On Practice and Warmups

I have recently begun studying piano again in earnest. I have played off and on since I was a kid, but I never really developed any particular aptitude because I never liked to practice. Drawing on the other hand was never a chore. I could draw for hours and never feel like it was any effort at all. It is because of this that I haven chosen the mediums I have. I followed the path of least resistance.

On the plus side, I have invested my energy in mediums that I truly enjoy the process of. On the con side though, it means that in many ways I never learned how to actually practice.

I am very fortunate to have a very skilled piano instructor. Initially, I chose her to teach my son. But after several months of sitting in on his lessons, I realized that she was not just an excellent piano teacher, she was an excellent teacher. I thought that I had resolved myself to never play piano again, deciding that I was just not meant to be a musician. But I realize now that was just laziness and ineffective learning. What I had not learned yet was how to actually practice. Age is my ally now, giving me more patience for structure and routine.

My piano lessons started with me learning scales by Hanon. I continue to start every practice and lesson with them. This is not dissimilar from the kata that I loathed practicing as a martial artist. The same moves, memorized, over and over. However, with these piano exercises, I have re-learned not just finger dexterity, but also rhythm, accents, dynamics, fingering, wrist and shoulder movement, tempo and a dozen other attributes. And it is all based on practicing the same scales hundreds and then thousands of times.

My piano teacher has also provided structure to my practices themselves. A certain amount of time on warmups and skills, some time to review previous work, and the rest of the time on the pieces that I am currently focused on.

I have felt for a long time that one of the many disservices Art Schools do to students is that they don’t teach student the craft of art making. There is too much emphasis on novelty and exploration of the spectrum of mediums. There is a myth that artists are just inspired people and that all they need to do is be presented with the material and they will create great works. The common approach in my academic experience was a that an exposure to a broad survey of arts would allow the student self-select for personal mastery. Of course, the result was broad mediocrity. In art school, we never learned how to Practice.

For me, Practice is figure drawing and anatomy studies. Every day. Every week. I start every drawing session with quick gesture drawings, then longer poses. Then reviewing anatomy or copying master works. And then finally working on whatever my current project is. For me figure studies are both the practice and the final product. But I recognize that initially, I am practicing. And when I don’t practice for a few days, I can tell during the next session. The lines are sloppy or overly rigid. I get derailed in details. Or I draw a curve counter to observation, following a preconceived notion of form instead of what is really in front of me. I can see when my drawing is out of practice as acutely as I can hear when my piano is out of practice. As acutely as my body being sore from not exercising.

What this has me begun to think about is how do we Practice sculpture? What is the warmup? How do you review?

I would love to hear from other sculptors how they approach warmups and practice.


It probably wasn’t until the last ten minutes of this fourth session that this sculpture started to ‘click’.  Up to that point it was pretty mechanical: set up armature, pose, mass, refine.  But something about the gesture just wasn’t satisfying me.  It just felt too angular and stiff.  So, I took a break, walked around the block, and came back.  I looked at it again from across the room and found a couple of things to add.  A little more curve on the forearm, more mass on the thigh.  And then it was starting to look human–And then the session ended.  This is definitely one I’m going to work on some more without the model this week, so I can evaluate the sculpture on its own merits.  In the end, it’s not what the sculpture represents about the model but what is internally consistent within itself.


Second session with this pose.  It’s been a long hiatus dealing with non-art life. Always feels good to be back to the important stuff.

I’ve missed so many seasons with this pose, I’m not sure yet whether I will keep it.  We’ll see how much progress I make by the end of next week.


Here is a portrait that I just completed modeling.  I’m pretty happy with how the texture and anatomy finished.  This is probably a piece that I will continue to casting with.  Which means of course, that I’m sure I will spend a few more hours modeling it in the cast wax before final.

And a picture with the model

And some of the preliminary sketches

The Art of Salvage

Sometimes despite your time invested, you just have to walk away and start something else.  Sometimes there is some part of a project that still has some intrigue.  Sometimes those parts keep you working on a piece far beyond its merits.  And occasionally those parts become happy accidents.

