Power Play: Share Your Expertise

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Are you waiting to be ready before you share what you know? We humans often think that we’re not ready to share what we know or what we do, because someone else does it better and, well, we’re not quite good enough “yet.” That kind of thinking is the result of comparing yourself to others. And since thoughts are what create beliefs, if you think you’re not good enough yet, well then you don’t believe that you are.

I’m a student in a studio class that’s offered by a man who routinely gets paid $15,000, and often more, for his paintings. He does beautiful work. He’s also a great teacher, and every week he shares his expertise with me and his other students. I will never paint like my teacher paints, because I’m me. I’m different. My hand is different. I hold my brushes different. My brush strokes are different. My eyes see color differently. I choose different subjects to paint. It’s my very differences that make me uniquely different from my teacher.

You’re unique, too. So don’t compare. Share. Share what’s unique about you, because you’re the expert. Never mind what you are not. Decide on what you want and stay focused there on yourself and your flow.

Insist on the Beauty of Form

Insist on the beauty of form and color to be obtained from the composition of the largest masses, the four or five large masses which cover your canvas. Let these things above all things have fine shapes…Let them be as meaningful of your subject as they possibly can be. ..Remember that the greatest beauty can be expressed through these masses, that the distinction of the whole canvas depends on them.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit

I passed by this stand of tall, slender pines while driving on a back road in Wisconsin a couple of summers ago. I stopped and took a couple of photos and had every intention of painting them—until tonight.

Every composition is an arrangement of shapes, but the shapes aren’t always obvious. In the photo above, the trees are full of interesting details, and those details disguise the big shapes. That’s when making a notan (the process of reducing everything to two values—black and white—can be a best first step before diving right into a painting. The notan eliminates details and leaves only large shapes.

When the 30-minute notan study was done, I felt less than thrilled with the four large shapes that remained. There is nothing outstanding or beautiful about any of the shapes and I decided not to do the painting

I still love the scene and the memory attached to the photo, but creating a painting requires a significant block of time and effort. So, I’m not disappointed about letting go of the notion. The 30 minutes it took to do the notan drawing was a good use of my time.

 

Begin Again: Let Go of Regret

In the years since I first read Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather, my life has “happened.” It’s easy to look back and feel some regret about what was abandoned or never realized, or to want time back so different decisions can be made. But time isn’t retrievable, and regret is uncomfortable. Like a prickly sweater, it doesn’t want us forget it’s there.

Regret is also a by-product of living. And while it may be difficult (or impossible) to forget things that did or didn’t happen, it’s possible to reframe how to think about things. I’m learning to let the feeling of regret be a reminder to live in the present and to let the past be. Prather’s words help me to do that and to use all the skills and experience I have now to create a present I can enjoy.

Excerpt from Notes to Myself

If I had only …
forgotten future greatness
and looked at green things and the buildings
and reached out to those around me
and smelled the air
and ignored the forms and the self-styled obligations
and heard the rain on the roof
and put my arms around …
…it’s not too late
…it’s morning. I have been given
another day. Another day to hear and read
and smell and walk and love and glory
I am alive for another day.
Today, I don’t want to live for,

I want to live.

Anxiety is the realization that I might not reach the
rung on the opinion-ladder which I have
just set for myself. I fear death most
when I am about to exceed what others
expect of me; then death threatens to
cut me off from myself, because
“myself” is not yet.

Meaning does not exist in the future
and neither do I …

Hugh Prather wrote Notes to Myself in 1970.

 

Showing Up Matters Most

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A blank canvas IS uncertainty. I feel it every time I set up to paint. But the only way to move from uncertainty to less uncertainty is to try (and maybe fail). And that’s the beauty of deliberate practice—it’s intentional practice. There is no expectation to complete work, only to practice.

We can work with a coach or teacher, who will assign things to practice doing. Or we can design our own deliberate practice. Each session is an opportunity to practice doing what is difficult and finding answers to overcome limitations.

Doing What Matters

A man I know has spent his entire adult life becoming exceptional. He is a world-renowned astrologer and a couple of years ago he began sharing his knowledge on Facebook for free. Now in his seventies, he wants to give back to those who have supported and sustained him and his work. In one of his very early astrological posts, he shared that he felt concern about what he was doing because not many people were clicking on “Like.”

Using the Like button on Facebook is one way we  express our approval.

So when we post something, such a photo of our artwork, we tend to keep track of the number of Likes the post gets. Lots of Likes means lots of love—and approval. Seeking approval is in our nature; it might even be tied to our basic need to survive and thrive. But seeking approval can also make us feel vulnerable and to question whether or not what we have to offer is good enough to be valued by others. When my astrologer friend mentioned his concern about not getting a lot of likes, he was questioning the value of his work.

It’s common for writers to avoid writing, because someone else has already written the same kind of story and gotten it published. The insecure writer will say to him or her self, “why bother.” Fear of rejection (the opposite of approval) and the feeling of not being good enough are always behind the “why bother” attitude.

