Deliberate Practice in Art and Drawing(Revisited)

I’ve been thinking about deliberate practice in art a bit lately. I have time to revisit this, the spice mines aren’t taking as much of my time.

A little backstory, starting in late 2009. At the end of last year, I spent a while planning for 2010. I determined what I wanted to accomplish and how I was going to accomplish it. I had a plan in place, and it was good. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy“, however, and the new year saw me loaded up with work at DayJob. A lot of work (so much I only had a little time to send out a dispatch from the spice mines every now and then).

Things have shifted again, I’m still busy, but not so much that I’m working nights and weekends. My Utah trip was at a folcrum point. When I returned, work wasn’t requiring all my time like it had been for the first several months of the year.

I have time to dedicate to my art, but I don’t have a discipline of practice or schedule in place to make the most of it. Hence, time to revisit Deliberate Practice.

Deliberate Practice One Hour A Day

I’m going to mash 3 ideas together –

First, I want to revisit the idea of doing my most important activity for 1 hour every day. Drawing is the fundamental skill of art. If I am not improving as a draftsman, why should I bother?

Second, I want to create a clear program to improve my drawing ability. I just read Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath (of Made To Stick fame). The book is alright, but the topic is fascinating to me: how do people change? In the book, they focus on three ways to create change: our mind must know what to do, our emotions must be positive, and our environment must facilitate the change. 

Emotion? Check. I’m pretty motivated. Environment? Check. My apartment is filled with art supplies and places to draw. Clear plan in place? Che.. er, hmm. Maybe I’ll just, uh… draw something? Often, my hang up to drawing is, “what am I going to draw?” It is not a hard decision to make, but just having to make the decision makes the process harder. I am shopping for jam, and there are too many choices*.

What I need is a clear plan of study, so that when I sit down to draw for an hour every day, I don’t have to think about what to work on, I just continue with the plan. I just got one of those 33% off coupons for Borders, my plan is to buy a drawing instruction book on my way home from work today. I hope this will provide the type of structure that I am looking for, so I don’t have to deal with paralysis of analysis.

That said, if anyone has a suggestion for an intermediate to advanced drawing book, please don’t hold out on me. Leave a comment with a suggestion. 

Third, Deliberate Practice. As a refresher, here are the characteristics of deliberate practice:

  1. It is designed specifically to improve performance
  2. It can be repeated, a lot
  3. Feedback is continuously available
  4. It is mentally demanding
  5. Typically, it is not that fun

I think this plan will hit all of these cylinders.


I was talking to my dear friend Ivana last night, I told her about my usual routine of working a bit in the morning, going to the DayJob all day, then working again in the evening. She pointed out it is rather a lot to do.

I started thinking about my motivation, because the productivity I am shooting for goes against the common view of what is “balanced”.

I think that what motivates me is imagining myself in 10 years, looking back at what I did over those years. I want to show that I accomplished something, grew my abilities, and did something.

The only way to do that is to work. A lot.



The example of too much jam is from an often cited study in which shoppers were first shown a display of 6 flavors of jam in a grocery store. The number of sales were recorded, then the display was modified to show 24 flavors of jam. They sold less jam when there were more options, the conclusion is the more choices we have, the more difficult it is to make any choice at all.

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