The Key to Success

Defining success is the first step towards obtaining success. Success is a different notion to different people and will have wildly different outcomes, both materially and psychologically, not to mention emotionally, mentally, and spiritually (although I suppose I just mentioned them).

But that’s really not the thrust of this blog post. The thing I happened upon recently that I think will help the average artist the most is the concept of contentment with oneself. Life is a kind of striving, so therefore, the life of an artist will mirror that desire for progression. And progress is often a great thing, especially when applied to ability, awareness, knowledge, and wisdom. I’m not advocating against it by prescribing contentment.

I imagine a young artist, perhaps newly appreciating the world of professional art. There are a sea of influences and voices surrounding them, drawing them in with their beauty and craft. The young artist might be burdened by the onslaught and wonder of it all and consider how they will ever join that sea or even crest any of the waves. It’s a daunting thought that most artists have had at some time, occurring alongside ideas of developing a unique style or having an original thought.

This young artist may latch onto someone more established or famous, considering their work to be their greatest influence, the kind that resonates the most with their young soul. So they strive and strive to reach the same heights. They learn all of the correct techniques. They study each masterwork. They make incredible progress.

Yet they are not that other artist. Nor will they ever be that artist. When sat down at the same subject, with the same tools and abilities, the same techniques, and the same objective, the established artist and the young artist would not create the same piece, simply because they are different people. A drummer who can play with exact precision every John Bonham pattern and rhythm and who understands to their very depths Bonham’s every intention behind the creation of those patterns would still never improvise and create the same way that Bonham would, if given the same crack at the same song, simply because they are a different person.

This was the revelation I had. And it delivered me from pressures that I wasn’t even aware of. I could stop comparing myself to my heroes and simply paint what I liked, content. I could stop taking myself so seriously and simply paint scenes that I enjoyed, content. Contentment could reside in a heart that still seeks knowledge, wisdom, and ability because it has realized that creativity isn’t always a competition, but is more often enjoyed and made enjoyable as a celebration.

I think that is the key to success. Understanding that you are an individual with your own set of standards and practices will enable you to not only define success for yourself (please be wise in this defining process and give as much thought to the implications of different forms of success), but also to throw off the burden of expectations and comparisons in favor of contentment and joy.

Art vs Me

At a young age it was clear that I had abilities to draw and color that I had either quickly developed or was gifted with (perhaps a blog should be done in regards to the idea of talent – lots of differing opinions on that). I could observe an object or a picture and do a relatively accurate representation of it through contour, with some crayons, markers, or pencils. At some point, I introduced a method of describing tone contained within the line shapes. I continued to advance to a method that also employed blending, based on my mother’s advice. In a fairly short amount of time I developed a strong ability to do representational drawing, complete with light and shadow, hard and soft edges, and proper proportions and perspective, with enough accuracy and insight to do recognizable likenesses.

In many ways this observational ability and the coordination to put it on paper has served me well and given me the basic building blocks of visual art’s grammar. I still use these lessons in my art today. With enough time between drawings I can get a little rusty, but with a bit of warming up, I’m able to get back into the swing of my abilities. It shows that with enough practice and knowledge, a person can acquire deep-seated instincts.

One thing I didn’t learn or practice much as a growing artist was artistic expression or elements that go into it, such as shape language, color theory, or compositional techniques. Much of that I learned in college and have been attempting to implement in different ways. I like to think of these expressive elements as having a greater deal of power in the atmosphere or mood of a painting or drawing than whether or not something is depicted realistically.

It’s an ongoing challenge for me to blend my intrinsic and basic abilities in art with the more abstract and personal expressive qualities that I want to employ to set my art apart from others and reflect my purposes and vision. In many ways I’m creating my own visual language using commonly recognizable scenes and objects. A good illustration of this is to see the difference between Cezanne’s portrayal of apples and Van Gogh’s own depictions. Two great artists painting with observational intelligence yet with diverging methods, resulting in windows for the viewer into the creative minds of the respective artists.

