How it only takes 20 hours to get good at painting.

Have you ever heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at something?

Did that leave you feeling like you didn’t have the time to get good at anything?

I’d love to share a brilliant TED talk by author Josh Kaufman.

In it he explains that the ’10,000 hours’ thing, which came from research done by Anders Ericsson was actually the amount of time it seemed to take to get to the absolute top of an ultra competitive field.

It’s since been widely publicised mainly by Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’, but also used right out of context so that it’s often now used to describe how long it takes to learn something.

But this is plain wrong.

10,000 hours is the equivalent of working a full time job for 5 years at something.

But you’ll know this from your own experience that you’ve learned things in far less time.

And Kaufman works out that in just 20 hours of practice, you can become GOOD at a new skill.

There are a couple of caveats.

You need to be able to deconstruct the skill, so you can practice the most important parts of the skill first.

You need the right tools.

You need to be in a position to self-correct as you practice, which usually comes from some kind of instruction, at least initially.

So the practice has to be structured so you don’t keep repeating the same mistakes.

But if you do those hours, you will get through that super frustrating stage where you feel uncomfortable and, as Kaufman puts it, ‘stupid’, and start to get good!

It’s hugely inspiring because scheduling in 20 hours of structured practice time is something totally achievable, taking at worst only a few months if the practice is regular.

And there’s also a really fun bit at the end so stick with it!

So I wanted to share this talk to remind you that it IS within your reach to improve your skills and even develop them from scratch.

I firmly believe that if you have the desire to want to paint, then you can do it.

Just get a plan together to structure your practice, SCHEDULE in those 20 hours and then makes sure you put those hours in.

It’s do-able!

So, let me know in the comments below how you’re going to take action and block in those 20 hours.

Happy painting,

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  1. Bill on January 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Do you really expect us to believe we could be “good” in twenty hours, all on our own? I don’t get the cliff hanger? I little advise and perhaps a roadmap?


    • Erin on January 24, 2016 at 5:56 am

      Start the video around 8 minutes in. He’s basically saying you can pick up the essential fundamentals at the start of the learning curve, he shows it by playing an instrument he spent 20 hours learning.

  2. Rose on January 21, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    Loved this! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Gayle on January 21, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks Anna, as of now I have completed about 10 hours of drawing practice,and have become pretty good:-)
    Looking forward to the next 10!

  4. Glen Neilson on January 21, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    I am new to watercolour and I joined The School a few days ago. NOW I will accept the challenge. The idea ‘grabs’ me and makes me want to give it a go. I have scheduled in 20 actual painting hours over the next 5 days. Wish me well.



    I will schedule in 20 hours of ACTUAL painting time. I know I will not produce an AM masterpiece but I will try.

  5. Sue Betanzos on January 21, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    This is perfect timing to listen to.
    I am instructing another beginning session and will use the lecture to encourage students. Especially those who want more confidence. Me saying how “easy it is” to learn the media is not as good as the way this person explains it! Thanks again for sharing this – I also love TED. And German (like spanish) is much easier to learn than many other languages. I took it a few years in college and still remember a lot. 🙂

  6. Vicki on January 21, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Great share! Thank you, Anna!

  7. Greg on January 21, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Hi Anna … Thanks for sharing. This 20 minute video is informative and is a must watch for people starting something new.

  8. Rita Zimmerman on January 21, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Thank you Anna for sharing this, it was really helpful and encouraging!!!
    I have been putting off putting paint to paper as I didn’t have all of the proper paints, brushes etc.
    This encourages me to just get started and the rest will come.
    God Bless you for helping the rest of us learn this beautiful skill Anna!

  9. Janice on January 21, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you so much for sending this out… is HOPE in a TED talk. One that not only makes a lot of sense but also answers many questions I had about my difficulty learning.

  10. Judy Dawson on January 21, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Great speech!

  11. Carole Jurack on January 21, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Hi, Anna …Thanks for posting this very motivating piece. I have not kept track, but I started taking on-line art courses (still am) a couple of years ago (including yours) and in looking back I can’t tell you how many times I had do-overs and a build-up of trash in the bin, but then all of a sudden when I wasn’t looking I started to get better, had fewer throw-aways, had more fun and was more and more pleased with my outcomes. Don’t know when it happened (hour wise) but it happened and I am still enjoying my lessons and my outcomes!

    • Phil Baldwin (Team Anna Mason Art) on January 22, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      It’s important to look back and have a review sometimes Carole, as the little improvements are subtle and really add up over time – but we often can’t see them until we compare later work to earlier work!

