This is not specifically an art book, however I believe it is an essential read if you strive to improve your craft and want to become a better artist.
A few years ago I learned about the idea of “deliberate practice” by reading Cal Newport’s blog StudyHacks. I immediately began applying some of the ideas of deliberate practice to my daily studio habits and within months began to see the results in my paintings. When I found out that the father of deliberate practice, Anders Ericsson, was publishing a new book for a wider audience rather than his academic book on excellence, I preordered it and then devoured it.
Instead of waxing poetic about this book, I will share some my own notes from the book.
Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
Learning is about developing one’s potential, not as a way to reach your innate potential. So by deliberate practice, one can learn how to expand and grow your expertise.
Gaining expertise is made up of: 1. Improving one’s mental processes (even the mind-body coordination) 2. Long-term dedication to the process, 10+ years of purposeful practice. (Purposeful practice is slightly different than deliberate practice, but you need to get comfortable with completing purposeful practice before you can tackle deliberate practice as it requires higher levels of concentration and effort.) All effective deliberate practice techniques involve: 1. Asking what works and what doesn’t in driving changes in the body and brain. 2. And to keep working to shifting these practice sessions outside our comfort zone.
Q. What makes purposeful practice distinct? A. 1. Purposeful practice has well-defined .specific goals, this means breaking down the big audacious goal into small baby steps, that once all are accomplished and achieved the large goal is reached. 2. Purposeful practice is focused . Attention is given throughout painting sessions. . Full attention is focused on the exercise. 3. Purposeful practice involves feedback . You must know where you are succeeding or where you are failing/falling short. Only with feedback can you adjust and make corrections to improve your skills. 4. Purposeful practice requires a lot of time at the edge or beyond your limits . By moving beyond your comfort zone you will improve. This means doing things you have never done before and making the most of your skills. . This does NOT mean try “harder” but instead to try “differently”
PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE: (crib notes) 1. Get outside your comfort zone in a focused way 2. Have clear goals for each painting session 3. Have a plan of how to reach those goals 4. Monitor your progress 5. Maintain your motivation (this means taking little bets that help you see the completion of paintings that stretch your skill set)
DELIBERATE PRACTICE is something more than purposeful practice! Deliberate practice is about harnessing adaptability in yourself. . Humans are adaptable, but the body craves homeostasis, so you have to challenge yourself . By always striving for just outside your comfort zone you change the mind and build your own potential, just be careful about pushing too far – risk of injury occurs then.
Q. What is a mental representation in relation to deliberate practice? A. a mental representation is the mental structure that corresponds to an object, an idea, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about. Much of deliberate practice involves developing ever more efficient mental representations that can help you in the activity you are practicing.
Characteristics of MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS include: . Even when the practice is mainly physical, mental representations are required – its about developing the ideal image of how to move. . Mental representations are skill specific, they do not cross over easily
Q. What makes mental representations so powerful? A. Mental representations (MRs) enable one to hold and process large amounts of information quickly. MRs can be understood as a conceptual structure to sidestep short term memory and to have access to the wealth of memory focused in long-term memory. It is the quality and quantity of mental representations that set experts apart from others. These mental representations allow experts to make faster and more accurate decisions and to respond quickly to a situation. (Think about how quickly Rob Liberace can block in the human form including all the subtle shifts in anatomy and light and shade and how to handle the different edge qualities. He can do all this so quickly and apply the information to paper accurately because he has years of building his MRs and speeding up the process.)
***the symbiotic character of deliberate practice and mental representations*** The more effective the mental representations are, the better performance will be. Mental representations don’t just result in learning a new skill, they can also help us learn. Honing a skill improves our mental representations, and mental representations help hone the skill.
The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations and as you progress MRs play a key role in deliberate practice, because as one does deliberate practice the mental representations become better, making for improved performance.
PRINCIPLES OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE (DP): 1. DP develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do. The practice regime is designed by a teacher and overseen by them. 2. DP takes you outside of your comfort zone, it is not enjoyable and asks for near-maximal effort. 3. DP involves well-defined, specific goals and often focused on a target performance. 4. DP requires a person’s full attention. Concentration and focus on the specific goal must be maintained throughout each session. 5. DP involves feedback and adjustments and efforts as a result of the feedback. This self-monitoring of actions requires effective mental representations. 6. DP both produces and depends on effective mental representations. MRs make it possible to monitor how one is doing, both in practice and in actual performances. 7. DP involves building and or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically.
These notes are just the tip of the iceberg, the book is full of ways to apply deliberate practice methods into your life. If you are curious to learn more, I want to encourage you to purchase a copy of this book and to find ways on how you can improve your skills as an artist.
Since reading this book in April 2016, I have been inspired to up my game as an artist and to find ways to better understand what I do as an artist and how to better express my ideas.