Here’s the inescapable truth: We all make unavoidable mistakes in our work. We’re human, right? We could be at this for years, be highly schooled, famous and super skilled, and still make them. Sometimes they’re a function of our style and sometimes a function of our skillset and sometimes a function of our knowledge base, but any which way, they’ll always be linger in our clay or pigment. How does this happen? If all we have to do is simply sculpt or paint what’s there — a direct translation — how could errors even happen, especially with all that experience, knowledge, and skill behind us? It’s our blindspots and plateaus at work against us, that’s how. The pesky little gremlins that haunt our efforts, we all have them and always since they’re simply a byproduct of how the human mind works. But while they’re inevitable, still, the key here isn’t giving up in fatalistic surrender but about strategy, a game plan. So how do we do that?
Well, first, we need to fully grasp the STEM of realistic art. Yes, it’s a thing! It stands for Seeing, Translation, Evaluation, and Memory, the four components that form the foundation of all our efforts. Each is essential and cannot compensate for the other which is why the more they’re developed and work as a team, the better our work becomes.
So what’s the deal here? Well, know it or not, looking at our references, judging our piece, making our corrections, and growing from it are all separate, learned skills. It takes experience and training to synch them up as a coordinated unit, but once that happens, creating becomes easier, faster, and more advanced. Now — yes — some folks do have a knack for STEM right out of the gate, what we’d refer to as “natural talent,” but these factors can always be refined regardless. But it’s a direct equation: The better our STEM, the faster our progress.
“A good system shortens the road to the goal.”
— Orison Sweet Marden
Now the key to understanding STEM is recognizing that it rests entirely on our perception, that powerful “reality filter” that interprets the world around us. And our perception isn’t infallible. Indeed, everyone has a different perception and so perceives reality differently, each as valid and vibrant as our own. Nonetheless, we have to start somewhere, right? That’s where STEM comes in….
Most people just look at the world, but an artist must See the world with a depth of observational skills that are factors more intense. In other words, an artist has to See what’s actually there down to the teensy details instead of just what their brain wants to see with all that filtering going on. And — wow — that filtering is a powerful editor! For instance, the average person will just see a blade of grass. But an artist will note the hue and how it changes over the blade, the striations and veins, the ruffled edges, the browned areas, the curve and shape from root to tip, how the light reflects over it and shines through it, and on and on. When it comes to our art form in particular, our Eye should become like a laser scanner, moving over every inch to remember that for the work. And the more intense the laser, the more data gathered. Indeed, equine realism demands an acuity that transcends not only most other equine professions, but also many other art forms. By blending science and art, reality and illusion, fact and fantasy, biology and aesthetic, we're drawing from technicality and creativity simultaneously. In turn, this obliges us to faculties and prerogatives often unnecessary in other professions or genres. For instance, real horse folks simply have to know if a hock, for example, is odd looking to identify injury or poor conformation. However, we have to determine if it’s odd looking to also identify an error in realism. Very different things! And the latter is exponentially more detailed, nuanced, and complicated. Luckily though, most of Seeing is a learned skill that can be improved with training. That is to say, it takes work, curiosity, exploration, and lots of artistic exercises.
"The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend."
