How to make Painting a Habit

Heather Martin

What is the fastest way to improve at painting? Almost every artist would agree that "daily practice" is key. And for good reason! It’s important to paint regularly to keep the rust off, and skills sharp. I liken it to physical activities, like running. If you do it every day for a little bit, it becomes second nature. If you skip a week or two, then it feels like you’re back at square one and it's hard to not want to rage quit.

The problem is, it’s hard to WANT to paint every day, much less have the time to do so. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s normal, and I can share with you some of the things I’ve learned that help streamline the process and make it something to look forward to.

This post was partly inspired by the podcast “Hidden Brain”’s latest episode about habits. It’s definitely worth listening to if you have the time. 

Make it easy. 

At the end of a long day, you want to paint, but your supplies are strewn all over the house. Your water cup is looking like a week old smoothie, and your palette is...growing things. Oh, and you probably ran out of your last piece of paper. This kind of situation is an immediate turn off, and it already feels like work. 

The solution? Have things cleaned and ready to go after you complete each session. I’m talking; paint supplies refilled, clean water jars packed, pencil sharpened, and palette clean. That way you can be ready at the drop of a hat to get to work, because you never know when inspiration will hit! Take it one step further by duplicating your paint set ups at work, and maybe even in your car. No more excuses of not having supplies when you see something you want to paint.

Another important note is if you're starting out, keep the work small. Large canvases can be overwhelming, and smaller ones can be completed in a shorter amount of time. 

Not sure WHAT to paint? 

Keep a list on your phone of things you want to paint. You should always be looking for interesting things and scenes. I have an album on my phone of photos of landscapes or scenes that I hope to revisit when I have time. I look back at this album regularly, and sometimes find new inspiration or meaning in the subject matter.

Another great way to keep the ball rolling was when I did a challenge with my friend Christopher Greco, and we created prompts for our Double Take ProjectWhen you’re in a an absolute crunch, just paint doesn’t need to be a masterpiece, just practice. Who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Set goals.

Runners sign up for marathons as the big goal they're striving towards, and artists can have a similar experience! Sign up for a plein-air event, or find a group gallery show that you want to participate in. The plein-air events stir up the same butterflies in the stomach feeling, and are a great way to show the result of your hard work.

Make it FUN. If it feels like a grind, it won’t be long until you give up. While I confess to not enjoying every single painting I’ve done, I can confidently say that the wide majority of them are done in true happiness. It’s even MORE of a pleasure when I’m not fighting against rusty skills.

So how do you make it fun? Make it your happy place!

I am a podcast addict. I look forward to the couple of hours that I can put my headphones on, listen to new episodes, and find my happy place. If podcasts aren't your thing, maybe it's your favorite music or you have your favorite tv show running in the background.

Some other ideas I’ve come up with are: treat yourself to a special drink (a favorite wine, a fancy tea, a hot cup of coffee…). Just be sure to set it far away from your paint...I’ve had many times when I dipped my paintbrush in my tea. If you have kids or a significant other, make it a family event and paint a still life together. Having others to paint along makes it fun, so maybe set up a daily lunch painting with friends at your office (this is how I got started) or a night painting session.

(Pictured: Suhita Shirodkar, Barbara Tapp, Nina Khashchina, Your Truly, Laurie Wigham)

Mix it Up! 

When things start to feel stale, try something new. It can be a great chance to experiment with art supplies. Try different brands, new papers, or even an entirely new media. I would limit the types of media to maybe two or three, just because if you’re doing too many different things it can actually slow down your progress. It’s like learning how to ice skate, ski, and fly fish at the same time. However, if that’s what excites you then you should do it! 

I've been doing smaller oil paintings on various surfaces to build skills.

Share Your Progress

The good, bad, and the ugly. Not everyone will want to do this, but it’s a great practice to check your ego at the door and to put yourself out there. It doesn’t have to be shared to the world, but even if it’s just a handful of friends, it’s good practice. There are SO many supportive people out there that can and will happily be your cheerleader. I'll be honest...the compliments might not be 100% genuine (hey, I'm a skeptical person), but that encouragement and confidence can take you a long way. It's also a great way to look back, and evaluate what you need to continue to work on, and also see what you’ve improved on. 

Overall, painting daily will most definitely pay off, and you will see improvements quickly if you put in the work. While it can be a hard habit to get started, there are ways to make it painless and enjoyable.

In the end, we all have our own priorities, and if it’s not yours...that’s okay too. Listen to yourself, and really contemplate why you want to do this if the passion and drive isn't coming naturally to you. Most of all, ENJOY yourself, and the journey. Happy New Year!!

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