We want to matter to people, to be “liked.” And we want what we create to matter, as well. While wanting to matter may be human nature, it also contains danger. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is a theory Abraham Maslov proposed in 1943. He had observed that people exist on five basic psychological levels. The most basic need is the physiological need to survive (food, clothing, and shelter). After basic survival is the need to feel safe, which is followed by the need to belong and feel loved. When these needs are met, we feel good about ourselves in the context of our lives—we feel valued in the world. The danger that I mentioned exists when we depend on others to determine our value, which may be one of the best reasons to heed the advice: Make your art and let it go. Detach from the outcome.

At the top of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. According to Maslov, “What a man [or woman] can be, he [she] must be.” I agree, and I think that’s what the urge to create is all about. Emotions are fickle though. Some days we feel awesome. Other days not so great. We want and seek approval from others. The strategy that leads to personal success, I believe, involves recognizing and valuing ourselves and what we do for as many hours of the day as possible.

 

Peeling Away the Layers with Practice

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Red Onion study on 8 x 6 inch linen panel.

This little study happened because I needed to get my daily practice done and it was already dark outside. Instead of looking for an interesting tree to paint, I looked through the cupboard and found a lovely red onion and a faded green dish rag. I haven’t tried a still life painting in a while, so I had to think about different things — how to paint a sphere and folds in a cloth and the texture of the basket. Changing things up a bit can be fun (or not). This was a fun study to do.

Painting every day is both hard and easy. It’s hard because there are days I don’t want to go out, or my schedule is tight and adding more to it feels like more work. It’s easy because I paint without any expectation for how a piece should turn out and I can quit when the time (60 minutes) is up. Sometimes, if a piece is going well, I’ll stick with it for a few more minutes, adding the tree branches or touching up a shadow or adding a highlight. Overall, though, I take whatever I have at the end of practice and call it good. I could, for example, go back in and touch up the “too dark” spot by the onion stem, but so far I’ve left it alone.

We need a strategy if we have goals, and I do have goals. The strategy is the road map that provides direction and milestones. I set a goal to paint 50 studies in 50 days. I did #23 yesterday. I’ll be honest, I hear lots of excuses in my thoughts throughout the day and I feel resistant to going outdoors under a very gray skies. Yesterday was one of those days. But my beautiful onion ended up on the cutting board over the weekend and the yam I do have wasn’t that interesting, so I got my practice in between rainstorms.

When I set this goal, I foresaw that I would have days when I didn’t want to paint, so I asked a friend if she would provide accountability for me. I send her a photo of whatever I’ve painted every day. If I miss 2 days in a row, I will pay her for a coaching session (she’s also a life coach). She’s ready to be my “repair shop” if I lose momentum and need a tune up.

Then yesterday, I had a different thought of a more serious nature. I thought that I should quit painting. I was surprised when that idea popped up, because painting is what I want to do. It’s a goal. It’s connected to other important goals, and quitting has not been one of my options — until yesterday. Maybe what I felt was like a Check Engine light that I need to pay attention to. I need to think more about what all this practice has uncovered.

Playbook Strategy # 1 for Creatives: Don’t Confuse Can’t with Won’t

I attended a workshop yesterday to learn how to prepare a business plan for my art business. What happened there was very unexpected.

I thought of a completely different and exciting way to grow my business. At least, I felt excited about the idea when came to me.

This morning, not 24 hours later, I’m feeling doubtful and even a little afraid of what could happen if I follow through on the idea.

What happens next is perhaps the most important decision I will make today, because that decision can impact my future.

If I say yes to the idea and continue to develop the business plan to support the new business activity, lots of things—some good, some not so good—could happen.

If I let the idea go, because I don’t think I can do it, it’s still likely my art business will grow, but at a slower rate. At least, that’s what I think will happen.

Notice all the “thinking” about what could happen? Fortunately, I recognized a pattern of thinking that has been responsible, in the past, for derailing me even before I’ve left the station.

This, I’ve discovered, is when it helps to have a strategy—a plan—for how to move forward.

Strategies are especially useful when situations feel overwhelming. What causes overwhelm? Any new situation that takes us out of our comfort zones and challenges us to learn new things has the potential to create feelings of being overwhelmed. What happens when we feel overwhelmed? We often say I can’t do IT. And we quickly think of reasons to support our decision to quit, or perhaps, to never start.

It’s important to remember that feeling overwhelmed, while scary, is temporary. The feeling recedes and is replaced by confidence as new knowledge and experience are gained.

Back to the business plan and what to do next.

Having reminded myself about what can happen when feeling overwhelmed by possibilities, I won’t tell myself No before I take time to explore the idea—flesh it out. I also won’t tell myself that I can’t do IT just because I don’t know what will happen if I do move forward with the idea. And I won’t confuse my fear (that makes me feel as though I can’t) with a refusal to try (saying I won’t).

Having a business plan is one part of my creative strategy and I’ll write more about that in a different post.