Perhaps style and artistic choice is a matter of simple fact and natural development. Perhaps any two artists would paint the same scene differently, even if they desired to paint with every intention being identical. I just know that I don’t want my artwork to resemble the hundreds of other artists who do landscape paintings. So, the question to myself is, “How?”

I’m in the process of learning the answer. In the same way that a math student needs to show that they understand the process by which they obtain their solution by showing their work, so I must continue going through the processes of creation and problem-solving in order to reach the conclusions that will help me create and discover ways of communicating visually. At the end of the day, I desire simplicity. For all of the hypothetical and rhetorical musings, the real growth and benefit is found in the basics. Those same basics that I learned without setting up definitions, without spelunking into my inner thoughts and understandings, without eating my own tail, but instead found through joyful working. Discovery was discovered, focus was received not forced, and building blocks combined and stacked without a preliminary design.

The importance of joyful work lies in its generosity to our senses, understanding, and abilities.

Mr. Consistent

Yes, learning new techniques is hard.
Also, learning new materials.
And, of course, communicating via blogs and promotions.
Then there’s upkeep of the website, improvement of artistic skills, commission work, personal work, and home life.
Lots of stuff to balance and contribute time to.

But, I’ll tell you what – consistency might be my biggest struggle.

The important thing about consistency is that it’s also probably my biggest ally.

When I’m consistent, I’m always making forward progress, but I’m also living in the moment. I’ve planned my time in order to utilize it well and when I’ve utilized it, I’ve made forward progress. Then I can go on to something else, without feeling overwhelmed by the burden of having to accomplish things, since I’ve already put the work in.

Think about your last month. Maybe you’ve eaten poorly and not given your body much exercise. This might make you feel bad about yourself or depressed. You might even feel like you need to start working out and eating better, immediately, with as much effort as possible. Without a plan of action, that impulse will probably fizzle out pretty quickly. Intense efforts usually come in short bursts and sometimes won’t be continued, even periodically.

Think again about your last month. What if, each day, you had dedicated ten minutes to walking or five minutes to jogging? Or maybe you had a specific meal replacement plan? What if you decided to do five push-ups each day? Or knee push-ups? Each day over 30 days and you’d have made some good progress. It wouldn’t have taken much time and it would have had some nice results, plus you wouldn’t feel like you had ignored your health. You most likely wouldn’t regret the short amount of time you spent on your body, but would instead have a new feeling of accomplishment.

That’s consistency. It’s not moving mountains in a day. It’s moving that mountain over time.

So that’s what I’ve been putting into practice these past few months and I’m starting to feel the freedom that it gives.

How to Develop Your Artistic Voice – The Art of Arting (mini-blog)

It’s no secret that a lot of up-and-coming artists have a difficult time discovering or developing their voice. It makes sense. We see other artists who have found success and appear to have some idea of genuine artistic understanding. We can think, “if only I had thought of that.” We often feel like we need to plan our style, pre-loading our mental approach before we even begin painting or drawing something. We look at other artists and think that they have an inherently determined style.

What we don’t see are the countless hours of work that brought those artists from where they were (something we don’t know) to where they are (something we envy). I’ve noticed this on Instagram. I’ll find an artist who has an incredibly cohesive profile and tens of thousands of followers. Each post is getting thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. Then I’ll start scrolling their profile. I want to see where they came from. The further back I go, the fewer likes and comments I see. I see work that is a little bit less cohesive. I see different styles. I see their earliest posts, nowhere near as professional, confident, or congruent as they are now. What a revelation!

This illustrates to me a wonderful lesson. Time and experience, work and experimentation, consistency and intention – these are what feed a style. These are what amount to progress. As an artist creates, they start to do things that make sense to them. Mistakes are made. Fixes are enacted. Influences come. Study leads to more knowledge. Practice leads to more wisdom. Things start to emerge organically that never would have been imagined before, with planning.

When I’m asked by a student how they should determine their style, I honestly think they are asking the wrong question, of me and of themselves. Our style is born through work. It is born out of ourselves, from things that we like, things that we’ve learned, and our own level of ability and understanding of our medium, with variables in the realms of creativity and experimentation. It will change, it will bloom, it will grow.

