“Practice makes perfect,” Dad used to say… or maybe it was, “Get upstairs and practice your violin now!” It could have been both. He did have a point, though. Careful repetition of muscle movements will enable the unconscious to take over and one will not have to think of where to place a finger to make a certain note on the violin. In fact, a well-practiced musician will be in trouble if he or she has to think of where to place finger. My younger brother has been a musician his entire life. His cerebellum, the part of the brain instrumental in fine motor control is unquestionably differently developed than mine.
I always try to learn different things. When I started learning neuroanatomy from a colleague, it was so difficult learning the anatomical terms, how they were related to each other in function as well as in three dimensions. I wish that I actually could have taken a human gross anatomy class. Seeing the real object can answer so many more questions than pictures in an anatomy book. But the more I studied and questioned my mentor, the easier it became to understand previously undecipherable neuroanatomy literature.
In any brand new endeavor, the process seems to be the same for me: 1) extreme awkwardness and frustration at first, trying to learn terminology and concepts; 2) slight improvement with concepts while I form a mental model of what I am trying to learn; 3) more comfort with the subject matter; 4) finally, ease with subject matter and ability to be able to converse intelligently about the topic with other knowledgeable people.
What about art?
For me, the visual arts offers the ultimate opportunity to combine muscle learning (mastery of the medium) and conceptual thinking (mastery of expression). In learning photography for instance, I had to master camera focus with f-stop settings; I had to think about how to place the image in the viewfinder; whether shallow or deep depth of field would enhance my final image, and so on.
I started learning watercolor not too long ago. I was so intent on learning in my usual way, that I got bogged down. There are so many variables: 1) watercolor paper can be fine grain, smooth or rough, it can come in pads or blocks, or individual sheets; 2) paints: so many different varieties; color mixing is an art in itself, for example red and blue rarely make purple, mostly it makes mud, unless you’ve found the right combination; complementary colors also rarely cancel out to make gray. Unlike photography, there is so much more to do before one can make the image one conceives.
Just do it
There is a kind of learning where one must try things out. I made hundreds of test strips of watercolors I purchased; I even started combining complementary colors to see which shades of red and green cancel out to a nice gray and which shades of blue and yellow actually make green. But there is a time to stop doing that an paint a picture.
This is the first painting I did. The paper is 11X14 inches. First, I sketched in pencil from life, then India inked detail, then painted.
The next figure was sketched from memory on 18X26 cm, smooth paper (block).
Only the top figure in the next three is partially completed. The final two are pen and ink only. All three are in 5X7 format, each with a different grade of paper, and were sketched from memory.
Practice should make perfect. I think I should go back to basics. Maybe I should try painting one and only one roof tile with the correct shadings and color.