  12. Maribo on January 21, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    20 hours later, my progress is evident but i’ll still take 20 hours before you show my french masterpieces !!!

  13. Wendy on January 21, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    What a great and entertaining presentation…!! Saying that the barrier to learning something new is emotional is so true……
    my New Years resolution was to draw something every day…..not because I can’t draw but because I want to improve my ability…so in that instance I’m working on my 10,000 !!
    Thank you so very much for sharing this !

  14. Jainice on January 21, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing – I love TED talks

  15. Andrea on January 21, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks for the info. I will give it a try. I dislike doing new things alone but will have to if I want to see if it works. Good luck with German. I will start with your free class. Thank you for that. (It’s only been months since I received it)

    • Phil Baldwin (Team Anna Mason Art) on January 22, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Haha, thanks Andrea, and schedule in a slot for that free class ASAP!

  16. Judy on January 21, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    Oh, I believe it! This is wonderful motivation!

  17. Tanya on January 22, 2016 at 12:24 am

    This soooo resonated with me. I KNOW i procrastinate… I put barriers there all the time and need to really get motivated to practice. ( make myself do ALL the jobs I have to do: washing cleaning, garden chores, I answer emails, check facebook… the list is endless. My barrier is fear…. fear of failing, fear of wasting my expensive resources…fear of not being good enough, so I hoard the supplies, buy books on the subject, check tutorials etc etc…. and keep ‘wishing’ I was good at it….. I know what I’m doing and I know i need to make a commitment to continue on and to DO things I cant do so I can learn by those inevitable failures and get better. I turn out some ok stuff, but there is always something I know i could have done better. I have realised that without practice I cannot EVER be great at it. So…. Here I will start – committ certain time and remove the barriers. Procrastination, ‘busy’ work, overcome the fear.

    • Barbara Kay on January 22, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Great comment, Tanya. I could have written your exact words. I’m going to make a plan, and stick to it !!

    • Phil Baldwin (Team Anna Mason Art) on January 22, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Go for it Tanya!

    • Gin on May 21, 2016 at 2:36 am

      Tanya it sounded like you were speaking for me. I feel exactly the same way as you do.Lets erase the “fear”

  18. Robin on January 22, 2016 at 2:20 am

    I love your cheerfulness Anna. That’s always the best frame of mind to learn new things. I decided when I was 7 I wanted to speak French really well. Majored in French in college , lived in Switzerland, have a near-native accent. Just sheer willpower really. To learn a language best, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. I teach quilting and when students fuss about mistakes I just tell them “it’s the best you could do with what you knew at the time”. Then move on to your next quilt and meanwhile enjoy the process and the joy you take in doing it. My grandma always said, on a galloping horse, (who would see any small mistakes…..)

    • Phil Baldwin (Team Anna Mason Art) on January 22, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      Love this Robin, thanks for sharing!

  19. Soledad on January 22, 2016 at 3:56 am

    Anna, thanks a lot!!!! I feel that way I never want with watercolor and I buy the bad brand or not too good brand, so I feel I never can wait nearly good, and give around the paint but don’t paint.
    Now I look it different, so you will see soon my works, maybe not so good but I will spend my 20 hours

  20. Usha on January 22, 2016 at 4:02 am

    Thank you Anna ,, you are in inspiration , I am in my youthful 70 and have been learning water color for last 5 years and love it ‘, thank you for your u tube blogs .

  21. Sue on January 22, 2016 at 4:17 am

    Thanks Anna, I always need the encouragement that is doable. 20 hours is and so I will set up do accomplish that.
    I have set Mondays aside to work most of the day on painting. I’ll also practise a few nights and try to add more on the weekend. Thanks again love you encouraging words.

  22. Natalia on January 22, 2016 at 7:03 am

    Hi Anna,

    I truly believe is achievable. thanks for share!

