Lesson 1: The 10,000 Hour Rule

"It takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to truly master a skill...."

Non-shit brushes.
I've heard the quote before. Based on the fact that I had been painting for a little over ten years I thought I had a few thousand hours under my belt.  But sitting here six weeks into my mentorship I realize that my TRUE clock hours have just begun. This is a complete overhaul.

Upon arriving home from Tahoe I ordered my new brushes, took the necessary reference photos and set my sights on my first assignment. Things went smooth. I applied my techniques, careful to pull out all the stops in hopes of wowing him.

First Submission:  Technique, or the lack there of.

I emailed my masterpiece.... two days early, and called him. And with new found enthusiasm I answered his first question.

"How did you approach this?"

Perfect, I thought as I began reciting my vast arsenal of technical expertise: glazing the face...  the hair effect.... the 40% shadow rule... my pigment formulas for making the various ethnic skin tones and on and on.... and on. I spilled the beans on every precious technique acquired over the years from various workshops and instructors. I took a breath and awaited his reply.

"Hello?" Had we lost service? Then he spoke.


'Those are techniques, not painting. I don't want you to paint hair, I want you to paint what you see, not apply a technique that makes it look like hair.'

Me: You mean just paint?
You're saying, just paint?

EB: Yeah, just paint.

I stood there stunned. What the hell is that supposed to mean? I took another breath, my mouth hung open like a marionette. And then it occurred to me, the gig was up. My secret was out, my biggest secret!  I hadn't been formally trained. And if I didn't pay attention I ran the risk of achieving my biggest fear, to become the Bob Ross of Watercolor.

Those who know me would probably describe me as laid back and low key. And, this is true in every facet of my life EXCEPT my work. I am obsessed. I over think, I worry and most important, I rely on my techniques! I've spent the past ten years squeezing my obsession between ice skating lessons and laundry and a freaking day job. Techniques were what got me through, to where I am. And, I do paint what I see, I'm a realistic illustrator for Christ's sake! I closed my mouth as I started connecting the dots. Deep down I knew he had a point, and it was a damn good one.

EB: Do it again, and only paint what you see.
ME: (A bit deflated) Okay.

Second Submission:  Paint what you see.

It was hard at first as I went through the motions. I set up my pallet and sketched the image onto the paper, his words hanging over my head. I grabbed a new stiff brush, doused it with water and dipped it into my pigment. I studied my image and made the decision where to put my first mark. I drug the brush across the paper. It sucked up the paint as the brush released. Wow, the new brushes WERE wonderful. My anxiety gave way to curiosity. I started to have fun, playing with the colors, not thinking about techniques but what I saw. And, strangely enough even tho there were problems, I could see an improvement. Was it working? I completed the image and sent the file.

EB: Is that what the shadow looked like in the photo?
ME: I was being careful to make the eye...
EB: There's your problem right there. You just called it an eye. Once you do that, you lost it. They're just shapes, you're painting shapes."
EB: Do it again, painting shapes.

Third submission:  Painting Shapes.

I did my best to apply his suggestions. "More pigment, less water, no glazing, just paint [what you see]."

I decided to redraw the image.
Laying in the shadows.

More pigment, less water.
Make every mark count. 

I sent the file.

I smiled a little, but careful not to be overly excited. I hesitated in my response.

Me: So now what?
There was a long pause. I braced myself for the inevitable.
EB: The hands are wrong. The color is off. Do more.
ME: Same thing? Still only three colors?
EB: YUP. You have about 9500 more hours to go.
ME: Same photo?
EB: Same Photo.
ME: The whole thing or just the hands?  
EB: 10,000 hours!

I sent the file and have spent the morning writing and editing this blog waiting for the call. I just got off the phone. I asked him what he thought. 
'Dead on. You nailed it.' 
Me: YES!

I have my new assignment. It seems that the lesson will be in patience. "Okay," he explained, "this time it shouldn't take four tries to get it right."  His word of caution: "You've raised your bar.  I have new expectations."  And the cool thing is, so do I.  

Clock hours logged? I've lost track.


  1. Wow, Kary, this is an amazing post - so inspiring. I am totally in awe of your talent, your honesty and your perseverance. Fantastic picture:) Thanks so much for sharing your journey.


  2. Awesome, Kary! What an amazing learning process.

  3. I appreciate your comments everyone. It's interesting how blogging about the process is enhancing my experience. giving me time to reflect and analyze the process. A bonus I hadn't planned on.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Kary! Your painting went from great to awesome! Hugs - Jana

  5. Thanks for sharing your experiences, your artwork is amazing and your mentor sounds like a great motivator and challenger. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog posts.


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