One of the best ways to improve your drawing skills is to draw or paint portraits. As a human we learn to separate people from each other as soon as we are born by the subtle differences between faces. So, when you are executing a portrait it is easy to spot where your drawing has gone wrong. (Even if fixing the problem isn’t so easy.)
But, so can everyone else.
Practicing for a visual artist, especially portrait practice, is a very intimidating thing. Once you make that mark, short of taking flames to what you have done, it is there for a lifetime of judgement. Unlike more transient arts, such as singing, or dance, an artist’s practice is easy to mistake for the performance.
I love the way Dianne Mize put it in a recent blog post.
“Developing skills to this extent requires practice, lots of practice. And here is where artists lose the advantage enjoyed by musicians, actors, poets, and all other performers. That advantage is that the practice sessions are distinct from the performance. Evidence of the struggle gets left behind the scene.
Not so for painters: we have our practice pieces starring us in the face. And there’s always somebody wanting to see what we’ve done, leaving us vulnerable to their comments. Nobody has to hear a musician’s practice nor hear an actor’s rehearsing nor watch an ice skater’s workout, but once an artist has done a practice painting, it’s there to be seen as if it’s the final statement.”
For the visual artist who wants to master his craft, there is no way to get out of the miles of not quite right, and downright ugly, paintings and drawings required before mastery is achieved. We have to suck it up, and grow a thick skin to all of the throw away comments that can stick with a person for a lifetime.
But, maybe we can shorten that road a bit if we all did more portrait practice, and invested in a blow torch.