This residency has given me a newfound appreciation for the importance of Daily practice. Being able to focus on my painting has made me think more deeply about the importance of consistency in order to improve my skills and to find my individual style and process. I feel a higher level of comfort and painting is a normal part of my day like getting dressed, cooking, eating or anything.
If you do something consistently it doesn't matter if you skip one day, but if you don't do something consistently and then you do it a few times it also doesn't matter. A good analogy is working out: if you go to the gym every day, then taking a day off doesn't affect you (In fact a day off is a good idea). But if never go and then you go one time or a few times it's also ineffective. The consistency is what provides the results.
I avoid thinking that I can work for a period of time and then just coast. I've been painting for a long time and drawing for an even longer time and I always need practice in order to improve or at least maintain my skills. I get rusty pretty quickly and I've found it is a never-ending maintenance project to keep my skills sharp.
One of the keys is to just get started so you can gain the momentum. If I just get up and go then I don't give myself time to make excuses. The initial shift in gears to get the ball rolling is the biggest hurdle to clear. I'm not saying it's easy, but it is crucial to improve as an artist.
Starting a Painting
One of the important things to remember is that no two paintings can be done the same way. If something works one time it may not work again the next time. When getting started, it's good to keep principles in mind instead of a specific progression. One principle which helps is to think "Big to small" which means "masses before details". These broader concepts are looser and provide for flexibility.
One thing that I never do in the beginning is to generalize. By this, I mean to put a homogenized tone down simply to cover the canvas. I begin very loosely (almost abstractly) but I want accuracy from the start and not a lazy "just cover the canvas" approach. I'd rather leave areas of bare canvas than to smear across a general tone.
What about drawing on the canvas before painting? This is a good question and it's something that varies from artist to artist. Some artists draw out the entire composition, but for me, I keep it simple. I prefer to sketch some lines with thin paint at the beginning to divide the major areas of the composition. After that, I just begin painting directly. I used to draw or even trace a drawing onto my canvas, but I found that too much drawing makes me timid and I lose the spontaneity. BUT, you can never ignore drawing and I recommend you sketch as much as possible.
There's an idea in oil painting of "thick over thin" or "fat over lean". This has to do with the structure of a painting and is important for the longevity of your painting. I won't go in-depth about it because there is a lot of info available about it, but I personally don't use too much of anything in the beginning. Too much solvent causes a drippy effect and too much thick paint can cause other problems. I do enjoy playing with thinner paint or thicker paint, but I usually follow my gut and experience to guide me.
Another consideration when starting a painting is time constraints. How much time or how many days can I work on this? If I have a limitation of one session then I will adjust my approach accordingly. My painting example below doesn't have a time limit per se, but the garden still changes and flowers don't last forever so I still feel a sense of urgency. My painting shows how much I accomplish in about a 2 hour window before I return the following day to continue working. It's not a small painting, but it's not huge either. Obviously the size of the canvas affects the process; a larger painting requires more paint and thus, more time.
Lastly, I aim for beauty from the start. If something happens and I can't continue, does the painting still have something to offer? Even as a rough beginning, did I accomplish something? Remember that it's all a process and each painting represents a different challenge to you as an artist.