Shock to the System

Jason Statham Erik by Daniel Maidman, drawing
Am I built like Jason Statham? Hell no! But a parallel approach to art
practice has helped me when I make pictures of guys who are.

I find it useful to phrase the ongoing practice of painting and drawing in exercise metaphors. Whatever your daily practice (life-study drawings, still life painting, color studies, multi-hour drawings, short croakies), you can think of these exercises as your training. The more ambitious free-standing art that you make to express an inspiration, to show to others—that’s like the public athletic events that your training prepares you for.

Metaphors are useful to the extent that insights into one side of the metaphor provide insights into the other. Let’s consider actor Jason Statham, who was not once cast as a character named Handsome Rob by accident.

Jason Statham, a former Olympic diver, is a famously hard-exercising man. But he does not have “gym body”—that kind of smooth, perfected physique that comes from obsessive workouts. Rather, he has a functional anatomy: strong, irregular, and clearly useful rather than decorative. How does he do it?

Here’s part of an interview from a 2007 article in Men’s Health:

“I haven’t had one single day in 6 weeks that has been a repeat. Every single day has had a different combination of exercises. Obviously, you repeat exercises over the course of 6 weeks, but you’ll never do that workout you did on Thursday, the 23rd of August, again. It always changes, and that’s what keeps it so interesting.”

That kind of variation shocks the muscles. It prevents them from settling into a routine. It keeps the workout hard. And it is a useful principle for us as artists as well. How do we bring inspiration and variation to our everyday art exercises? How do we shock our system to maximize the rewards of our art exercises?

Repetition is important, terribly important, to practicing art, just as one practices the same piece again and again on piano. But variation is important too. Over the next few posts, I’ll describe a few of the strategies I’ve used lately to shock my system. Feel free at any time to share your own experiences with repetition, variation, and the rewards of practice.



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Daniel Maidman

About Daniel Maidman

Daniel Maidman was born in Toronto, Canada. He was raised in Toronto, Jerusalem, Washington, and Chicago.

Since attending college in North Carolina and Texas, Daniel Maidman has lived in Los Angeles and New York City. In Los Angeles, he set himself on a program to learn how to draw and paint the human figure. He attended life drawing workshops 2-3 times a week for eight years. As well, he spent two years working on an anatomical atlas based on human cadaver dissections in which he participated at Santa Monica College, under the guidance of Dr. Margarita Dell. Illustrations from his atlas are currently in use in the United States Army’s forensic field manual.

Since moving to New York, Daniel Maidman has sped up his painting schedule, while continuing to maintain his drawing skills through life drawing workshops at Spring Street Studio. Although he remains primarily self-taught, he has learned a good deal about color from conversations with Adam Miller.

Daniel Maidman’s other interests include filmmaking and writing.



3 thoughts on “Shock to the System

  1. I agree. Nothing is worse like being in a rut and doing the same thing to try to get out. It’s like spinning your wheels when stuck in a ditch. Eventually, you need to push the car in order to get out – try a new approach.

  2. I absolutely concur! After a long period of no drawing (years and years) I have recently returned to my pencils and sketchbooks and have become obsessed! I draw every day and am delighted to see improvement EVERY day. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say “practice makes perfect”, practice certainly does improve my drawing. Some days I may draw for up to 2 hours, other days it may be just a quick 2 minute grab, however I am now determined to ensure that I get my hand moving every day.
    I’m not sure if I will ever be able to call myself an artist, however it is a great stress reliever (particularly after work!!!)
    Thank you for your inspiration

  3. Kat – I’m with ya! I’m going to write a few more posts on strategies for unditching the car…

    K – I’m so glad you’ve come back to art and that you’re enjoying it. It sounds like you’re going to show a lot of the kind of outward improvement – not the personal satisfaction, but the kind people who aren’t already your friends notice – at the rate you’re going. I hope it continues to be rewarding for you!