20For20 Day 2: Simplicity

Updated: Jan 18

"...the simpler the practice, the more powerful it is and the more likely you are to maintain it over time."

-Eric Maisel, The Power of Daily Practice (38)



What Does a Simple Practice Look Like?

Practice is about experimenting, adapting, learning. A simple practice is one where I work on a specific skill to improve how I make my work. I want to minimize the pressure to perform and create a finished piece so I can feel light and curious and open to explore new ways of working. Making these notans is similar t0 doing scales on the piano. Scales help me warm up my hands and become familiar with the tonality in a piece. Notans are a way for me to become familiar with my photo and explore design and composition.


In today's practice, I realized that I was spending too much time adding the figures into my notans. I simplified my approach so I focused more on the background and how the background shapes connected to the figures. Sometimes I eliminated the figures all together. Letting go of the figures helps me focus on how to make a better overall picture.


When I look at my notans, I can see that most of the photos that have the most meaning or interest for me have a lot of design problems that need to be solved. The original photographer probably didn't think about how to compose the picture well; they just wanted to capture the moment. Instead of exactly copying the photo, I need to design the picture. The notans quickly show me the design challenges within the original photo and I can use my drawing process to help me solve those problems before I pick up a brush.


I also noticed that I wanted to resize and crop my photos. I need to make a view finder to make it a little easier and faster to try out different formats. The ones that I like the most I can record as notans.


How Can I Keep My Practice Simple?

My usual impulse is to pull in all my resources and start working right away with many options. I want to achieve the best painting I can possibly make and I already have several ideas of how I could reach my end goal.


I need to remind myself that my painting practice is not about achieving something, or impressing someone, or getting approval. I want my practice to be about giving myself permission to be myself and to enjoy myself when I am making and learning and experimenting. Even when the content of my work is difficult, I can still keep my painting practice simple.

  • Give yourself time and space. Eliminate distractions, obligations, deadlines. Focus instead on giving yourself total freedom and permission to do whatever you want within your practice time and space.

  • Keep it small and limited. Start with a small scale and with limited resources. Limit your tools, your mediums, your palette. Keep it cheap so you don't feel too precious about making it perfect. Focus on improving one thing at a time.

  • Recycle or reuse older work. Turn old drawings into collage pieces. Paint over some or all of a failed painting. Instead of going out to the store to buy more stuff, find something that you already own that could be used as a tool or material for your painting.


As part of #20For20ArtChallenge2022, I am reading from The Power of Daily Practice: How Creative and Performing Artists (and Everyone Else) Can Finally Meet Their Goals by Eric Maisel, PhD. Part I of the book covers 20 Elements of Practice. In this blog post series 20For20, I write about one Element every day and reflect on how to incorporate the Element into my daily painting practice.