There are three things I focus on in my work and what I wish to pass along to my students:
1. Looking carefully, to really see.
2. Quieting the mind and stopping automatic labeling and self-criticism.
3. Developing skill in the techniques of drawing and painting.
First, we have to realize that we rarely look carefully enough at our surroundings to really SEE what is in front of us. If we accept that idea, we can allow our minds to open to the limitless impressions of our environment.
Second, as we begin to look carefully, we have to let go of what we believe we see. Our minds are so conditioned to thinking in symbols that we can actually confuse the object in front of us with the idea of the object. We also have to let go of self-criticism and doubt - be courageous - and remember that the process of observation, both inner and outer, is the point of the exercise - not the finished product. Process first, products will follow.
Third, practicing observation with a quiet, open mind is the most important skill, then follows the technical aspects of creating art - composition, materials handling, etc.