My advice, then, is to focus on a few things.

Experience art. Go to galleries. Go to museums. Go to Google Images. If you look at and experience art, you will find things that resonate with you, a good sign that you may be feeling inspired by something that can influence your own artwork. You’ll also be able to look at the way the artists created their work – their colors, compositions, strokes, and methods.

Study art. If you hope to be a good cook, you would want to know the things that will help you get the basics down faster. You’ll probably buy some cookbooks. You might watch some tutorials. Soon, you’ll understand the fundamentals of how certain dishes are made and then you’ll see how those fundamentals carry over into other dishes and styles of cooking. You’ll also find yourself inspired by the reward loop of enjoying serving and eating food. Same goes with art.

Make art. Put into practice those things you’ve discovered. Discover new things. You will have times where you don’t reach your hopes. You will have times where you exceed them. Staying consistent and intentional is going to bring the reward you desire. Style will come without even thinking about it. You’ll be developing your tastes all throughout.

Hopefully that puts things into a bit more perspective. Obviously this is a blog meant to give you the baseline procedure, as I understand it. These thoughts are merely my own. Yet I think they make sense. I’ve seen these lessons play themselves out in my own life and I’ve observed them in the lives of others. I hope I’ve helped give you a bit of a direction for your own journey in art.

The Growth Mindset – The Art of Arting

In order to grow, there must be room to do so. The fact is, the room is there and we don’t even realize that we’re gradually stretching into it, like roots in a flower pot.

It’s only natural to think of the places we haven’t yet arrived. Mentally, physically, skillfully, spiritually. The fact is, though, that life isn’t a matter of being exactly where we want to be. Contentment is great gain and we should learn to be content no matter where we are in life, because, the fact is, it’s where we’ll be for the foreseeable future. Foreseeable is the key word in that thought and something we need to seriously consider.

Have plans, have goals, track your habits, increase your output, and be all you can be. However…

Think back to who you were ten years ago or twenty years ago. Or maybe even a year ago. Have you progressed? Seriously take time to consider all areas of progression. You may be a very organized person and have several areas of your life that you focus intense energy and attention towards, in order to grow and succeed. Think about the areas that you haven’t focused as much energy on. Have you progressed? Has life moved forward? This can be a scary thought for some and an inspiring thought for others, as we start to take inventory of our journey, which oftentimes doesn’t even feel like a journey at all. Journeys should have roadways, resting spots, signs, and clear progression. If you take some stock of your life, you may find that you’ve encountered all of those things in different ways, without even realizing it.

Essentially I’m driving against the misconception that we are a stagnant people at times. Life may feel like it has stagnated, but all along the way we’re moving forward in time and everything around us is also moving. A year in the future and we’ve changed without even realizing it. Sometimes we’ve changed for the better and sometimes for the worse, as decisions and habits compile. Recently, I’ve found keeping a journal helps me better notice these changes. I don’t read back through my journals, but the daily short exercise of taking stock of different elements of my life gives me a clearer look at my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. In that, I notice change or clarity, helping me gain patience, perspective, and persistence.

I think a growth mindset is one of understanding. Understanding our limits, our strengths, and our weaknesses. Mostly it is about understanding how to keep afloat as we navigate an ever-shifting river of life. We’ll never move backwards, only forwards, so we’d better be aware of where we’re headed and enjoy the ride as much as we can.

In what ways have you changed? Are you inclined to take a closer look?

Redesigning my Website – The Art of Arting

I think designing a website is like painting a picture. For it to work, you have to have a vision, a plan, and a determination to edit. Otherwise you may end up with something that isn’t readable, understandable, navigable, or clear.

My website needed a significant redesign. The theme I was using didn’t work very well, especially on mobile, and the whole site seemed both convoluted and distracted. Some aspects felt like they were from my heart, while others felt like they were examples of me trying to be something that I’m not. Which is another thing to try to avoid in art, hard as it may be for some of us.

