I advise my students to draw or paint everyday, and one of the things I often hear in response is “I don’t know what to paint!” Well, paint anything! The subject really does not matter, neither does the medium, it’s all about learning to see.
When we draw or paint from life, we are studying form, value, proportion, perspective and color. Our eyes become skilled at seeing subtleties and working in conjunction with our hands to translate what we see onto paper or canvas. Working from photographs is not the same! Often, when artists rely too heavily on photos, they do not develop the skill that can help them transform reality into something greater than just a reproduction of what is there. Of course working from photos is easier, the work is already done for you in terms of creating a two dimensional representation of three dimensional objects in space, but so much is missed when you do not do that process yourself from life. For example, I often have students say they don’t see all the colors I do when I’m describing the process of painting something during a demo. However, when they begin to paint the object themselves, they often discover the same subtleties in color discussed in the demo. And, the more experienced they become with working from life, the more subtleties in color and detail they notice in general. I have heard many times that since painting from life they see “so many colors” that they were previously unaware of in everyday objects.
So, if you want to improve your painting skills, take some time everyday to do a quick drawing or painting. It does not even have to be in color–seeing values is one of the best exercises you can do to improve your drawing skills. Take some simple objects such as pears or tin cans, set them up with a directional light (it can be a desk lamp, doesn’t have to be one designed specifically for art purposes) and draw! You will notice a big difference in your ability to capture your subjects in a more lively and confident matter the more you practice. Remember to relax and enjoy the process, the less pressure you put on yourself, the faster you will improve.