  23. Sandie Key on January 22, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Anna, thank you for the encouraging words! I paint just about every day and have for years. I also teach watercolors in my studio. I have a great passion for painting and am in my second year as a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists. I have found a new passion with botanical illustrating and painting. You are such a good artist and when I get time I will take some of your classes. I enjoy hearing from you!
    Sandie Key

  24. Sherry on January 22, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Hi Anna, What a positive message for ano WET, GREY day! My table is set up in my new study and I,m determined to make 2016 the year I begin again and not stop from now on. Hope to attend more of your classes too. Love the direction your work is going., well done and keep on inspiring we lesser mortals!Sherry

  25. Saswati Chakraborty on January 22, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Hello Anna, A big thanks for this wonderful video. I completely agree with the instructions and I do believe that to learn, it is imperative to practice, sort and schedule the tasks. I consider myself as an amateur artist however, I never get frustrated when some of my paintings are not always up to the mark. I do remember that most great painters have reached their success after many ups and downs. Procrastinatiion and emotions are two common barriers which often hinder the artists. However, each artists should remember that the joy of creativity will elevate their emotional state of mind….be it painting or studies, I always feel, there are no shortcuts to success and if you have perseverance, 20 hours will be sufficient to learn a trick…..thanks once again..Best Regards Saswati

  26. Jo taylor on January 22, 2016 at 9:59 am

    After watching this I passed it on to my daughters who are preparing for GCSE and A levels . I thought it was very inspiring .
    I am also going to try this !

  27. Maxine on January 22, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Thank you Anna for sharing!

  28. Danilo on January 22, 2016 at 10:21 am

    well, I startedpainting from the base, about 4 years ago, but I think it took more tan 20 hours to get acceptable as watercolour painting, of course I will need more time to become better and better

  29. Lee Schmelzle on January 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Anna, You are so right about the 20 hours. I have learned watercolor, pastel and colored pencils by just trying hard and practice. I have wanted to join your online class for some time. My only fear is that I won’t have the computer skills to follow the instructions. If you have help for someone like me I’ll join and become your most enthusiastic student. Lee

    • Caroline (team Anna Mason Art) on January 22, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      Hi Lee – there is always support for you, I’m here at the end of an email and the tutorials are very easy to follow. Why don’t you try Anna’s free class and see how you get on? Caroline

  30. Anton Bradburn on January 22, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    What a brilliant, inspiring and motivating talk Anna. I don’t normally post comments, but this really made me want to. I’ve been trying to change my painting technique to using dry brush only. A number of great artists used and are using this technique. But there’s not much information out there on the Web about it. Mostly artists want to talk about and demonstrate wet on wet techniques. I’ve been trying to teach myself dry on dry and have become a little discouraged as the results are not what I was hoping for. Kauffman’s TED talk has energised me to keep going. Thanks so much for lletting us know about his presemtation.

  31. Bernie on January 23, 2016 at 4:24 am

    That was quite inspiring and really interesting! I have a few ideas I will apply this to and see what happens! The emotional block is so true, it just takes realization to move past it and this was the eye opener for doing just that! Thanks Anna!

  32. Anne Bradley on January 23, 2016 at 7:22 am

    Hi Anna: Very much appreciated Josh Kaufman’s TED talk. I am in my late 60’s and felt that it would take FOREVER to become a good botanical artist. I have been picking away at starting/quitting for years and have given up so many times. I now feel that there is hope for me if I persevere and put in at least 20 hours. And I do believe that my barrier is emotional. I am afraid to fail. If I fail I will disappoint not only myself, but my family and friends so I quit before I fail. I have the smarts, I don’t have the motivation because of fear of failure. So you have no idea how much I enjoyed Mr. Kaufman’s lecture this evening. I feel so much more free and feel that my quest to be a good botanical artist is attainable. I just need to “keep on keeping on”…….

    Thank you for posting these TED talks. I find them to be invaluable.

  33. Eunice Moss on January 23, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks Anna that was inspirational. I have signed up on Duolingo to learn Spanish and I’m on day three of the programme.

  34. Mary Maijer on January 23, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing this – Love it. I have read the book by Malcolm Gladwell and appreciate this perspective that you don’t need to strive to be the top of an ultra competitive field – you can be good or very good. There is probably no ‘ULTRA’ artist. No one is keeping score on artists like on athletes to quantify what is ‘good’ or ‘great’ – with art its in the eye of the beholder.

  35. Judith Silverstein on January 23, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    I noticed in your sample drawing class of the pear, that the skill of drawing the object is only briefly addressed. It seems to me we would need to have a firm foundation in drawing the objects prior to painting. I am wondering if you offer those skills in a class prior to the painting? Thanks!

    • Phil Baldwin (Team Anna Mason Art) on January 25, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      The drawing technique is covered as a study in the knowledge base section of the School site that shows how it is done. Also every tutorial comes with a line drawing to help with this stage of the process.

  36. Steve Singleton on January 25, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I concur on the 20 hour hypothesis (plus or minus a few here and there). I started painting late last summer and have taken a couple of ‘short’ classes, read a number of books and watched a number of videos on sites like yours. My family and friends can definitely see improvement.