— Henri Bergson
However, artists also have an extra factor in this equation: Our hands. We not only have to See, we have to accurately Translate with our hands what we See into our media. Because our job isn’t just a matter of looking at something, is it? We have to render it into our media and that’s a very different skill. It’s tricky too, being a soft pathway, it’s easily and strongly influenced by our blindspots and plateaus. Indeedy, we may see something correct in our heads, but our hands can’t seem to bang it out, which can become immensely frustrating. “I just can’t get my hands to do what I want!” Or, “I see the photo, but how do I actually do that?” When we hit this wall, it’s an indicator that our Translation skills need work. Enter artistic exercises that focus on abstraction, strategy, study and research into structure and effect, and making lots of comparisons among groups of like things. It could also be the time to learn new techniques, materials, and equipment since the Translation problem may not be us, but what we’re using and how we’re using it. Luckily for us though, Translation is the easiest to amend since it rests a lot on logistics. For instance, one simple way to render complicated shapes is to simplify them as blocked-in shapes. Like the nostril can be thought of as an inverted “9” or “6” (depending on which side you’re looking at) or the hoof as a cone cut at an angle. If we can deconstruct complex biological structures into things more easily applied to sculpture or painting, our Translation abilities just got kicked up a notch. Simplify! Simplify! Simplify! Deconstruct! Strategize! Find alignments and relationships! Even imagine the tool strokes necessary to achieve those shapes as you study the references. Everything about this animal can be abstracted into simpler forms and associations to make our Translative stages far easier and more accurate. In fact, this is exactly where our knowledge of anatomy or color genetics can have the most bang since they’re their own form of abstraction of structure and function in a way.
“Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.”
― Albert Einstein
Now once we’ve Seen and Translated, we have to judge what we’ve done, right? Always after the fact, this is Evaluation, the moment when we step back and regard what we just did, comparing against our references, sketches, measurements, knowledge base, and expectations with our calipers, protractors, programs, and whatnot. And, boy — it’s amazing just how quickly things can go haywire! It’s here where we have to exercise our most clinical, objective Eye, where it needs the most acuity and clarity. And we have to be a bit brutal, don’t we? Nothing is precious — everything is game for re-doing if warranted. (This is also where symmetry can become a real bugger, so just slog through it.) But the point is here — Evaluate often. Try not to go for long periods of working to then stop to Evaluate. Check check check! See, the more we work without checking ourselves, the more power our blindspots have, giving them more license to create systemic skews that can become a real trouble to fix later when an early check could have prevented the whole mess in the first place. Also use landmarks or blocking-in to set guiding parameters to help dampen the effect of blindspot or plateau skews. But we have a conflict of interest loop here though, don’t we? We have to evaluate our own work, right? Now on some levels, we’ll never have a more honest, accurate Evaluation of our own work that from ourselves. We’re typically our most searing critics, aren’t we? And if our checking methods are sound, we can rely on them pretty well. But at the same time, we’re still in a closed system so if we get really stuck and feel the need, this is where outside critique can be handy to Evaluate our work with a new set of eyes, i.e. a new set of blindspots that may not include the ones we have. But overall, Evaluation is perhaps our most crucial step and the primary place where our blindspots can be checked and stopped in their tracks in a practical sense.
Then finally we have our Memory, our mental library, what we draw from to fill in the gaps to smooth out the logistical process through a go-to foundation of skills and understanding. It’s the accumulation of all our experience, study, explorations, rethinking, and just as importantly, our mistakes. In the most real sense then, Memory is the foundation and command central of STEM, being the pool that Seeing, Translation, and Evaluation draw from to function. Just know, however, that our memory is entirely founded on our perception, which is exactly where our blindspots and plateaus reside, so target that and we target Memory at the same time, or visa versa. Pretty handy! But absolutely, if our database is flawed, so will be our work. As such, we can use artistic exercises to reprogram our Memory with new data — and new mistakes. And let me reiterate that: New mistakes. It cannot be overstated how important mistakes are for our work to improve! If we fear them, we’re not going to progress, or worse, not even start out of anxiety and insecurity. Be bold! Always then, our Memory should be accumulating and evolving with every Seeing-Translation-Evaulation cycle to process new knowledge. And hey, if we were very lucky, we might even have rooted out a blindspot or two. Never let Memory become static and inert, and more importantly encourage it to be adaptive, flexible, and open-minded since new data will challenge and may even reverse everything we know. Staying pliable, curious, and as ego-free as possible is great for this and, in fact, people may blast artists for having “big egos” but it’s precisely those with small ones who progress most.
