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Sunday, November 6, 2011

5 Keys to Guaranteed Growth as an Artist

"NaPali Coast"
Oil on Linen - 4x10"

Do you bring the qualities of a highly engaged learner to your journey as an artist?

In observing many learners over the last few years, and continuing to be a very keen one myself, I have noticed that there are key ways to show up that facilitate accelerated learning.

I just taught a 4 day plein air workshop in Kauai, and the workshop participants ranged from some with years of painting experience to one wonderfully enthusiastic woman who was picking up a paint brush for the very first time in her life. Over the 4 days I had the joy of watching each of them have their own personal breakthroughs and move to a deeper level in their painting.

They worked hard, laughed a lot, cheered each other on, and grew in their skill as painters, in large part because each one of them brought these important elements of learning to the game:

Beginner's Mind
Knowing stuff is good, but it can block the way to new good stuff coming in. Practice moving what you already know from its position of priority - let it rest in the background while you create space for what there still is to learn.

Willingness to be Uncomfortable
It's amazing how many people greet this idea with enormous resistance. Like being uncomfortable is a bad thing. What if it's a good thing? What if it's a big fat doorway into awesome? I would argue it is, because that's where the growth lives.

If you're comfortable - you're stagnant. Doing the same old thing over and over. All that does is keep getting you better at what you already know. What about all the cool stuff you haven't discovered yet?

Full Engagement and Curiosity
Ok, so if you're willing to embrace the first two ideas, then bring along with you an undefended openness to the learning. Stand on the precipice of "What's possible here?", wildly curious, and dive in with both feet and a wide open heart. The best learners embrace the joy of not knowing and the adventure of finding out.

Relinquish Attachment to Outcome
Now that you're open, ready and set to learn, you will gain the most benefit if you can do one more thing. This is the most difficult, and most essential mindset to stand in. Let go of needing the painting to "work out in the end." I know - hard, but try. Play with paint, dance in the creative process, try things on, don't worry if they're right or wrong, just try them.

Workshops are not about performance pieces, they're about playing scales, learning new notes, seeing what it's like to play standing on one foot. Moving at top speed. Or in slow motion. Backwards. Upside down. Blindfolded.

Learning is about: "What happens if I stand in a place I've never been, what will I see that I have missed until now? How will this grow me? What magic is possible when I stretch beyond what I already know?"

A Little Faith
Expect to feel bumbly, inept, out of control, like you've stepped backwards in your skill level. It's part of the deal. Even though it may not feel like it now, you are expanding yourself in ways that will show up in the most unexpected places down the road. Trust this and give yourself to the learning - it will pay huge dividends in the end.

The Kauai gang - 2011 


  1. You are the greatest Liz and I always love your insight. One day I am going to take one of your workshops because I can imagine you are a excellent teacher. You are such an inspiration through your words and work.

  2. Love this post - especially the part about being willing to be uncomfortable. Several years ago I saw a motto on someone's desk that said "Move toward fear." Because the things we are most afraid of are usually the things that will teach us the most and be the significant change in our lives. It's terribly uncomfortable to engage with something you fear, but I've found the lesson is completely true. It's my goal to be bold enough to move in that direction more often.
    AND - I've read Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, so your post really resonated with me.

  3. Right on is not about finishing a work : )

  4. Great post Liz. All so true. Wonderful outcome too!!!

  5. Thanks girls, so great to hear from like-minded spirits.

  6. This is a great post! I can relate to all parts, and maybe most of all the willingness to be uncomfortable and not concerning myself with the outcome. I try new things all the time, maybe because I'm easily bored and like challenges. Either way, sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. But you never know until you try, right?

    I only recently found your blog, but I'm with Carol in that I know I'd really enjoy taking one of your workshops.

  7. Great post, Liz! I'm with Carol and Sonya about taking a workshop. Everything you said resonates with me also. If you don't try new things, open yourself to the unknown, you miss out on a lot of learning, and fun! Speaking of the unknown.....maybe you need to come to Virginia to teach a workshop??!!
    p.s. That painting is wonderful!!

  8. Great post and beautiful painting. I'll try to remember your advice next time I'm stuck in my comfort zone...

  9. Thanks for the great feedback guys!

    Elaine - Virginia workshop could be a plan. I travel for workshops when someone contacts me who wants to orchestrate the details to bring me over. If it fits into my schedule and it's not too logistically complex to get there, I go! :-)

  10. So great to read all of these thoughts! Wow, what a great place for a workshop!

  11. Good advice Liz! I'm so looking forward to doing more workshops in the near future and buying some oils!!

  12. FABULOUS post and blog..I love your work..really sophisticated and appreciate all of of generous tips...

  13. What a great post! This is one I'll be printing out to hang by my easel.

    Wonderful depth both the painting and the post!

  14. Terrific painting, great atmospheric perspective. Powerful. Thanks for your motivating thoughts.

  15. Your post really spoke to me! And I love your painting!!

  16. I like this way of looking at challenges..."Surrender to the dark side, for you cannot search in the light". I would love to take a workshop. Do you come east?

  17. very good points - I need to keep them in mind, especially the two last ones. ;-)