    Rate of learning does vary by individual. Some are better at visualizing written instruction or videos. I, on the other hand, am better at having someone show me a technique in person, then I demonstrate the ability. It allows me to ask questions which makes the learning process go quicker.

  37. Anahy Britto on February 3, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Thank you Anna! Very good!

  38. Susan on February 7, 2016 at 9:21 am

    Hi Anna
    Thanks for sharing this it was very inspirational. Looking forward in a few weeks to be the piano playing, Italian speaking, singing watercolourist I always dreamed of! Seriously though we do procrastinate and put up emotional barriers so I’m hoping a few of these obstacles have been removed from this insight into learning. Here’s to picking up the paintbrush and putting aside the chores!

  39. Meredith Childress on March 11, 2016 at 6:00 am

    Thank you so much for this stirring video! I think 20 hours is doable too. To gain so much in that short time is totally worth it. Sometimes I forget that putting in time toward such rewarding results is a necessary part of the process. I am so thankful to have access to such wonderful lessons.

  40. Marianne on May 19, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I think it’s time to start the free lessons and pick up my brushes…
    I suppose it’s the same as with card making: if something doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, you have to remember it’s only a piece of paper you are discarding (or maybe not, because it’s good to look back once in a while and see how far you’ve come).

  41. house painters Auckland on July 4, 2016 at 7:57 am

    I have seen people struggling and it takes them years to be a professional painter and you have just explained everything in 20 hours. I understand your thoughts but I think it is practically impossible to become professional in just 20 hours.

    • Anna Mason on July 4, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      I wasn’t suggesting they would be professional in that time (if professional = earning a living at it), just that you can become ‘good’.

  42. Elizabeth (Beth) Beveridge` on April 12, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Wow, Anna. Thanks for pointing to this Ted Talk. It sure is reassuring, and motivating!

  43. Shawna Travis on April 21, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing, Anna. Very encouraging and entertaining!!

  44. Pamela Goodyear on April 22, 2017 at 12:59 am

    Great TED talk and so very encouraging to know. Thank you Anna….on my way to complete more hours doing what I love, painting and learning.

  45. Carole Anne Watson on May 17, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Wonderful, uplifting stuff! I am now going to practice my painting skills for one hour a day for the next twenty days…

  46. Suzette Gregoire on May 27, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    So true!!!!! I have done several things in my life and none of them took 10,000 hours…. it’s more like 20. I also loved the four things you have to do to become good at anything. This is inspirational. Thank you for sharing Anna! Now I’m getting back to painting!

  47. ODA on September 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    This is so greatly said… and what is more important that if you overcome this initial emotional barrier and achieving some results in the limited timeframe (like 20 hours…) you will amaze your-self with what you can do… this is so encouraging. Thank you for sharing this, Anna.

  48. Dgpayne67 on November 9, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for the video. I like his comment that the barrier to learning is not intellectual it’s emotional. True for me anyway

    • Anna Mason on November 13, 2017 at 9:01 am

      And for so many!

  49. Vaden on November 9, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you so much for this encouraging presentation. I will be lucky to eke out 1 hour of painting time a day, however, at the end of 20 days, I hope to make a good mark of progress.

    • Anna Mason on November 13, 2017 at 9:01 am

      That’s the way to do it Vaden!

  50. Louise McKellar on January 10, 2018 at 10:47 am

    I loved that video. I started painting last January and I am 71 years young. I practice every day and to date I have sold ten (10) paintings. So practice every day is my motto.

  51. Artee on January 24, 2018 at 12:36 am

    Love TedX talks and have seen this one before. A timely reminder to invest emotionally in practice time

  52. Rhonda Degarmo on February 27, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Loved the video. Such inspiration and now I am going to schedule the 20 hours in the evening instead of watching mindless TV. I am going to invest in myself. Thanks for the inspiration.

  53. Tech Genie on April 21, 2018 at 3:42 am

    OMG. A few years ago I decided I wanted to get rid of the idea in my mind that I was not musical or artistic. Thought about it a bit and chose playing the ukulele and silk painting. I was a total newby at both and have had SO much fun. I recently decided that learning to paint with watercolor would greatly support my silk painting skills. And here I am….2 tutorials later. I know it is true we can learn anything if we put in the time and break down the skills. Hooray for Anna and her classes. So glad I found you.