So that’s STEM! An integrated system that’ll propel any piece to competition with as much accuracy as we can muster at that moment. And that’s an important thing to remember: We can only produce as good as we can at that specific moment — that’s it, that’s all. Our STEM only works in the here and now which is why feeding it constantly with more data is so crucial to create new potential. Always stay on a learning curve since the moment we stop is the moment our blindspots take over and we plateau, and that’s a big problem in an art form that’s constantly pushing the boundaries. So boil it all down and every step in our process is actually just a sequence of Seeing-Translation-Evaluation-Memory (STEM). As we develop our STEM then, so does our work progress which is why in the highly trained artists, these four things merge into one action and why they can pump out what they do so seemingly easily and quickly. But the thing to remember is this: This is the product of practice, training, and experience, and all of those things are available to everyone. Just know though that as we attend to our STEM, our style may evolve as well and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our perception establishes our creative fingerprint, yet it’ll change as we grow and so our style doesn’t have to remain the same either. Let things unfold.
“Idris: Are all people like this?
The Doctor: Like what?
Idris: So much bigger on the inside.”
― Neil Gaiman
Yet despite all this, never forget that our sculpting and painting are the sum of their parts, those parts we can See and those parts we can’t See — and here’s the kicker, those parts we can’t See have more power in realism, those being our blindspots and plateaus. It’s our STEM then that teases out them out in and tells us the missing information we need to chase. So if our blind spots and plateaus exert that much influence, let’s talk about them…
So what the heck is a blindspot? Well, it’s an invisible knowledge, interpretive, or skill gap that operates under our radar. Born in our perception, bindspots are just some facet of reality we miss only we don’t know we’re missing it. Subsequently, we can finish something and it “looks right” to us, but in fact, there are portions that are wrong only they’re invisible to us — a blindspot. For example, the placement of the eye may be habitually too low on our sculptures or our appaloosa spots are typically misplaced, only we don't interpret those as errors since, being blindspots, they look "right" to us. However, to someone else who doesn’t have that particular blindspot, those errors are really obvious. And that’s because our blindspots are unique to each of us; we each have our own individual set. There are common ones that are often shared — because the equine is really that difficult to render realistically — but we each have rather esoteric ones distinct to each of us, like a fingerprint, and which can sometimes get wrapped up in our style. The more advanced we get, too, the more advanced our blindspots become as well, evolving with us to very subtle levels. More can also pop into existence as we develop, potentially accumulating and compounding if we aren't careful. This effect, for instance, can sometimes be seen on customs that become more extreme as the artist ventures out more on their own then we’ll see them start to self-correct. That leap in scope came with it a host of blindspots that progressively got carved out, a clear indicator of happy improvement. But even in a hyper-realistic painting or sculpture, if we compare to the inspiring reference, we can still see the differences no matter how subtle, largely because we don’t have the same blindspots as the artist did.
But it’s our blindspots that hold our work back and, operating under our radar, they do so with efficient sneakiness. In a very real sense then, improvement isn’t really about beefing up our skillset, it’s actually about purging ever more blindspots from our work — the more we remove, the more accurate and refined our work becomes. And very few blindspots can prevail with an aggressive and adroit application of STEM — though some always will — allowing us to just soak in lots more accurate data from the living subject, our work, our references, and for our troubleshooting.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
— Albert Einstein
That said, not all blindspots are bad! They can help to make our work distinct, they add to the diversity of the art form to keep it vibrant, they appeal to different collectors, and they help to make art, art. Most of all though, they keep us hungry for more, don’t they? So admitting we have blindpots isn’t the end of the world — it’s actually the only pathway to progress and to stay challenged and engaged. In fact, the key really is to identify those blindspots that sabotage our work from those that add that special, unique touch. Put another way, bring as many of our blindspots into focus so we can consciously decide whether to purge or preserve them. Because realism is still art after all; our style and our Voice are just as important as all the facts. Honestly, it’s our quirks that help to transform realism into something that communicates and connects rather than just clinically represents, so it's important to keep some of "us" in our work, too. Because remember, each person interprets reality differently even when it comes to realism — especially when it comes to realism. This does beg the question of whether there’s actually an objective reality at all. (Personally, I don’t think there is for the record.) It’s fun to think about…but anyway…this is precisely why we may quickly See how those eyes may be too low or those appy spots are skewed in another artist’s work, but be blind to the errors in ours. It's also why we may cringe at our earlier work, when our blindspots ran more rampant. And it's also why some people may like an artist's work while others don't. Each of us just ping reality differently and so respond to blindspots differently, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Blindspots are also the underpinning of critique: We're looking for a new point of view to help us See our sculpture in new ways, right? Or rather, we’re seeking another perspective that may not have the same blindspots we do (just remember they have their own). And if we get a really good critique, we also get empirical techniques to identify more blindspots on our own.
