By teaching, we learn.

Every painter has their strengths and weaknesses, artistically. One artist might have a superb brushwork but struggle to match colors. Another painter might paint stunning large work, yet overwhelm small canvases. Part of growing as an artist is recognizing the things you need to improve.

My weakness, (or one of them!) has always been draftsmanship. In my time, I have observed artists with a golden hand who draw accurately every time. Having been around a lot of painters, I can tell you that most artists, including myself, cannot do this. The majority of us fake good drawing with liberal use of the eraser.

Docendo discimus
By teaching, we learn
—Seneca

When I first started painting, I quickly drew the background image and start painting with gusto. About halfway through each painting, I would step back and see that my shape was flawed. Being a newbie, I tried to fix just one or two lines. Inevitably, I found myself repainting the entire canvas.  

To be a better painter, I had to learn not to lie to myself. Many times, I knew one part of the drawing was off, but I didn’t want to face the truth that if one line was wrong, they were all wrong! In both life and art, it takes time to learn that starting over is better than pretending something is good when its not.

For a long time, I assumed I would never attain true mastery of drawing. Then, about three years ago, I started teaching art to elementary school students. My only goal was to help kids be creative. I had no expectation that teaching kindergarteners to draw butterflies would have an impact on my own work. However, after leading guided drawings for several years, mysteriously, my own drawing improved. I found myself able to draw fast and accurately! In fact, I learned to draw so fast that the most constant refrain in my zoom class is “Slow down, Miss Sherrod!” 

So, artists, my advice to you is take any opportunity to teach, especially to children. Most artists are just big children, after all, so you should feel right at home. No matter who you are teaching, you will find your own work affected in a subtle way. One day you will simply be better, without knowing why. When you are painting with your newfound skills, you can silently thank your students.

Drawing The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

Drawing "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" with elementary school students.