So I went back to the drawing board. I had branded myself earlier as a Pacific Northwest artist, something that seemed smart at the time, but now seems kind of pretentious and commercial in a way that I’m not interested in pursuing. I decided to write my Artist Statement and really think a bit about what I’m trying to do with my craft. Doing so really helped me put down some of my current thoughts on my direction as an artist and the things that I actually care about.

Another aspect of my art that I’ve been avoiding advertising on this website has been the digital art and design that I have done and still do. I feel like I didn’t want anybody to see that side of me because it would make me “less of an artist” in their minds. These days I’m really trying to see that most people aren’t putting that sort of pressure on me and that I’m not even important enough of an artist to have opinions thrown around like that. Instead, I’m an artist with a digital background and a desire to create different designs to post on sites like Teepublic and Redbubble. There really is nothing wrong with that, as it’s just another shade and angle of my personality.

Incorporating those changes into my website makes this a page that is much more what I want it to be – a reflection of my experiences, my goals, and my current and past work. All are present along with this blog, which has been a useful tool for me to define my convictions and grapple with clear communication of ideas that are always such abstract ideas floating in my head.

I still have more things that I am planning on changing about the site and my business model. There’s always room to improve and grow. I feel like a little plant that has been moved to a larger pot, my short roots given plenty of room to expand and come into their own. I may not know in what ways I will be growing, but I know that I will grow.

Finding a Flow – The Art of Arting

Just like anything else, there are peaks and valleys for the artist. Some days I don’t even want to look at a canvas or piece of paper. I can’t find that flow because I don’t even want to see it on the horizon.

Is that a product of laziness? Or procrastination? Or bad work ethic?

Maybe. But I think it’s perhaps more accurate to chalk it up to my humanity and leave it at that. No need to put undue pressure on myself. There are different seasons of life, years, months, weeks, days, and even hours.

I hope you agree.

With all of that said, I think there is something to be said for drawing upon our memories and reflections of the times when we were flowing smoothly. Can we let that motivate us?

Countless times I’ve found myself unexcited to paint or draw, but compelled to do so by the necessity of commission work. While sometimes this led to frustrating sessions where I wasn’t feeling my best, more often than not, when I practice those other things I’ve written about (breathing, resting, slowing down), I find that I quickly get drawn into the process and begin to work with a steady and confident flow.

So when I’m confronted with a day when I’m just not feeling the process, I know that I can still draw upon that knowledge. I’ve found those moments to bolster my confidence in my abilities and frame of mind.

Add Things to the World / The Art of Arting

In the face of the hysteria and disunity of modern American culture, when all it takes is five minutes on Facebook to bring me down and put my emotions and brains on overload, it can be very difficult to not feel defeated, fatigued, and overwhelmed by it all.

The pessimism can be draining. The hypocrisy and confusion are running rampant. Everybody has an opinion that is a fact and a fact that is an opinion. There will be no sides taken in this blog post. I’m just expressing what I have witnessed. Both sides to any issue are very sure of themselves on everything. However, if I understand the frailty and fallibility of humanity, it would be a wonder if anybody had everything figured out. Rarely do you find anybody who is teachable or humble in their approach. Instead, everyday there are countless posts by people who feel entitled to deride other people’s entitlement, at the expense of actual conversation, real connection, and the clarity of perspective and humility.

I listened to a little bit of Bob Dylan today. In particular I decided to listen to his song “Talkin’ John Birch Blues”, a tale of McCarthyism gone crazy. It hit hard. Truly we live in a time where everybody is under scrutiny. What will we find and where will it lead?