  54. joanie on June 15, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    I am a new student of y0ur school. I loved the video. The best part for me was his notation that, “The major barrier to skill acquisition isn’t intellectual…its emotional.”
    This is exactly right for me. I keep putting off the doing by buying books and supplies, so afraid I won’t be perfect; that what I’ve waited a very long time to do — draw and paint — I wouldn’t like, wouldn’t be able to do, wouldn’t be good enough. I’m not saying this one video will solve everything, but I can say it has helped me move forward. Good job Anna Mason. Joanie

  55. Alexis on November 17, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Ok. So I’m trying to be a painter and I’ve done exercises, looked at books like the elements of color and I’m wondering how do you break these things down? How do you even know what to break down?. Moreso, I’ve been drawing a lot. How do you break these things down? I’ve been told “just keep on drawing” but is there a faster way? How do you break down something that has been traditionally and literally hard work?

    • Anna Mason on November 19, 2018 at 9:35 am

      Have you tried my free class Alexis? I try to break the painting process down in that.

  56. Linda P on January 21, 2019 at 12:41 am

    I knew about the 10,000 hours needed to master a skill and Josh Kaufman is so right we confused this with just learning a new skill.
    1. Deconstruct the Skill:
    Thank you, Anna, for your self-less and invaluable giving in teaching us your skill of painting realistic watercolor. You actually helped us to deconstruct this skill. Thank you for allowing us a shortcut through what could’ve been endless hours of frustration learning how to paint in this technique and skill. You actually helped us to break apart the skill in simple steps. I didn’t see them at first because I was trying to just go along and paint as you painted and taught. The key was for me to step back and watch how you did it first then begin to paint on the second round. It helped me to actually see what I was missing as I was painting on the first go around. Instead of giving up, I watched it, without painting and learned key steps, it made it so much simpler. Thank you.

    2. Learn Enough to self-correct.
    Thank you for teaching us to the point where we can learn enough to launch us off in the direction of learning enough to self-correct. As our eye is trained with practice, I know we can all learn more and more and be content with our outcome and progress, no matter how slow or fast.

    3. Remove Practice Barriers.
    Instead of binge watching shows, watching too many movies or surfing the internet online…imagine where we can go with that time! 🙂 As a divorced parent and the demands of raising children and life, sometimes I want to tell myself that, well, I deserve this and because of fear I just settle for doing these types of things.

    4. Practice at Least 20 Hours.
    The major barrier to skill acquisition isn’t intellectual… it’s emotional.
    I admit, I do feel Grossly Incompetent at learning this skill. So true are the feelings of being scared and feeling stupid at learning something new or even revisiting a failed attempt at learning something new and how those feelings do not feel good in the beginning. Let’s just all own those feelings and overcome them together.

    I loved the Ukulele piece 🙂

  57. Cathleen on July 27, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    I loved that TED Talk. I”m so glad you shared this and I’m so glad I saw it. Oh, and now I HAVE TO learn the Ukulele, (having just moved away from Hawaii). Watercolor & the Uke–it’s Kismet being here! Thank you, Anna Mason!

  58. Fredric Jameson on March 25, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    I am really impressed with you for the selection of new and unique topics. Yes, Its a great pleasure reading your post. You have shared excellent experience in this article and like you are reading my artist mind and answering my questions. Really enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading these kinds of excellent articles. Being an artist & painter myself and trying to adopt these blog techniques in my gallery. I too have similar content, Don’t miss the chance to check out IndianArtZone . Again, Thanks for sharing this wonderful blog. Keep posting!!.

  59. Lynn King on June 7, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    This was encouraging. Loved it. Thanks.

  60. Jamie on August 14, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    This was really encouraging. Thank you for sharing, Anna. I am a single mom, self-employed with an autistic 7 year old, so I have a lot of responsibilities, but I am confident that even I can carve out 20 hours! I joined your school last week, and I am working on the first tutorial, the pear. I ordered your brushes too, they are on the way. I am so excited! Thank you for being so willing to share your skills and passion with the rest of us <3

    • Anna Mason on August 20, 2020 at 11:34 am

      I’m so pleased you’re squeezing in a bit of me-time Jamie – it’s hard, but it’s SO important. With my 1 year old and 3 year old right now, I speak from experience too!

  61. JB Collingsworth on June 13, 2022 at 9:33 pm

    Great presentation. I agree. It took me about 20 to learn to paint prior to seeing this. Just keep it up! Thanks John!

  62. Brian on January 9, 2024 at 8:13 pm

    I am so ready to book those 20 hours. I don’t expect to be great I just want to be good.

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