What we can change is our perceptions, which have the effect of changing everything.
— Donna Quesada
So if achieving more realism is really about uprooting our blindspots, how do we actually do that? Well, first, we need to tweak our perception to pop them out — we must change the way we view reality in order to See were we’ve veered off track. Well, there are artistic exercises for that like “insta-art.” In this, sketch out or quickly sculpt or paint something, just as a rudimentary blocking. If sculpting, I recommend using an open medium like Sculpey or oil clay. If painting, using something quick drying like acrylic or gauche (you can do this on a junker model or on paper). Now quickly work, working entirely off your mental library — no references! No peeking! No taking your time! Fast fast fast! We want to scoop out only what you actually know and what you draw from first, what immediately “looks right” to you and get that down. Done? Excellent! Now compare that to direct good references of the living subject. Identify what you got right and pat yourself on the back. Good job, you! But now identify what you got wrong — those are your blindspots. Do overlays in Photoshop if you want to really make them jump out. So how did it specifically go wrong? Was it a misunderstanding of the underlying structure or effect? Was it an ineffective method or tool? Is it a proportional or scale issue? Was it a skewed stylistic preference that went just a little bit too off par? Do this as a regular exercise and we begin to refine our Sight. Another exercise is to sculpt or paint upside down with an upside down reference. This objectifies things which can help highlight our skews when we turn them right side up. Yet another is to use a photo editing program to invert a reference to allow us to see it from a totally new perspective. This is especially helpful with coat patterns such as dapples, ticking, or spots. Be sure to snap pix of your piece, too, and do the same then compare. Also consider flipping your work over horizontally in a photo editing program to see your work from another point of view, or use a mirror to see the piece and references backwards, a quick, handy trick. Or simply snap a photo of your piece, pop it into an editing program like Photoshop and see it objectified by the lens, then you can troubleshoot right there by painting on top of it or cutting it apart and repasting things together. Now you have a game plan for your actual piece without ever having to do all that work for real. Gosh — phone cameras are handy! Consider this exercise too — the “peek-a-boo window.” Here, take a piece of white paper and cut a 1” square or circle in the middle. Place it over your reference photo in the area you’re sculpting. Now study that area closely, looking for all manner of things to inform your sculpting or painting down to the tiniest detail. This removal of distraction can really make things pop out a lot more that would have otherwise been more invisible. You can make this window as big as you want really to take in larger areas, something needed perhaps more for sculpting. Another method is to really understand proportional relationships, scale relationships, structural relationships, and pattern relationships to identify landmarks or sound reference points — and more importantly, to develop reliable methods to measure them, then use them religiously throughout the process. And employing regular exercises such as these is pretty important because if our blindspots go unchallenged and unattended, it’s through them we’ll plateau, so let’s get to…
A plateau that’s an accumulation of blindspots that have become so entrenched, they’re now our comfort zone and so we stay there, content, comfortable, and complacent with the familiar, routine, habitual, and what “looks right” to us. It’s our stasis zone, our default, our status quo, our constellation of habits and predilections that define our work. A plateau then isn’t necessarily a bad thing — we’re all going to plateau at some point, in some ways permanently. It’s simply a function of being a human creating art. I mean, each of our portfolios is distinct, right? What creates that distinction is essentially a kind of plateau — the fingerprint created by the amalgam of all our artistic qualities. Put another way, “plateau” is just another way of saying “artistic style.” But sometimes a plateau can be problematic when it holds us back rather than supporting our uniqueness — and that can happen a lot faster than we know. This is a rut in our interpretation, development, scope, or focus that actually causes us to fall behind the overall progress the rest of the genre is making. And it’s alarmingly easy to get stuck on a plateau and stay there…for years. I’ve seen many artists in many fields get trapped on one and so their work literally is the same for decades with no growth or progress. You can’t even tell which one was created twenty years ago or today. I know one artist who has painted the same ocean scene for 30 years, exactly the same way with no tangible evolution in technique or scope! Now this is perfectly fine if we’re okay with that — don’t get me wrong. Art must first be about enjoyment and pleasure, and if this pleases us — right on! But if this is something we’d rather blast through, we have our work cut out for us because we’ll literally be working against ourselves.