I was sitting on a bench today, waiting for some food, when a clearly intoxicated homeless man approached me. He saw that I was wearing a Calloway hat and decided to start talking about golf before asking for some change. While I would desire to help in other ways, I decided to give him a couple of dollars and some of my time, engaging his conversation, which meandered and didn’t make much sense. I’m sure you all have thoughts as to how I should have handled it. In the moment, though, I just wanted to be polite and express my concern. After a little while more, he decided to head out, stating that he would be buying some beer, something I was concerned about. A stranger nearby told me that I handled the situation well. We talked about how it can be awkward and we both lamented the fact that this stumbling stranger most likely had a different life at some earlier point in time. I mentioned a few spiritual things that I had been reading about recently and how they could perhaps be applied to that man’s current predicament. I made the brief remark that there are also people in our world who look like they have it all together from the outside, but are a mess internally, to which he agreed. Around that time, my food was brought to me, so we exchanged some pleasantries and I went on my way.

Those were two interactions that were rife with several opportunities for conflict, opinion flaunting, dissent, and “insert social yuck here”. Yet none of that happened. Conversation happened. Statements were made to which no rebuttal was felt needed, because we didn’t have the time to devise a contrary opinion. We also didn’t feel the draw to do something like that when we were just a few people in a unique situation.

Then Facebook happened to my afternoon. Shots being fired. Misinformation. Misunderstanding. No patience. No humility. Only escalation. In a moment of genuine despair, I closed my eyes and set my phone aside. I prayed in silence, not knowing what to actually pray for. It was truly an inward groan. I felt the negativity. I felt the tearing down. I felt the sucking away of the joys of life. The narcissism of the modern world. The influencing. The “me” – right at all costs.

In that vacuum of roaring static, I felt a sudden calming thought flash in my mind which made me sit up, suddenly at peace.

Add things to the world.

Such a simple concept. When I want to escape the world through entertainment, what if I added something, instead? When I want to veg out, numbing myself from the pain? Add something. The quick self-service? Do something of value.

It’s that simple. There is nothing inherently wrong with being entertained. In fact, it’s pretty much necessary to human morale, maturity, and growth. But let’s be honest – garbage in, garbage out. I don’t want to fill the world with more garbage. I want to add things of value. This may not speak to you and maybe that inner voice was just for me. Nevertheless, it’s worth pondering.

Relax / The Art of Arting

Look, I’m not really a hippy. I find hipness to not really be an attribute that comes naturally. In fact, I’m not even sure hipness and being a hippy are related, but I assume so, and that probably means I’m not really “with it”.

My wife likes to stay healthy and one of the many ways she does this is through stretching routines. She will sometimes throw a yoga video up and follow the movements and instructions. Neither of us gain much from the spiritual aspect of yoga, but one thing that I have keyed in on is the idea of “breathing” to relax.

It’s not really mind-blowing. In fact, the source I do care about, the Bible, has some helpful thoughts on our breath. First of all, God breathed life into humanity. The Hebrew word for spirit is the same word to communicate breath. And, of course, this side of Heaven, our breath keeps us alive, as designed by God. We rely on our breath to feed our bodies with the oxygen it needs to operate.

I’ve found that when I meditate on God and life and where I am and who I am, it is not only helpful to close my eyes, as most Christians do, but also to take slow and deep breaths. There is something calming about it, often in a way that is also energizing.

So, the application today is to focus on your breath when you’re frustrated. Take a second to relax and breathe. As an artist or creative type, this is incredibly helpful and important in the creative process. There’s no doubt you will be overwhelmed at certain points, so take some time to lose focus a little bit in order to gain better focus, if that makes sense. Relax!

When is it Okay to Give Up? / The Art of Arting

Asking for a friend…

Just kidding. It can be tough to know what threads to follow in life and which ones to give up on. I think any thread we follow will give us some sort of experience, so maybe the key is just being able to glean a positive experience from whatever threads we’re tracking. Otherwise, we’re living in full-on FOMO, which can only give us despair. I think that’s a bit of an epidemic these days, especially in the United States of America and on social media.

Anyways, when’s it worth giving up?

I can think of a few general guidelines that I want to live by when it comes to giving up.

  • Give up on things that only bring pain and hurt for others in your life.
  • Don’t give up on something just because it is challenging or you aren’t able to do well at it yet or things aren’t going great with it at this point.
  • Look to others that have been there before and try to keep things in perspective.