We all want more success at the easel. The quest to become better swirls in our brain as we trudge forward with each new painting. At times it seems like your art has stagnated. You begin to ask yourself why hasn't the work improved? After all you are working diligently day after day and deserve more.
The improvement is there, you just don't see it.
It's like watching your child grow. You see them every day so it's difficult to spot big changes. But when you visit the Grandparents the first words out of their mouths are 'wow, they sure have grown!'
That's because they are not consumed with the kids on a daily basis. They see them maybe once every few months. And because there are large gaps of time where the kids are out of sight they only see the growth that happened since last visit.
How does this translate for your art?
If you are working smart and focusing on developing techniques, not just painting with a lackadaisical attitude, then chances are your work is growing. You just can't see it because it's in your face every single day. Plus the growth is minimal on that scale. But over time the small incremental changes become much larger transformations.
That's when you see a spike.
One day you are painting along and you suddenly see a breakthrough in your art. These are the small incremental improvements that have added up over time into a Northward spike. You stand there in complete awe and amazement, eyes enlarged, mouth grinning. Finally! After all these months you are rewarded with visual confirmation of your progress.
The next logical task is to reproduce the newfound success. So, you start your next painting feeling all bubbly inside. Of course that excitement fades once you realize trying to duplicate that success is impossible.
How can that be? I mean the improvement is right there before your eyes. You can clearly see the painting is a notch above everything else you've done so why can't I do it again?
The answer is you can! And you will if you follow through and stay on track.
Remember the story about the Grandparents? The same thing is happening here but on a slightly different level.
Here's the deal. When you are working diligently on your craft you are rewarded with a spike once in a while. The spike will eventually become the norm in several months if you stay the course. It will become the quality of work that's expected.
Basically no one is there to ring the bell when you catch-up with the spike. It's not necessarily obvious because you are seeing the work all the time. But you will eventually recreate a similar quality. And sadly you start to plateau again.
This is a very important stage of the growth cycle so listen up!
You need to understand that plateauing can be easily misconstrued as stagnation. This will trick a lot of artists into becoming bored, or frustrated. And of course much of this stage depends on your trajectory. If you are working smart chances are you are heading North. If not you most likely heading Southbound.
When you are plateauing you are building a base. That base will become the new foundation for the next spike in your work. It's similar to a stock chart where you see the line move sideways, dips, then spikes to a new high. Then it will digest that movement, move sideways, dip a little, then spike upward again.
Staying positive during these sideway movements.
The challenge is keeping a positive outlook during the base building cycle. This stage can last a long time. Negative thoughts creep in and you will feel unrewarded. There are small but barely noticeable gyrations as you move sideways building the base. It's all par for the course and necessary for growth.
The base is also designed to catch you when you fall, or lose your way. But it only works for a short time. If you continue to neglect your craft then you will dip again and again.
Here's the deal. You are never quite there.
Maybe you're scratching your head right now thinking 'you lost me, Robert'. But I will do my best to explain. What I mean is you are rarely going to be content in the moment. That's because you are either building a new base which can seem uneventful, or trying to catch-up with the spike.
Because there's no real defining moment when you actually measure up to the new level of art it's difficult to know when you finally achieve it. Eventually you do and it becomes the new norm. Now you are back to square one which means trying to measure up to your expectations and searching for answers to achieve better art during the plateau cycle.
And that's the trap folks! A never-ending cycle of learning that often times seems invisible. There's no real destination to getting better. You can continue to climb thinking you are almost to the top. When you finally get there you see another hill to climb and so it continues...
Trajectory is what matters.
If you lack a good work ethic, or not taking your art seriously, then you will see dips, or spikes that are moving South. Many of us understand this so when it happens you have yourself to blame, not your art.
When you are putting forth the effort, working in earnest, and adding new ideas to your workflow you will be on an upward trajectory. Heading North to the next level. Stay the course and always remember that getting better is a battle you will never win because there's no limit to how high you can climb.
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