Practise /ˈpraktɪs/verb. 1). perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to acquire, improve or maintain proficiency in it. 2). carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.
Practise and practice? In Australian and British English, 'practise' is the verb and 'practice' is the noun. In American English, 'practice' is both the noun and the verb. But whichever way you look at it, to become skilled, to become an artisan, requires practise. Long, protracted, sustained, dedicated practise. Practise can be hard work indeed, but it can also be a joy
I have a baby Currawong (native Australian bird) in my yard at the moment. My yard is often used as a creche (at present a gaggle of galahs, corellas, lorikeets, sparrows, doves and magpies). Adults leave the babies safely here, knowing there's abundant food, while they off and do their adult bird thing.
This currawong, she has my heart. This last week she's been practising her grown up call, and after sounding like she's been tuning a radio all week, this morning, oh there was SONG. Puff your chest out, beak raised to the heavens, eyes closed in delight, SONG. It was clear, crisp, musically assured, and so adult. Hearing it brought tears to my eyes. While smiling at the sky full of song, I meditated on the word ‘practise’.
All artists know that talent is no substitute for skill, and skills take time to form, so much (SO much!) practise. And frustration. And learning. And mistakes. And more learning. And tiny breakthroughs. And repeat. But practise is ultimately a joy, and when you get breakthroughs or you see how far your practise has brought you when you look at work from even a year ago, there is pride, a sense of satisfaction and a little bit of wonder. K Anders Ericsson discusses purposeful or “deliberate practice" and suggests that to become an expert in anything you need to put in an average of 10,000 hours of focused practice. I don’t know that I will ever be an expert at anything (except perhaps drinking tea and cuddling kitties, I feel pretty expert at that), but I know my purposeful, dedicated, and deliberate practise is improving my skills, and with it my outlook on life in general and my connection to the great divine flow. Practise is incremental - it is not necessarily 10 hours at an easel, only breaking for tea (tea is VERY important). Sure, that would be awesome if a regular occurance (and kinda my “when I grow up” dream), but practise is also 10 minutes between meetings, 13 minutes while eating lunch, 6 minutes while waiting for someone or something. It all adds up. You build muscle memory, you build imagination, you build skills. You build an addiction to creating, to having a pencil and paintbrush in hand, to making marks. You build connection with the creative universe.
Now, my current frustration is values and trying to make sense of foreground and background and everything in between so that I render a story, not just an image. I can be all philosophical and know that practise will change that frustration into understanding, but I don’t feel very zen when I am thinking about walking away from a piece that is more mid and dark value and not making sense, or starting again from scratch. For me, at least in the most part, practise also brings patience and kindness and compassion with/for myself and others, and practising those skills at the same time is making me a better artist, but I hope, also a better human being. It is ok to start again. It is ok to walk away from a piece, to take a break or permanently. The sun will also rise tomorrow, as they say. I am learning to trust the process. Persistence is the key. A willingness to try and try again without immediate gratification - anathema to our current quick fix, sound bite, fleeting, social media driven world.
This morning my ears are hearing a most beautiful call, clear and bright, such an Australian sound, and I'm filled with delight. With practise, my baby Currawong filled the sky with song. I return to my own practise.