Monday, June 29, 2015

239: The Improvement Cycle

A common obstacle for new painters is to get blocked in the improvement cycle. This means we have trouble closing the gap between the frustrating phase of being a beginner–knowing little about painting–and the stage where we begin to enjoy painting. This is equally true for experienced painters who add new skills to their repertoire.

The goal is to get to where you enjoy the process as soon as possible. It is no fun painting one bad painting after another (although I did that for a year. See video about it here).

Once you get to the point where you enjoy the act of painting the improvement cycle becomes self perpetuating. We love to do what we do well. Many artists struggle with eliminating the obstacles to enjoyable competence. An understanding of the phases leading to competence can be helpful.

The first step toward competent painting is unconscious incompetence, a stage where you are blissfully unaware of what you don't know. This phase is relatively painless. The next phase is conscious incompetence. You know your paintings aren't working but don't know why. This phase is painful and most painters, being highly sensitive, need to get through this phase as fast as possible or they will give up. The next phase is unconscious competence. This phase starts to get rewarding–you are painting a good painting once in a while–but you may not understand why the painting is good. Finally you reach conscious competence where you understand why your painting is working and can replicate your success. This is the phase that is most enjoyable. 

These phases are like seasons and conscious competence will arrive just as spring follows winter–if you persist. To get to that level faster you can rely on the critique of fellow painters, learn as much as you can about basic principles, as well as brainstorming for possible flaws in your work, and analyzing what you want to say with your particular style.

Like the seasons you will cycle through this process many times as you continuously evolve your work. I have made this blog with the hope it will be a resource for painters who want to be actively engaged in the improvement cycle.

Brad Teare–June 2015


  1. Oh, yes, your videos ang blog posts have played a major role for me to improve, I cant thank you enough for that, fear of failure was the biggest obstacle for me. When I realized that, there is no such thing called failure for, every time I fell down, there was a lesson to learn, I began to move forward. Now the focus is on leading a life to my full potential.

  2. Oh.. this is so beautifully put..

    unconscious incompetence
    conscious incompetence
    unconscious competence
    conscious competence

    Thank you for writing on this very important topic!

  3. "One solution is to paint without fear or hesitation."

    Figuring out how to break from ^^^ is when real development will occur, IMHO.

    My Jazz piano teacher used to say that through practice one develops mastery. It is in developing mastery (through disciplined study and heavy practice) that one may achieve the ability to play from the soul.

    If you don't know blue + yellow = green, or what value recession is, or how format affects design and composition (or even what design vs. composition is), or what temperature is or how to use it, or dominance (color, temperature, shape, value, etc.) or any of the myriad of basic to fundamental concepts in painting are, you will be hard pressed to consistently make good paintings.

    Too many people fail to study, fail to practice, yet expect to make masterpieces.

    Diligent study and practice, coupled with dedication, coupled with strong mental acuity and discipline and the acceptance that *you will* make that might be a recipe for making progress as a painter.

    Enjoyed this post, Brad. Truly.

    1. Thanks, Bob! Great comparison using music as a metaphor. Do you still play jazz piano?

    2. I'm a jazz player wanna be. I don't practice enough, and my progress is negligible. I used to practice a lot more. But I found that I had to pick an expression: Jazz vs. painting. I picked painting.

      So I dabble in jazz but can't really play at all (because of lack of practice). But I give most of my attention to developing as a painter, though not as much as I know I need to. Life hits me everyday, and I have to get the bills paid, which involves neither jazz nor painting, but IT Consulting (my main vocation).

      I had thought to make painting my primary vocation. But the market is so oversaturated and demand is so low that it's just not a practical endeavor for earning a living for me. I hope to build my income from painting up over time, and may be one day will be blessed to do it full time.

      I enjoy jazz and am grateful for the years of hard study and practice artists like Vince Guaraldi, Dave Brubeck, and Bill Evans have put in to create such amazing works for my listening enjoyment!



Thanks for your comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...