“It isn't where you came from; it's where you're going that counts.”
― Ella Fitzgerald
But don’t feel too bad— all of us will hit plateaus at some point thanks to our blindspots, formulas, routines, techniques, and habits, and despite our natural talents, earnest efforts, attentive mentors, spanning experience, or enthusiastic goals. So the trick is to identify more of them out so we can make conscious decisions about them. That’s the goal — becoming aware enough to make informed choices about where we want to take our work.
But plateaus aren’t all bad either! Think about it…can’t they also be the end of the road for what's working for us? A bottleneck of our abilities? Or maybe even a staging point, a pause before a new stage of growth? A springboard then? The only tricky part is that plateaus are comfortable. They’re easy and familiar, safe and predictable. We like our habits, our routine way of doing things, and that includes the familiar ways we interpret reality. And if our plateaued stage has earned us kudos and good fortune, daring to leap off into the unknown may seem almost like lunacy. So it’s very easy to get stuck up there. But becoming too comfortable in this niche art form can be riskier than we know. Slipping into the trap of complacency, of believing that our strengths can continue to compensate for our hiccups, to remain satisfied with “that’s good enough” is a dangerous game. Because the truth is — our strengths can’t compensate forever, especially in an ever-evolving art form. Our strengths simply coexist with our hiccups, that's all. That means the more hiccups we leave unattended, the more our strengths must carry the weight as everyone else evolves forwards, heaping more weight onto our strengths — and that strategy will fail at some point. So we’ll be left behind, wondering why everyone else seems to be excelling but we’ve stalled, and there’s only one place to go with that — frustration, envy, and resentment. Don’t get stuck there — that’s another plateau! We must evolve. It doesn’t always have to be in ginormous leaps either as little steps here and there are just fine. Because the more hiccups we jettison — no matter how we do it — we actually give ourselves the opportunity to forge new strengths, don’t we? Growth. Evolution. Improvement. Transition. Metamorphosis. Progress. Call it whatever you want — it must happen or we risk getting stuck on a plateau.
