I don't think its supposed to be easy to be an artist, and I don't want it to be easy. In fact, I think it's supposed to be hard. At least it feels that way to me. I have to work at it.
Im not too concerned with technique for the sake of technique, but I want to have the best vocabulary I can have. And for hundreds of years, artists who want to develop virtuosity have done the same thing- you have to go, as musicians say, to the woodshed.
Painting color charts, for example. I had never done it, though Ive reccommended it to many an art student. Last week I spent 4 days doing them for myself. Time for me to practice what I preach....it was a hell of a lot of work.
The idea here is that you paint all your colors mixed with each other, with the chart color predominant. Then you mix down each mixture to 5 gradations with white from barely tinted till you reach almost white. I used Cad Lemon, Cad yellow pale, cad med. Yellow ochre pale, Cad orange, cad red light, terra rosa, Alizarin Crimson, viridian, cobalt, Ultramarine. And one chart with the colors mixed just with white in 5 gradations of value. So that gives you over 700 really clean colors. And you learn some intersting things.
This is the Cadmium orange chart, the pure color out of the tube upper left corner, mixed with colors (with cad orange predominant) going across to the right ending with Ultramarine Blue. Then going down from the top, each mixture is mixed with white to make 5 gradated values. Then you make a new chart for each color you use.
These are one inch squares taped off and done with a pallette knife.
I did this painting right after I finished my charts in about 20 minutes. Some things happened in this painting that wouldn't have happened if I had not done the charts.
An excellent set of instructions for doing color charts is to be found in Richard Schmid's great book Alla Prima.
Another thing one can do in the way of woodshedding is to do Master studies. Every time I do one, I learn a lot. I need all the jhelp I can get, so why not get some from a amster like Sargent?
You can't do anything with your master studies, but they are a great learning tool. Sometimes you just have to try to push yourself...it doesnt hurt to let someone else give you a push from the past...I did this study in front of a class as a demo.
This stuff is all about technique and color, not about actual story telling or picture-making. Thats something else, and all the virtuosity in the world is meaningless without having something to say. So now I need to try to apply what I am learning to some new work.