Practice makes perfect. Having grown up not speaking English I didn’t know this saying. But it resonated when I started to continuously hear it. I felt it meant that someone, anyone, who had put in the time could be good at any task.
Although I didn’t like to practice much as a child, be it when it came to playing the flute, singing, or homework, I still believed the saying to be true. But as a child or adolescent I often didn’t want to put in the practice hours. I was lucky that I didn’t have to work very hard in school in order to get reasonable grades. Often when practising the flute I would be praised during weeks I hadn’t practised at all and scolded in those when I had actually practiced.
All of this didn’t lead to a regular practice routine.
The only thing I did regularly in school was doodling. I liked to draw from an early age and, when I was in my teens, I loved reading manga. That also meant that I loved drawing manga. I liked the medium of telling a story with pictures and abstracted figures, which came naturally to a certain extent, seeing as children regularly use abstracted shapes to represent their environment.
But when I wanted to more accurately represent life, I had some trouble. When I wanted to accurately draw human shapes and facial features, I instinctively reached for the proportions that I had been drawing since I was a child. I had practiced long and hard and was now dreading the amount of time it would take to undo that practice. And I was slightly annoyed.
At university I joined the archery club and it became a passion. My friends, future husband and I were very keen on getting better and were practicing a lot. Many of us practiced more than five days a week, which included strength exercises and actual target practice (it’s a topic I could go on and on about). Not much later, in a training facility in Sweden, someone criticised our unabashedly rigorous training schedule and only years later I realised what the problem was. Through Kendo I was confronted with the following words:
“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.”
It resonated with me and even though that comment didn’t immediately change my established habits, the insight hit its mark. I realised that I had practiced these awkward manga proportions and made them permanent. It has been several years since but I still draw eyes too big and my line work is still occasionally reminiscent of a manga or comic style.
Looking back I also realised that permanence was what made practice unsavoury to me when I was younger. What is the point in making bad habits permanent when there is no one who can help minimise them right from the start? What is the point in practicing drawing in school when there was (to me) insufficient instruction as to how? And years later I realised that I needed to learn to practice only the things that I want to make permanent.
Since then I have learned to look. I will not always draw realistically but, personally, I need to have a good understanding of my subject in order to abstract it skilfully. It will take time to make my current practice permanent and for me to be able to draw people accurately from memory. But I’m working on it.