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
— Harry S. Truman
So learning how to identify a plateau in our work is critical, but how do we know when we’ve plateaued? Well, to ring it all up, it’s when when our STEM relaxes and stagnates and so we fall into a rut in our understanding and interpretations. Truly, if we ever come to believe, “I know enough to be proficient,” that’s the surefire indication of a plateau mentality. But STEM must always remain in high gear! Never neglect pro-active education, skills development, and expanding artistic horizons. Stay curious! Keep evolving in those directions that ignite it and chase that relentlessly — plummet down rabbit holes! Because knowing how to leap from a plateau is even more important! But how do we do this? Well, first, again, by attending to our perception of reality — we have to put our Sight to the test. So here artistic exercises are again critical as is the use of protractors, mirrors, calipers, and other techniques, both digital and analog, that help our Sight push us off that plateau. For instance, compare your present work to that of 2-5-10-20 years ago. Can you see some strong differences? If you can, you’re doing just fine. But if things are fundamentally the same — especially if identical — we have a problem, particularly the further back we go in our portfolio. Now this doesn’t mean that using the same media and process is the wrong thing to do. Hey — if it works, it works, right? Rather, it’s to say that we must evolve within our media, art form, scope, interpretations, and processes or switch or integrate new ones if our habitual ones hold our evolution back. One trick is to do transparent overlays of your past work onto your present work. For example, compare your heads, legs, and ears, in particular. If you’re staying off plateaus, those portions are the key indicators, like canaries in a cage, because if they’re evolving, you can be sure you’re making significant improvements elsewhere. Another trick is to compare your past work to your present work backwards in a mirror again or in photos, which objectifies both. How are they different? How are they similar? How did this change happen? Can we duplicate those conditions? What things did you do that initiated a leap from your current manifestation of work? Can you do them again? Another highly effective way way leap from a plateau is to dive into completely different types or styles of work. For example, work in abstracts, stylized caricatures or illustrations, or a completely different type of artwork like flatwork or fabric sculpture. For example, my Cave Ponies, Dancing Horses, and Imperial Unicorns have greatly bounced my paradigm around lately. Or heck — try a completely different media, tools, or technique! Like if you work in acrylics, try pastels or oils. If you use epoxy clay, try oil clay or Sculpey. If you have a favorite sculpting tools, try others to get the job done. Expand your toolbox because often that simple switch can really cause a significant enough challenge to our status quo to jostle it loose. There’s this too — why not study the work of others to see how they tackled the same creative challenges? How did they interpret structure, color, or effect? Are we able to determine — or more importantly, can we admit — if it was better than ours and what can we learn from that? Remember, everyone interprets reality differently and studying the unique reality expressions created by others can be incredibly illuminating and instructive! And absolutely, workshops and classes are a brilliant way to rattle our plateau cage. Talk about adding data to our STEM! And they don’t even have to be in our art form as even one in basketweaving or glassblowing can have hidden benefits.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
— Alvin Toffler
At the foundation of being motivated to jump off a plateau in the first place though is the understanding that a recognizable horse and an actual horse are two different things when it comes to our art form. Put another way, a “good convince” is different from a more technically accurate rendering. Neither is better than the other as it all depends on our ambitions, goals, choices, styles, and skill levels — they’re just different. But if we want to achieve more realism, we must first determine if our plateau has compelled us to create good convinces, or in other words, has what’s so comfortable for us blinded us to what is truly actual? Because if we’ve plateaued early, chances are we’ve been stuck creating good convinces as the rest of the art form has been progressing towards more actuality.
“It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.”
— Claude Bernard
Because our blindspots and plateaus have more power in our work than our strengths, this realization does put us on the path to Awareness. What the heck is that? Well, Awareness can mean many different things. For one, it can be that mind state that allows us to bring our unconscious habits into our consciousness so we can make deliberate decisions about them based on our goals and motivations. Awareness can also mean constantly being vigilant as we work, understanding that blindspots are operating right under our noses all the time and so we use our tools, tricks, and techniques religiously to help dampen them. And Awareness can ultimately mean that we understand we’re fallible human beings and so we’ll make mistakes — and that’s okay. When we can reconcile this we open the door to not only a lot more objectivity, but also ton more inflected kindness, something critically important in this relentless taskmaster of an art form. Because — gosh — it sure is easy to beat ourselves up for making mistakes born of our blindspots and plateaus, isn’t it? But mash it altogether, and perhaps Awareness is best described as simply the ability to root out our unwanted habits and obsolete approaches with increasing accuracy to then make informed decisions about whether to keep, modify, or jettison them. Absolutely, there’s an enormous difference between an unconscious skew and a deliberate decision since we gain the power to take our work anywhere we want, and that’s always the better option. It’s all about empowerment!
