Do you ever feel that you've plateaued with your art, slowly moving, but not growing and improving? I have been there before. It's hard when you miss the enjoyment you once felt for creating but don't have the motivation any more. At one point I nearly quit painting for a couple years. When I jumped into watercolor at twelve years old I loved it and continued several years painting on my own (at home alone) and pretty much plateaued, eventually I no longer felt the enjoyment of painting I once had. Thankfully things changed.
So what can help to keep us from leveling out? What will bring back the satisfaction that learning and growing gives? Below are several points that have changed my life for the better...
Classical Drawing Principles.
Even if you've painted for years but never learned classical drawing, it's worth taking the time to study (even if it means giving up painting time!), it's an investment with great rewards! Drawing skills are the strength of the painter. Find a good teacher that will teach more than basic drawing, but will get into concepts such as Gesture, Lost and Found, Terminal Points, a Synchronized Order of Importance. Find a teacher who shows you how and why to use those tools. Each principle is a tool to help you convey something to the viewer. The French Academy taught these concepts years ago and are reemerging through classical atelier type schools.
If you don't make a time commitment, where will you be at with your art in fifteen or twenty years? Take time to reflect and solidify in your soul what it means to you. How important is the dream and hope in you to be fulfilled? Reflect on it. How much will the pain of regret and loss hurt if you don't fulfill the dream? I like to set so many hours a week devoted to art, or have a designated day (or days) each week to get into the habit. It helps me to set a timer and write my hours down every day in a log book. If you only go by feeling creative, energetic, confidant and inspired you will miss quality painting time. Usually it works to just sit down and start and once you do you'll likely get in the groove.
Collect Reference Material
Good reference material can make all the difference! Getting used to using your camera and putting yourself in the right places will give you much inspiration and memories to go with it. A great photo, with all the right elements can provide what's needed to make a great painting without forcing you to lift more than you are able.
Prepare for Paintings
My teacher, Chris DiDomizio, taught me to prepare for each painting with studies and drawings (as John S. Sargent did thoroughly) but it took me awhile to respond to his suggestions, it was all new to me! If you can find a teacher who will stretch you and push you into new areas and help you develop good habits, treasure them. There are a few helpful steps to prepare such as thumbnail sketches to design compositions, "seeking drawings"(gesture) to seek for what is important, color studies, writing and putting into words what your painting is about. Good preparation helps prevent struggling with problems in the middle of the painting process and makes your paintings better than ever!
Take a look at the studies below John S. Sargent did for Madame X.
Find someone who you trust, and who's art you admire to regularly critique your paintings. Someone with a discerning eye who can see things you don't will help you improve your paintings and each critique becomes a lesson that sticks with you, especially because it's more personal being your very own painting.
Identifying weaknesses you have can give you awareness (you may need another to tell you) so you can push yourself in that area. Growing usually means getting outside of your comfort zone, taking risks since it's often an unknown area to us, but it's always rewarding. I like the way many masters studied and experimented continually throughout their lives, they were always on a quest, intent on improving, maybe that is a real part of the fun of art and what makes it rewarding. There always seems to be room to grow and learn new ways of conveying an idea to the viewer.