Pushing Through (and Elevating Your Game)

— I work with over 2,000 highly talented artists in our advanced AWAKE group, but even there now and then I’ll be pressed to give advice on how someone can take his or her artistry to the next level, push through some imagined barrier, achieve something even more powerful and sophisticated …

Unfortunately, there’s never an easy answer or solution. Each artist is on his own journey, and this only makes it even more difficult to suggest a relevant and actionable means of “getting better.” 

Though I suppose if I had to come up with something — some kind of concrete plan of attack for improving as an artist — it would look rather like this:

1.) Start spending more time STUDYING artwork. 

It’s easy to slip into just doing your own thing without taking the time to periodically look around for more influences. Make a point to dig into our magazine each month, bounce around over on our portfolio site at ArtBoja.com, and regularly explore anywhere else you find inspiration (whether online or in books and magazines) … Seek out images you especially like as well as images you don’t like … and try to figure out what it is in each that attracts or repels you.  You’re not looking for anyone to imitate per se, but rather looking to pin down the kinds of work you like best and the styles you like best.  Look for a few artists who represent the kind of work you wish you could create, and pick out a few others doing stuff you definitely have no interest in.  Just acquiring this kind of clarity goes a long way toward setting you on a new path.  

2.) Plan to spend more time WRITING in your journal. 

Get your thoughts down on paper — thoughts about the kind of artist you wish to become, thoughts about the kinds of art you wish to create. Thinking on paper in this way helps clarify your ideas of art and artistry, and gives you a rudimentary platform on which to start getting ideas down for the compositions you would like to create.  Compile various lists of things that strike you, and then cook up creative ideas by mixing and matching between your various lists.  Finding an artistic path that feels both relevant and exciting isn’t always easy. But that’s OK. If it were easy, where would the pride in your accomplishments be?  It’s supposed to be hard.  You’re supposed to go through periods of pain and frustration and angst.  That’s normal.  If you’re frustrated that it’s not easier for you to create great works of art, then that’s your problem: you’re allowing yourself to feel bad about being frustrated.  Instead, dig into your journal every day, explore your ideas on paper, and embrace the reality that a legitimate artistic career takes TIME to evolve. 

3.) Plan to WORK harder. 

Dig in. Experiment more.  Throw away more.  And then work like crazy on the pieces that start to come together.  Don’t sweat any given piece more than it deserves, but throw your full weight into it whenever something feels as if it has real promise. As you come up with ideas that excite you, plan to put in the work to bring them about.  And then plan to put in more work to make them really good.  Some of the best artists I know routinely invest 5 to 10 hours on their best compositions.  And that’s on top of any photography they had to do to get the original content they were going to use in the work.  Not to say you have to spend that kind of time on a given piece for it to turn out great (heck, many excellent works of art take less than 15 minutes to pull off), but you should go into it prepared to spend as much time as necessary.  Remember, top photographers are happy to get ONE great photo each MONTH.  One a month.  Working full time.  If you can turn out one truly fantastic work of photo artistry each month, you should be pleased with your progress.  

In the end, it’s your journey, and your path to find. 

This can take time. 

Achieving something remarkable as an artist takes dedication, commitment, work.

Being in our AWAKE group (or in our even more advanced KAIZEN group) is of course a great place to step up your skills. And that always helps.

One further idea you might want to explore when it comes to working through periods of frustration is to commit yourself to rigorously elevating your creative output for several weeks in a row. Nothing quite beats the power of full immersion. It was for precisely this that I developed my “21 Days to Creative Abundance” course.  Three weeks dedicated to that regime is almost certain to push you through to the next level.

In the end, all you can do is DECIDE to elevate your game … and then stay with it. 

Remind yourself that from time to time artistic frustration is normal. It’s part of the process of growing as an artist.

Just keep studying, keep thinking, keep working.

Trust me on this one. No matter how impossible it might seem (and to be sure, it will feel impossible now and then), work through the frustrating times, keep creating, and you will reach the other side.

– Sebastian



The image featured in this post was created by AWAKE artist Dale Botha (Australia). Dale is also part of our advanced KAIZEN group, and you can explore her fantastic ArtBoja portfolio by clicking here . . .