So because Awareness lets us "self–educate" ourselves in a continued and unafraid way with greater precision and effectiveness, to brass tacks it then, it’s really this ability that’s the hallmark of an advanced artist. It’s not necessarily the quality of work that's the giveaway then, but the ability to consciously evolve, create, and troubleshoot that demonstrates true mastery. It’s more about expert control gifted by deliberate decisions rather than running ramshot, totally unaware.
Your chances of creating deeply hinge on the quality of your awareness state.
— Eric Maisel
So perhaps the biggest favor we can do ourselves is learning how to remain a "damp sponge” because a damp one absorbs more than a dry one, right? So why is this important? Well, remaining as a damp sponge keeps us learners which fuels more proactive and self–sustaining progress which is highly effective for flushing out our blindspots and breaking through plateaus. A plus though, we also come to free ourselves from the baggage of criticism, public opinion, misinformation, and even our own doubts and insecurities as we gain more confidence and more defensible positions for our work. Likewise, we become less grasping of conventional ideas, habits, and formulas as we morph into something more adaptive and pliable in our skills and interpretations. Ultimately, we gain the autonomous means to See with greater scope and depth, exactly what’s needed to dredge up blindspots and bust through plateaus all on our own at any time.
Reorienting our Values
When we experience the changes inherent in the journey of purging blindspots and jumping off plateaus, we're changed, too. When we open ourselves up to other potentialities, we actually help to stave off more blindspots and plateaus, and may even find ourselves rethinking what motivates us — and that's rather important. Why?
Well, for one, realism has such a high standard, one weighable against the living example—and that's a hard act to follow! And despite all our work, none of us are going to attain 100% objective reality in our clay or pigment or prints…and maybe that's a good thing. Think about it. Because how we handle this Don Quixote dilemma can be framed as a measure of ourselves if we find that meaningful, offering us a never-ending challenge and brass ring to stretch for. Now this also isn’t to say that our individuality expressed in our work excuses technical errors — nope! It’s to suggest that we acknowledge and value the stylistic touches and creative decisions unique to each artist which make their work distinct and special. Indeed, there are many different ways to express realism accurately. There is no One Right Way.
Second, traps are set for us — the trap of frustration, the trap of envy, the trap of resentment, the trap of rivalry, just to name a few. But when we've truly learned the lesson of purging unwanted obsolete concepts, we cease to compete against each other to instead turn our attention onto ourselves and our own goals, working to establish our own standards and ambitions, and setting out to reach them. Because giving 100% to any piece is all we can ask of ourselves, right? So if we stretch, reconsider, scrutinize, and practice to the very edge of our abilities — and that includes challenging our blindspots and plateaus — that will keep our work dynamic, evolving, and engaging and our portfolio diverse and interesting. In doing so, we also become less inclined to compare our work and successes with others, better preserving our joy and enthusiasm in what we’re doing. Absolutely, there are few things that can kill off our motivation more efficiently than comparing ourselves to others. Stay on target and value your work without apology. Stake your claim and be proud of it — it’s uniquely yours! Other artists’ magic isn’t yours — and you don’t need it. Your magic is wholly unique to you in all the Universe — embrace it, cultivate it, exalt in it!
Comparison is the death of joy.
— Mark Twain
Third, given the nature of realism, we're going to get stuck on a plateau at some point and we'll have to somehow scramble our way off. Indeed, if we're approaching our work in a proactive way, each piece will be underscored by a drive to understand more than before, if even just a little bit. Our same ol' modus operandi isn’t going to help us move forward, will it? How could it? We need something new that would boot us out of our self–made status quo. This quote comes to mind, “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Never forget that this art form is constantly evolving forwards so unless we keep pace, we’re going to get left behind. To dodge this, periodically kicking our own status quo to the curb to stretch, explore, challenge, and confront our own conventions is critical. It’s so darned easy to lean too much on familiar formulas and comfortable ways of interpretation, isn’t it? But with all that also comes our habitual blindspots and plateaus, and so we’ll just keep making the same ol’ mistakes over and over again. We gotta rock our own boat! So think about ways to reinterpret our subject such as exploring new ways to express musculature, pose, hair, expression, or use new media or new artistic styles. Actively and deliberately reach out for possibilities rather than fall back on what’s familiar, and often the more radical the change, the greater the benefit.
