Archive for March, 2016

Errors Ennobled

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Barry John Raybould, author of the Virtual Art Academy curriculum, writes that “by doing something and getting it wrong, you learn much faster than doing something and getting it right! The trick is to make as many possible mistakes as you can in the shortest possible time.”

And that’s what the School of Oops! is all about. So by all accounts, I should be advancing by leaps and bounds!

In fact, I do learn from my mistakes … if I allow myself to. That means not only being humbled enough by the failure to acknowledge the mistakes and to identify specifically what they were, but also to have the knowledge and wisdom to figure out how to rectify those ignoble errors.

On a plein air outing this winter, I undertook a watercolor sketch that turned out to be a total flop, both in planning and in execution. Almost everything about it failed. I gave it up as a bad job and began another painting that was much more successful (though that, too, demanded a few strategic corrections in the studio to bring it up to high enough standards to satisfy me).

Using the Virtual Art Academy’s “Visual Music and Poetry” (VM&P) critique format proves extremely helpful in isolating specific aspects of any painting that either succeed or could be improved. By following the format, I was able to get most of the answers I needed for both the paintings. The second of the paintings required only a few adjustments. But the first sketch required some hard evaluation to identify what, exactly, had gone wrong. As I analyzed the work, I realized that the problems were not only in the execution but in my work habits, which, much to my chagrin, I realized had become careless. I was painting like a raw beginner, ignoring many of the principles I had learned over the past several years through the academy.

By identifying both the problems and potential solutions, I gained enough confidence to try the subject again. Then, keeping in mind the ever-important principles I had previously forsaken, I was able to undertake another version of the scene with somewhat better success. (See “Old-Florida River,” #160301, below.)  It’s still not ideal, but it’s a great improvement, and as I study it further, I recognize further corrections I could make and lessons to incorporate in future work.  Learning is an ongoing process in the School of Oops.


So even as we make mistakes, we can allow ourselves to learn from them. The more we make, the better? Maybe not. But the more quickly we can improve.

Benefits of Partnering

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

During the past couple months I’ve participated in several discussions regarding partnering with others who share similar interests. By “partnering” I don’t mean collaboration. Most of us agree that our skills improve more rapidly when we have friends at similar levels of accomplishment with whom we can interact. We can share advice and bounce ideas off one another to deepen our thinking and broaden our understanding and perspective. It opens us to new ideas and helps us appreciate concepts that we may not have previously valued.

Sure, it’s great to have friends and family who admire what we do, but unless they can actively help us exceed our existing skill level, our abilities will progress only as rapidly as our perception and humility allow us to recognize a need for improvement and as we can find the means to advance. Or worse, indiscriminate praise can nurture an egotistical perception that we have already reached the pinnacle of our potential and leave us satisfied to stagnate at status quo.

Evaluation sessions offer opportunities to raise questions and obtain objective feedback.

Evaluation sessions offer opportunities to raise questions and obtain objective feedback.

But knowledgeable colleagues, with whom we can form mutually beneficial partnerships, can draw our attention to aspects of our pursuit that we might otherwise overlook. These can include not only what we have been doing right (encouragement that we all need) but also which aspects could be improved. They can also either point us in the right direction to find satisfactory solutions or work with us to seek out the answers we’re looking for.

I have been very fortunate in my pursuit of art to have found several people with whom to partner. First was a mentor who pointed me in the right direction to learn more on my own. I also had friends (credible, if only minimally knowledgeable) who offered considerable encouragement both in my successes and to continue striving for growth. Next, I found an affordable, self-paced on-line art school (, where I was able to acquire excellent comprehensive academic training in artistic principles. And most recently I have been fortunate to be able to partner with several very knowledgeable and skilled artists with whom I can discuss and identify creative problems and seek out workable solutions. We all benefit from our shared intellectual and experiential “database” by reinforcing our own knowledge and by gaining insights from one another to further our understanding.

If you don’t already have someone to partner with in your own pet pursuits, I encourage you to reach out to others—whether in your neighborhood or online—who share your interests and see if you can offer one another a mutually supportive friendship.