Not long ago I got especially frustrated while learning some music – nearly frustrated enough to toss it in the trash and quit. To make things worse, everyone around me seemed to be picking it up so easily. They were obviously born with some hidden talent that I don’t have!
One day after an especially vexing session, my wife pointed out a book called “The Talent Code”. The book’s author Daniel Coyle had studied talent hotspots – places that produce unusual numbers of world-class athletes or musicians – to learn how it happened. To my relief, he concluded that innate “talent” doesn’t really exist but that it can be grown. According to Coyle, even savants accumulate huge amounts of experience before expressing their extraordinary skills by listening or obsessively practicing even when it’s not obvious that they’re doing it.
Coyle divides this process into two elements. The first he calls “deep practice” – breaking a skill into small chunks then slowly, deliberately perfecting each chunk to make a whole. (My problem with music was trying to learn the entire piece at once.) His second element is “ignition”, a strong, nearly obsessive desire to improve. The thing we call talent is what happens when these two elements come together, not something that we’re born with. It makes sense to me.
Can Coyle’s approach help grow better watercolorists? That’s not in the book but I think so and I’ll bet many of us already do these things intuitively. For what it’s worth, here are some thoughts.
Deep practice. We’ve all experienced the frustration of completing a painting only to realize that it doesn’t work – maybe the values are too uniform, maybe we didn’t quite capture the movement of the figures in a cityscape, or their heads are too big. When that happens, how often do we back up and deliberately spend time really practicing those figures or working on value sketches before moving on to another painting? In my case not often enough. But I did spend most of a week one time sketching palms after realizing that my paintings were failing because my palms looked like upside-down mops! It was time well spent. Without it I might have spent that time turning out a pile of completed paintings – lousy ones. Instead, I learned to paint palms.
Ignition. That one is easy for us. Right? After all, artists love to express themselves with their art. Maybe, but I wonder if Coyle’s version of ignition for an artist revolves more around having the drive to repeat something until we get it right than around an impulse to paint. I’m betting ignition is by far the hardest for most of us.
I’ll be interested in finding out what you all think. In the meantime, here’s to finding more brush time!
Before finishing, let me remind you once again that most (but not all) of our CVC meetings this year will be at Green Canyon High School in North Logan. Keep an eye out for our monthly announcements and updates on any changes to our meeting location.