Fourth, know that perception is a one–way circuit in that change happens first in our perception to then flow into our work, not the other way 'round. So if we want to fix anything in the way we See, i.e. the type of work we create, we have to target our perception first. Change that and we change our work. Even more though, this also means that our magic wand lies within us! And we each have one — one unique just to us! So if we can accept that we always have a lot more to learn — a lot more opportunities to See differently — we gain a lot more responsiveness and traction in our growth. Hard talk here — it doesn't matter if we believe our methods have worked for us in the past to bring us fame, fortune, and a place in the pantheon of our art form. That may be so! But a plateau is always waiting for those who get too comfortable. The real measure of success, I think, is our ability to continue evolving no matter how long we’ve at at this.
Human beings, by change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Fifth, to accept fallibility and to therefore stay open to possibility helps us to continually challenge our own conventional thinking to feed a drive for discovery so critical for growth. Keep our mind open then, especially about our own potential, and our work will always remain fresh and innovative. Stay curious and always question, especially when it comes to what we’re doing and creating! Because if we don’t, a remote plateau populated by a horde of blindspots waits for us, stuck up there without some radical shift in our paradigm.
But know that you aren’t alone. We’ve all been there. It’s all just a natural byproduct of learning to then unlearn to then relearn, repeat. And we all have to start somewhere right? Or in the truest sense, we have to constantly restart somewhere. And the platform we jump from each and every time is our habitual way of doing things, our momentary plateaus. So if we can ensure they stay temporary, they become springboards that launch us to the next stage rather than mesas we get stuck on, frustrated and confused. Never underestimate the power of rethinking, reimagining, reevaluating, or the moxie to introduce the unfamiliar, maybe even the radical, into our work. Be bold! Be brave! Believe in yourself! If our blindspots and plateaus live inside us, aren’t we then our greatest obstacle? But then we’re also our greatest ally? A most brilliant ally! Lean into that aspect and we got this!
Skill is less important than awareness.
— Graham Collier
Whackin’ That Piñata
Learning to develop our artistic STEM isn’t just a basic step forwards, it’s the foundation for all our steps forwards, one that will always sustain our growth and support our every direction we choose. Learning to See more effectively, to Translate with greater accuracy, to Evaluate with more acuity, and to drawn from a Memory with more scope and depth will never steer us wrong! And the more we develop them, the greater their benefits, including keeping blindspots and plateaus in their place — in our consciousness for management. In turn, we can become more fearless and more boldly rethink what we believe to be self–evident with our work. Now we won’t ever get all our blindspots or avoid all plateaus, but we can certainly find value in striving to root out more of them because that journey is full of fascination, exploration, potential, and personal fulfillment. And that’s really a sideways gift of our blindspots and plateaus, isn’t it? Always dangling that carrot, we can find purpose and self-generating inspiration as we leap to each challenge with zest and curiosity. But perhaps most wonderful is the gift of graciousness with ourselves and others. Understanding our own struggle helps us embrace those of others, and so we may find more appreciation for their efforts and art, even finding a kind of kinship that can foster relationships and connections. Hey, we’re all in the same boat!
Either which way, our blindspots and plateaus may be a double-edged sword, but they’re a part of creating art all the same. Once we learn to accept and reconcile with them, we’ll find a lot more freedom and relaxation in our efforts and that means only one thing — more joy, enthusiasm, and boldness in our work. And that’s one heckuva great plateau to get stuck on!
“You learn something valuable from all of the significant events and people, but you never touch your true potential until you challenge yourself to go beyond imposed limitations.”
― Roy T. Bennett