It is dangerous to recycle work and my teachers strongly discouraged it.  And it is something that I would discourage beginners from doing as well.  Very quickly you have to decide what was correct in the original pose may no longer be relevant with a new model.  Proportions change, anatomy changes.  Age and body type change.  So, sometimes you leave something that you really like from the first model, only to realize that it is forcing you to make incorrect observations with the new one.  That said, I have found that if you are willing to look at your new piece with a bit of ruthlessness, you save a lot of time in the basic construction.  Most beginners lack the confidence to make fundamental changes and tend to be too precious about things that need to be changed or thrown out.

But like so many things, much of what I do now is breaking the rules of my teachers and not how I would teach others.  At this point, I am finding what works for me whether or not it is a ‘good idea’. Sometimes these experiments turn out to be train wrecks.  So far, for this sculpture, that has not been the case.
I am two sessions into working on this sculpture of Belle.  It feels like it is going in the right direction.  This is not the pose that she is actually modeling in.  In reality, her left arm is laying across her leg on her lap, and her right arm is more forward.  And her head is more upright.

For reference, below is a picture of the sculpture of Hannah that I repurposed into the sculpture of Belle.  The part that I liked was how her shoulders pulled back, which defined the back muscles and shoulder blades.  It created an interesting tension.  However, the rest of the pose just felt boring.  I experimented with changing the gesture of the arms, hands, and the angle of the head.  I often will make minor tweaks to the sculpture from what the model actually did to exaggerate the pose or make it more expressive.  Holding a pose for hours, days, and weeks is hard work and it forces the model to sometimes take more neutral positions.  Tweaking things allow me to sculpt things that the model would not be able to hold for any duration.

Sometimes when you salvage previous works, you make minor changes that fundamentally change the pose.  Other times you make major changes that obliterate what you started from.  The trick is to not spend more time fixing than creating.  In software development, there is an adage, “build a prototype, then throw it away’.  You solve a lot of problems in trying to define something by making something and then recognizing how it is not working.  At some point you have to decide whether to build on what you have started, start from scratch, or reuse pieces.  That is the art, whether it is sculpture or software.

Rose and Lemon

This painting was a lot of fun.  I’ve been focusing on value and really enjoy the strong contrast between the rose and the background.  And of course, I had to pull myself away from obsessing on the drapery so I can get this completed in the time available.

Rose and Lemon

Available for purchase here.

Grandmother’s Kettle

I was focusing on value with this painting.  The metallic surface and drapery was a lot of fun.  My painting teacher, Kate Bollons commented, “There are two kinds of painters: Those that love painting drapery and those hate it.”

I definitely fall into ‘love painting drapery’ camp.  It’s fun to use both sides of the brain to interpret drapery.  The   Left Brain for figuring out the structure, light and texture and the Right Brain for how treat it with a painterly effect.


Available for purchase here.

And for the record, it was Kate’s grandmother’s kettle–not mine.


I believe this is week 5 for me on this pose.  I have been neglecting to post in progress pictures on this one.   Two more weeks with the model to finish it up.

It has really just been in the last couple of weeks that this one has started to come together.  This is a return to oil-based clay after a lengthy foray working with hard wax.  I’m still using hard wax, but I wanted to use something I could work faster on and in a looser style.

I started this pose with my usual drawings to better understand the pose and figure out proportions.


Camellia in the Window

Occasionally you take a look at something and you see something that gives you pause.  It might be a sunset, or the particularly way that the light is casting through a window. Perhaps it is the expression on someone’s face.  This was one of those moments.  I knew exactly as soon as I set up to paint this what I wanted the painting to look like.  

This painting was entirely about getting the first impression in my head to paper.
What caught my eye was the cool light that washed across the entire image, the strong sillouette from the back-lit leaves, and the blast of color for the camellia.

Available for purchase here.

Comments welcome.


It’s peculiar how much I enjoy painting still life in general and flowers in particular after years of figurative work.  There are parts that are of course foreign, but there are far more similarities to how I approach image-making than differences.  I’m still looking a composition, color, tone, light and shadow and form.  Even as I was sculpting a couple of nights ago I was struck by how similar the resolving of form was to the gradation of paint.  It really is all the same stuff.  And of course, completely different.

Available for purchase here.

Comments welcome.

Figurative Art