the "masters" used. We ask artists more experienced than us what pencil, brush, plein air box, brand of paint they use. I think this is because we're looking for the "right way" to make a picture, either to make it technically sound and "archival" or with the hope that we'll find some formula to make awesome pictures every time. I bet there are a ton of reasons why we do this.

I've been on the hunt for the magic pencil and I've seen others do it. It seems fairly common behavior so maybe it's just part of the process of developing ourselves as artists.

I think that to some extent, the tools matter. I would say they matter if they fit the criteria for an individual's idea of "good" or "useful" (if that tool yields the effect you desire). One type of pencil might yield a darker mark more easily than another. One brand of oil paint will be stiffer than another, or one brand's Naples Yellow is more yellow than that of another brand's. We have to ask questions and try the materials for ourselves to develop our own magic.

I think the tools also matter if you're studying under a particular artist who has found what works for them, and you wish to learn to paint or draw like them. The teaching artist would be most familiar with those tools and so better able to share what they know. If you use what they use you're both speaking a common visual language.

In any case I think it's not just the tools, it's the learned and developed skill behind the tool. We try the tools out and discover for ourselves what we like and what we don't. We ask because we're learning. We're searching for answers that make sense to us. Through gathering information, practice, and trial and error we learn and grow.

Sure, I get paid to teach. That helps keep me in art supplies. But I also get something else out of it.

I learn.

digital painting of the astrological sign Libra by christine mitzuk to be used in Llewellyn's 2015 Astrological Calendar

When I prepare materials or talk with a student, I have to think about what I know. I need to break it down into steps so I can communicate the process to draw a face, or a figure, create an illustration, or paint with oils or watercolor. Sometimes a step is so integrated into my process, it has become automatic. I have to reach back in memory and think about how I learned it. Why I do it.

One way of describing something doesn't always work with everyone, so I try to find different ways to talk about the same idea. One person might grasp a concept better through analogy. Another might be easier to communicate with through specific steps, or an "if-then" process flow.

I also see gaps clearer in my own learning. This is great because I enjoy researching the various art components and filling those gaps.

If you're looking for fun learning opportunities, my next teaching/learning opportunity starts next week. I'll be doing a week long illustration workshop at The Atelier. There are some spaces available. You can sign up by contacting The Atelier.

Art on!

charcoal drawing of a plaster cast dreaming with eyes shut by christine mitzuk

Flash back to art school.

I had drawn before so why couldn't I make "this" work? "This" was whatever skill or project I was working on at the time. All I had to do was draw what I saw. It was right there in front of me, right? Easy right?  Not really. I was learning new skills, new ways of seeing, drawing, and rendering.

So I took myself aside and had a little conversation.

Have you ever done this before?


Then why are you beating yourself up for not getting it right(perfect) the first time? It takes practice. Take a look at what's working and what isn't. Adjust and try again.

mysterious oil painting of a deer skull, crow quill pen, parchment, a frog in a jar and mysterious bottles by christine mitzuk
Alchemist's Workbench, oil on canvas.

It's bubbling away there on the back burner. My Art Soup. All the ingredients are blending their flavours together to make what is currently my personal way of picture making, or my style I suppose. Some ingredients I was given. Some I deliberately sought out. Some just kind of fell in to the pot.

Lately I've been thinking about influences. All the interests I have had. All the things I've done. All the choices I've made. All the people that have moved through my life. All are ingredients in my Art Soup.

I remember something Allen Williams said, "notice what you notice" (I might be paraphrasing).

Then the next question pops up, "why did I notice that?" "What characteristic of that thing made it interesting to me?" Sometimes I just have to appreciate the thing for a time and maybe the answer of why will come later. It'll be added to my Art Soup and blend with the existing ingredients.

I'm kind of excited to sample my Art Soup several years from now. I wonder what it will be like?