Finding One’s Passion in the Midst of the 10,000-Hour Rule

Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Every art form conveys a message.  When an artist is young and still learning, that message is usually about technique: see what I can do.  Decorative art has a perfectly valid message, one of beauty.  As we mature, in both our art and in our life, we learn to understand our passions and these then become the subject we express in our works.  But at the same time, passion is not the only source of expression because thought can also come into play.  So an artist’s expression evolves from the heart (passion), the brain (thought) or a combination of the two (with usually an emphasis on one or the other).  

Alex Powers, (Interview) The Art of Watercolour, 2nd issue

I am posting my second attempt at watercolor sketching the Stage Coach Hotel in the Fort Worth Stockyard District.  When I photographed this portal a couple of weeks ago in late afternoon, the temperatures had already reached triple digits.  My eye was “held” at the richness of reds in the sun-damaged door, and the smoky, grimy window panes that survived above.  I couldn’t stop looking at these details, and took quite a number of photographs of the subject.  I knew I wanted to take this one back to the studio and see if I could make something of it.

Following the thread from the Alex Powers interview, I am finally settling down to watercoloring my passion after years of adding techniques and tricks to my toolbox.  Reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit finally got my attention about that–it is time to let techniques support my objective in painting rather than building “interesting” paintings on a myriad of techniques.  The immediate result is that my paintings are coming along even faster now, and I’m spending less time combing through my toolbox for gimmicks to toss out onto the painting.

Portals have fascinated me for decades, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I took my first crack at painting close-up studies of door knobs.  I next turned my attention to the surfaces of weathered old doors.  When the spring came around, I began experimenting with screen door compositions.  All of these studies took place in my studio.  For the past few weeks I have been traveling about, painting portals on site and enjoying the speed and decision-making of plein air painting.  Now that Texas has settled into its inferno summer temperatures, I am perusing photographs that I’ve taken of these portals and making plans for additional compositions.  All of this has been fulfilling for me.  I don’t know how to explain my passion for the subjects I paint.  I suppose I could just toss out the adage: for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible; for those who do, none is necessary.

I have probably mentioned in earlier blogs that I play guitar.  I have not been able to accomplish with music what I have with the visual arts.   I suppose that would fall somewhere under the “10,000- Hour” rule of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  I have easily put in my 10,000 hours of study and application in the visual arts.  On guitar, well that’s another story.  But my point in opening with the quote from Alex Powers is this: younger, less experienced artists can easily get caught up in the fascination of learning many, many techniques and tricks that “wow” the observer, just as many younger, less experienced guitar players load up their toolboxes with tricks and gimmicks to stun listeners with their performance.  And yet, many young and less experienced artists still do not know how to build a painting, just as many guitar players in the same class cannot play a single song all the way through.  And when they do (painters and guitar players), they often show creative flourishes, but not a finished masterpiece.  I don’t say this with the sadness that I used to: when I play guitar, I am conscious that I can play all the notes correctly and sometimes even keep my timing consistent.  But the “soul” is not there.  My guitar does not gently weep.  My listeners do not feel what I feel, because it is not  coming through my fingers, not emerging from my guitar.  I have witnessed scores of guitar gods playing my instrument, and I would swear that it was not the same instrument.  I marveled at how they coaxed that sound, that soul, from my acoustic box.  At this point, I still cannot.

I used to complain this way about my paintings–that they were fine illustrations, ably constructed, correctly rendered, and so on.  But now, I want feelings and moods to emerge from my pictures, not gimmicks.  I want viewers to see my work, and feel what I felt in constructing it.  And, to borrow a line from Hemingway: “I’m not there, but I feel I’m getting closer.”  I am more excited about painting now than I ever recall feeling before.  Because I know what I want.  I know what I seek.  The passion is there.  And I’m starting to believe that the passion can emerge from my brush.  Who knows? Maybe some day passion will rise from my guitar strings as well.  But, one thing at a time.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry if this was too much navel-gazing.  It’s been on my mind awhile now.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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14 Responses to “Finding One’s Passion in the Midst of the 10,000-Hour Rule”

  1. Xraypics Says:

    A masterful painting; the heat just drips out of it. I can easily see why you are excited. Tony

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  2. Debbie Says:

    The love you had for this subject is very evident – you communicated through your use of brushes, pigment, and your personal vision! Thanks for sharing – Debbie

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  3. Duncan Says:

    As always, a fantastic painting! Great post as well. Ironically, I’m quite the opposite. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours of guitar playing but am very much a marginal painter. After playing for 23 years, it’s hard to say which would have suited me better. But I expect my fingers would have hurt a lot less had I chose painting.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Duncan. I often wish I had given the guitar more years of my life, but I guess had I done that, I wouldn’t have come this far yet in watercoloring. I hate to make a choice, but frankly, I know it would take many, many years to accomplish on guitar what I do now with watercolor. At age 59, I don’t have the time I used to have. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Congratulations on carving out your niche in guitar, and I’m glad you enjoy painting. I’m still enjoying guitar, though I still want to get better at it. 🙂

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  4. Mary MacGowan Says:

    very, very beautiful painting. and i never heard of the 10,000 hour rule, thanks for that.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      Your welcome. The 10,000 hour rule is in an early chapter of Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. I was really fascinated with his writing about Bill Gates and The Beatles–how they put in over 10,000 hours, mastering their craft before the world even heard of them.

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  5. Skeeter Says:

    I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. You’ve absolutely inspired me to pick up my paintbrush again, and give it a try. Thanks!

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    • davidtripp Says:

      Oh, Skeeter, thanks for telling me that! That is one of many things (for me) that makes blogging worth the effort. If I can get one person to pick up the brush, then I feel I have done more than just crank out paintings to show off. I wish you well in what you pursue. Thanks for talking to me and encouraging me.

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  6. Merry Insouciant Says:

    What a beautiful painting! I find portals and doors mysterious because you don’t know what’s behind them. (I’m reminded of that wonderful scene in the Wizard of Oz, where black and white changes to color when Dorothy opens her door after landing in Oz.)

    I very much appreciate your comments about creative flourishes versus finished masterpieces. So many younger people I know who are working with programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator confuse technical mastery with artistic mastery.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      I love your comment, Merry, thank you. Portals also fascinate me with that sense of mystery. I always want to get to the other side. As for the “finished” compositions, I admit I feel “in the dark” about those, but I am more interested now in pursuing those than picking up more tricks.

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  7. Carissa Says:

    Just wondering about your technique on painting brick walls. Are you masking the concrete grout lines or painting each brick individually? I’ve never attempted to paint a brick building before because I didn’t know how to do it.

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    • davidtripp Says:

      Hi Carissa. I’m sorry I took so long to get back to you. I’ve never been satisfied with my brick walls (except for a painting “Blues on the Corner” from long ago–it’s on my website http://www.recollections54.com). I use the masquepen to rule off the concrete grout. Then I flood the wall with wet-on-wet colors of brick. Once I remove the masquing, I flood the walls again, to get rid of the stark whiteness left from the masquing. Then I tweak the final work by re-working many original bricks, and occasionally applying more wash to certain areas.

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