On the eve of turning 22,000 days old, I listened to and contemplated an episode of a podcast called "Walking with Dante" during my morning walk around Champions Gate, Florida.
When I got home, I recalled this quote by Benjamin Hardy:
"Deliberate practice is the opposite of 'habits' or 'automaticity.'" (Be Your Future Self Now)
I then tried to have a meaningful conversation with myself journaling in my morning pages about the implications of Dante, the pilgrim's journey through Inferno, and my 'future self' on the artistic journey I recently embarked upon with the New Masters Academy.
In my journaling I discussed a limiting belief I held with regards to working in pencil that I felt was holding me back. I went as far as asking for advice in a forum of the the New Masters Academy and received wonderful advice from a more advanced artist, which I have been implementing in search of the breakthrough I desire.
The result of the conversation I had with myself this morning is the following blog post.
Mindful Creation: Embracing the OODA Loop for Artistic Growth
As an artist deeply invested in both improving my craft and developing a philosophy of art, I've long pondered the essence of what it means to create. I spent years as a strategic planner in the Air Force, embracing creativity to construct courses of action that met important objectives.
Recently, I've been exploring a concept and practice I call 'mindful creation', which harmonizes the principles of deliberate practice with the strategic framework of the OODA loop which I learned and employed as military officer.
The OODA Loop, originally an Air Force fighter pilot concept, stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. It is a continuous cycle that encourages dynamic thinking and adaptability. Imagine it like this: As an artist, you first Observe your subject. Then, you Orient yourself by interpreting what you've observed, connecting it to your tools, techniques, abilities, and the message you want to convey. Next, you Decide on a course of action, perhaps choosing a color, a stroke, or a new perspective. Finally, you Act on this decision, bringing your choice to life on paper or canvas. This loop isn't just a one-time process; it's a repeated cycle as you elaborate your work of art.
This approach has not only transformed my deliberate art practice but also offered me profound insights into the nature of artistic growth.
The Journey from Mindful to Mindless Creation
In the early stages of learning to draw or paint, every stroke of my pen or brush required a decision and a conscious act. This is the heart of what I consider mindful creation – each action is deliberate, each choice is reflective. Applying the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) to these initial stages means treating every stroke as a learning opportunity, a moment to grow, a moment to deliberately express myself.
But here's the intriguing part: as my skills have developed, these basic actions, once the focus of intense and often debilitating, concentration, began to shift. They have become more automatic, a sort of 'mindless creation', but not in the way you might think. It isn't about losing engagement with the work; it's the opposite. It's the development of skill into second nature, allowing me to direct my focus or OODA Loop toward more complex aspects of making art.
Evolving the Focus of Deliberate Practice
As these foundational skills become embedded in my muscle memory, the OODA loop begins to apply to higher aspects of my art-making. I'm no longer just observing and orienting around each pen mark, but around the composition as a whole, the point of view, focus, perspective, the interplay of light and shadow, the texture, and the emotion it evokes. The mantra I've adopted from Liz Steel's Sketching Now courses, "feeling edges, abstracting shapes, and constructing volumes," now guides my OODA loop process.
I now mindfully recognize the uniqueness each step and stage that is becoming my artist's journey. My path may very well be a never-ending cycle of growth that if embraced leads to new mastery which opens up opportunities for new growth. As I master one element, new challenges and learning opportunities emerge, requiring a return to mindful, deliberate practice.
Reflections from Literature and Philosophy
My approach to art is deeply influenced by insights from Stoic philosophy. I will reserve that discussion for another post. But other pieces of literature are informing my journey like walking with Dante this morning, specifically contemplating aspects of Canto 10 of Inferno.
Dante’s journey is marked by moments of stagnation, new conversations, new realizations, and then moving on, changed by the experience. To me Dante, the pilgrim, is on a path that seems to mirror the artist's path I find I'm walking.
We often face a choice between growth and stasis, between continuing our journey or remaining where we are, between counting the hours mindlessly or reengaging with deliberate mindful practice, and like Dante reengaging our humanity.
In art, as in life, choosing growth means embracing change and continuous learning, making mistakes, forgiving ourselves, and correcting or stasis. All of the dark limiting beliefs that we overcome with effort leading to epiphanies, breakthroughs and awe inspiring experiences, well that is what I regard as reengaging or embracing my humanity. I used to say, "To be green is to continue growing, because we're ripe, we rot." I guess I might be trying to say that I know that I'm alive and kicking, because I'm still struggling for the next breakthrough.
Art, for me, is not a process to reach a static state of being and artist; it's a dynamic process of becoming something new and different from what I was before, what I was just yesterday, when I dated myself as Lance v21.998.
My philosophy of mindful creation, underpinned by the OODA loop, is more than a practice – it's a reflection of the effective way I'm trying to live life itself. I believe there is an art to living the good life I seek.
In the art I make, I find a microcosm of my life's journey. a canvas where I play out my battles, failures, victories, and seek continuous evolution. And in this journey, each stroke, each decision, becomes a part of my greater story, a testament to my never-ending quest to grow, to create, and to become more of myself, every day.
¡Viva la Meseta!