[ Excerpt from " Micromastery", a new book by Robert Twigger, published by Penquin Life ]
As I celebrate another year as an artist, I find myself ruminating about my art. Twigger's ideas on " micro mastery" are swirling in my brain. Wanting so desperately to learn to paint, I had a long running argument with myself that it might be too late to begin. However, I reminded myself that Emily Carr never began to paint her trees until her early 60's and so my stubborn self won out and " begin" I did. I recognize now that by " micro-mastering" one thing at a time, I was and continue to be in control of my own artistic destiny.
As Twigger explains, " a micro mastery is a self-contained unit of doing, complete in itself, but connected to a greater field". Let's consider an application of this idea to my own case - learning to paint.
I am a colourist but before I could create colour stories in my painting I needed to learn a whole lot of things about colour . I began simply by observing and seeing colour through an artist's eyes. I would create " thumbnails" with six or more ways to paint one particular idea. Which was the strongest? The weakest? The most dynamic? Why?
To find answers I studied rules of composition, line and balance. What role does colour play? I poured over art books matching " the rules" to successful paintings. How do successful painters break these rules? In order to comprehend and absorb each thing I had to reduce each learning moment into really, really small units . For example, first I discovered I prefer dynamic lines and lines that run off the canvas. Then I learned how to put energy into a line where I wanted that energy to play out on the canvas. That challenged me to develop my own unique brushstroke and style.
By tackling the subject of colour one self-contained unit at a time, my knowledge and mastery grew on a solid foundation. This study included for example, the meaning and use of colour in art history, the psychology of colour, the qualities of paint and paint mediums and especially important to me - how to mix paint to achieve a sophisticated colour palette. I laboured over paint recipes, practiced matching colour samples and recreating paint techniques like Turner's light. I mixed the colours I saw in a stone, in a leaf, or in a square inch chosen from a famous painting- a Van Gogh, a Tom Thomson, a Monet, an Emily Carr. I study Alber's colour theories and I compare different colour wheels. With each new query I track my " lessons learned" in an art notebook/information diary . Most importantly, I continually incorporate the things I discover I like into my new work in order to " hardwire" that thing into my unconscious.
This micro mastery technique leads from one challenge to the next. In this way, I can build an inventory of personal achievements.
Where do I start, you ask? This is the fantastic part. Look for one small repeatable thing you want to try to learn. Twigger calls this " the entry trick". It makes anything seem possible. In cookery terms, start with boiling an egg and move on to create the perfect omelet. I started my omelet by learning how to mix white with paint out of the tube to achieve colour variations with at least ten different colour values from light to dark.
I would encourage every artist to try this micro mastery approach to find new joy and satisfaction in your practice. Let me know your new discoveries.... see my contact page.