John Clapp


Children's Books









Voting Results






    When I look at students and try to evaluate their future potential, the most important factor is not something you see in their work, it's only something you can start to evaluate after talking to them for a few minutes or having them in a class.  That factor is their desire to improve, and their capacity for discipline in pursuing that desire.

NO artist is born with the skills they need to succeed in the arts.  There is no such thing as genius.  What makes artists great, or skilled, or average, or insignificant is the amalgam (thanks Courtney :)  of their attitude, intelligence, perseverance, and their applied studies . 

I would bet that every successful artist can recall someone they knew when they were just getting started who was a LOT better than they were, but who never really made it as an artist.  The reason those people didn't make it is they didn't want to do it badly enough, period.  

The flip side of that, is that ANYONE of normal intelligence, and normal physical dexterity CAN learn to be a competent, skilled artist if they want to learn badly enough.  Imagine the analogy of reading: very, very few people cannot be taught to read to some degree.  Some choose not to learn, some have varying degrees of dyslexia, but almost everyone can be taught basic to moderate reading/writing skills. Does this mean that everyone can write like J.D. Salinger, Shakespeare, or Stephen King, absolutely not; but realize that great writers are not remembered because of their grammar.  They're remembered and admired for their ideas, and their skill in communicating those ideas.  The same is true in the visual arts.


Questions & Answers

[...] I read that handout on your web page about bad habits forming.  I've heart a lot about bad habits but never any examples. What bad habits are there, and how do I avoid them?
Nori Moris, Los Angeles, CA.

Regarding your question, off the top of my head, I would say these are the worst "bad" habits:

1.  Being dishonest or lazy in your observations.
By this I mean not drawing or painting with a disciplined mind. When you're working, especially if you're tired or distracted, you'll find yourself drawing or painting what you know about an object (the apple is red) rather than what you're observing. (in THIS LIGHT, the apple appears a dull, grey violet, etc.)  Every art form I know of is rooted in superb, impeccably honest observation.  I see students in my classes look up at the model for 5 seconds, then look down and draw for a couple minutes without looking up again.  These students are drawing what's in their head, not what they're observing.  This is probably the worst bad habit of all.

2.  Relying on a technique or medium for effects, rather than investing the time to learn to draw well.  I'm reading a book right now where the author keeps showing his little "shtick" that he uses to "give the paintings life."  It's the biggest bunch of crap.  His paintings are AWFUL.  He's got his little set of techniques to make the paintings look "artistic".  The ONLY trick that ever works is to observe something well, and draw it as faithfully as you can with the abilities you currently have.  When I see painters using Technique A or Technique B to do something, it makes me think of bad movies with extraneous car chases, hokey plot twists, etc. Tell your story or painting with honesty and you have nothing to worry about.

(For both of the above...think about this.  Think about the last time you saw a really funny stand-up comic.  What was the difference between him and
a lame stand-up comic?  The difference?  He was telling you something truthful that everybody else is afraid to say.  If you can learn to paint what everyone else isn't painting---what you really observe about something---you will be way ahead of the game.)

3.  Allowing your ego to get wrapped up in your work. You can't allow this to happen.  If you do, the following happens:  If you're doing a great piece-you notice it and are afraid of screwing it up. This GUARANTEES you will screw it up!  If you're doing a horrible piece-you get embarrassed and want to stop working on it or throw it away.  Either way you lose. Don't think about the results until AFTER you have finished.  THEN pat yourself on the back/chastise yourself.

4.  The last major bad habit I would say is not practicing every day. To be a good artist you have to practice what you do every day, and practice with discipline.  You will get better in direct proportion to how much you draw/paint/think about art.  It's as simple as that.

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