Whenever I'm frustrated that a drawing or painting I'm working on isn't working out, and this happens daily, I walk away from my drawing board/canvas/wacom tablet for a bit, and play with the cats or stare out the window at all those people going about their lives down below. Coming back to the work in progress the problem is usually immediately apparent, and I've noted how often it's all about some basic issue that was covered in the first week of my first art class all those years ago.
Charcoal and chalk on brown paper
With this in my mind, I offer what I carefully inscribed in the notebook I just came across for my first drawing class, taught by Wayne Thiebaud, at the University of California, Davis, in 1981, when the world was young:
"You don't do a drawing or painting in a linear way, from start to finish - you have an idea and you make decisions and then you make adjustments along the way. It will only look right at the end, after you've discovered what 'right' means for this particular drawing.
You're either defining the shadow or the light source
Either the warm or the cool
Soft edges of shadow as light moves over a rounded form - change of value when there's a change of plane - cast shadows have hard edges
Don't be seduced by cast shadows or reflected light - work them into the whole - use them to the degree they help describe the form
You're reporting, discovering, sharing, making your ideas and responses clear. Draw with generosity."
I don't think I've read from this notebook since I wrote in it over 27 years ago, and it seems amazing that it's silently made all my moves from California to New York and from apartment to apartment with me. Now I think I should have it beside my drawing table so I can consult daily. You could simplify a lot of lessons in art down to the sentence "Draw with generosity."