The Art of Practice – Tip #4

Today’s tip is a simple and effective one.

Observe Without Judgment

Rendering accurately is overrated. Give yourself a chance before bludgeoning early efforts. Have patience, and adjust as you go.



The keyword in this tip, in my opinion, is judgment. I remember how harshly I judged my earliest efforts. In my eyes, everything was wrong — my proportions, my lines, my shapes, my perspective. Fortunately I had enough determination to see my way past all the self-criticism I was dishing out.

This is where observation can be helpful. I looked at each sketch I made, compared it to my reference and tried to observe the differences. “Oh, my vase is much wider than the illustration,” I might notice. I would try it again, making my vase a bit narrower, often going to the opposite extreme and making it much too narrow. Again, I would adjust, another important word in today’s tip.

Gradually, my drawing would begin to resemble my reference, so I can say with certainty that observation and adjustment are vital elements in learning to draw — or, for more proficient artists, in the process of learning or developing a new set of skills, such as working with a new medium or in a different genre, such as figure drawing or abstraction.

The judgment part, however, we can — and should — do without. I’m lucky that I didn’t judge myself right into giving up art. I still deal with that critical inner voice — the one known as Miss Crabapple, the cranky art teacher. She’s been fussing at me a lot lately as I work on different graphite drawings and oil painting practice exercises. But I’m learning to ignore her.

Sycamore Practice Drawing (2)Most of all, I’m learning true patience. Art first helped me develop a bit of patience as I learned the basics, but that bit of patience I first gained is nothing compared to the patience I’ve now found. Many of the drawings I’m working on now are very detailed; they require a lot of time. Once I would have just hurried through a drawing, scribbling away just to be finished with it. Now, I’ve learned to take my time and enjoy the process.

Now, I rarely complete a drawing — even for practice — in a single sitting. Instead, I keep my sketchpad, pencils, and erasers nearby and when my husband turns on the television I’ll join him and sit quietly drawing as he watches his favorite shows. This “Sycamore Tree” is one of the drawings I’ve recently finished as part of a “practice series” of tree drawings.

It’s not perfect. Is anything we draw ever perfect? In my case, definitely not, but as today’s tip tells us, “Rendering accurately is overrated.” Drawings aren’t meant to be perfect renderings of a subject. If that’s all we want, we should become photographers, instead.

What we want in our drawings is personal expression. As Asher B. Durand tells it, we must strive to represent what we draw, not merely create a resemblance. That, I’m beginning to seeis the heart and soul of art.

So forget perfection and stop judging your work. Observe carefully and make adjustments. Be patient and enjoy the process.



  1. Yes, enjoying the process is so important and much of the enjoyment (for me, at least) has come through patience. I think this is something we each have to discover for ourselves. It took me a while, and I’m so glad I now see how much more I can enjoy art when I take my time, relax, and just be totally “in” the moment. And thanks for the kind words on my tree. I’m observing trees more closely now, learning to identify the different shapes. I hope all my drawing practice ultimately pays off in my paintings. 🙂


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