You can watch others teach. You can read the manual. You can take the written test. But until you’ve put pen to paper, brush to canvas, even chalk to the sidewalk, you won’t know what you’ve learned. You’ve got to do it to know it.
Muscle Memory. What is it and why should you care?
Have you ever driven to work, arrived at your office, stepped out of the car and thought, “How did I get here?” This is not the recommended way to navigate traffic, but it happens to all of us who travel a familiar route. Our minds put us on autopilot leaving us free to think about things other than the immediate and well-known task at hand.
Artistic muscle memory works the same way. The more we practice something, the less effort we need to put into making it happen.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Practice makes technique achievable. You don’t want to learn how to hold a pencil each time you start a drawing. You’ll want to know which paper and drawing tool(s) to use before you begin. But you have to learn those things first. You’ll practice on many types of papers or other drawing surfaces before you find just the right one.
You’ll practice using crayons, and graphite pencils from a 2H to a 5B. You’ll try colored pencils, charcoal, conte crayons, pastels, and inks on every surface. And you’ll do this over and over until you find the combinations that produce the art you want to make.
Build muscle memory from watching YouTube artists.
You’re kidding! Nope! During lockdown, my classroom was YouTube. I explored techniques and media, presentations, even gallery shows (although in-person is way better.) via YouTube. More and more artists are sharing their knowledge through videos. Your mind responds to what your eyes see. In turn, your body responds to what you’ve seen. Even your eye muscles create muscle memory. You can build muscle memory from watching YouTube. Here are some great examples of established abstract artists at work.
With the right tools in hand, the work comes easier.
After months of watching artist demonstrations, I know better which paints and brushes to purchase and why. I’ve spent years staring at charts of brush sizes and types. On a limited budget, I couldn’t just buy one of each to learn which would work best for me. When I watch someone reach for this brush or that painting tool and see the effect each creates, I know what to try. My painting supply wish list became my buy this list. With the right tools and muscle memory, the work will better and much easier to create. Marty Owings reviews artist tools.
Muscle memory gives better outcomes.
I’m trying my hand (literally) at abstract art. It’s frustrating and difficult because I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve. When I see a beautiful rock formation, I want to paint that. I’m not a landscape artist nor do I have a realistic style. I don’t duplicate what Nature offers. I paint to illustrate aspects of my subjects.
Accomplished abstract artists may say they do the same thing. I’m not sold on that idea yet. For now, abstraction is for me, more about shape, values, and composition. To take the THING out of the work is challenging. And I’m not sure why. But I’m still working at it because it’s another way to learn. By doing, I build muscle memory that will make better outcomes for the work I want to create.
My starts have vastly improved since last time, but still, they are starts. Next I have to study them to learn what I want to keep, what I want to add, what I want to remove.
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