“If art is the bridge between what you see in your minds eye and what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge.” Twyla Tharp
Earlier this year – in March – I wrote Part 1 of this ongoing topic exploration of the importance of practise in our creative development. Below are some of the key points of that piece:
- the role of practise is often overlooked and undervalued but that can be changed by redefining its importance to the success of our work
- creativity is the product of preparation and effort and is available to each of us
- routine and practise are essential components of the creative process
- visual artists can learn from performing artists (musicians, dancers, actors) and athletes about the “culture of practise”
- a great way to start is to create an inventory of the skills you think are most important to your creative endeavour – including artistic and cognitive skills, character traits and work habits
In this article we’ll be exploring how to assess your skill sets. If you haven’t yet created an inventory of key skills for your creative domain I would encourage you to do that now. I’ve used photography as an example below providing a partial list of the skills sets that I might include in the different categories:
- artistic skills – effective use of composition, viewpoint, lighting effects, mastery of equipment (whatever that might be, and I would list them all)
- cognitive skills – ability to move beyond cliché handling of subject matter, effective story telling, prolific idea generation, understanding of current work being done in the domain
- character traits – curiosity, interest in people and the world, courage, assertiveness
- work habits – attention to detail, willingness to take critique and feedback, ability to be prolific and see works through to completion – and so forth
Hopefully this will give you the idea. Keep in mind that your list will be unique depending not only on what area you are focusing on but also the qualities that you feel are most essential to develop. Over the years I have created these kinds of lists for the different artistic fields that I have worked in including: encaustic painting, collage, calligraphy, art history, drawing, photography and more. I imagine that you are like me and have several areas of creative expression that you enjoy. These might include gardening, sewing, cooking, writing poetry, public speaking, playing the piano, knitting, quilting, interior decorating etc. I would start by choosing one or two areas that you are most passionate about and are interested in taking to the next level of development. You might also choose to work with a couple of areas that you feel will have great synergy when combined such as photography with encaustic painting, quilting with natural dying, creative writing with drawing…
Once you have created your lists of essential skills for each creative domain it will be important for you to spend some time assessing your work and skill sets to get an accurate read on where you are.
In order to get the most out of assessing your current skills it can often help (and speed up the process) to work with a trusted teacher, mentor or creative colleague. Your goal is to get an accurate read on your current skills and identify the areas where you could focus your attention to create the greatest improvement overall. This sort of self-reflection requires you to be as open and honest as possible. Remember, you are not your work! Having weak drawing skills doesn’t mean you are a bad person. All of our skills can be improved and enhanced and that’s exactly what this exercise is all about! Working with an experienced teacher can be very helpful because they can help us identify the areas where we are strong and some of the areas where we should focus our attention. Often we are too close to our work to see these things objectively or we don’t have the expertise to assess it accurately. Contact someone that you know and trust and see if they would be willing to help you identify 1—5 areas to focus on.
A couple of days ago I was attending a calligraphy workshop with master calligrapher Martin Jackson. Watching him write was such a wonderful and inspiring experience. It’s the feeling I experience when I watch anyone who has mastered his or her craft to the point that it just seems to flow effortlessly. The irony is that such effortless mastery is the result of hundreds or thousands of hours of practice. To his highly trained eye he could immediately pinpoint subtle changes that I could make to my letterforms that would make them more in proportion and aesthetic. He was also very instrumental in pointing out what letters I could practice that would help my writing the most, and he provided valuable tips about materials and practicing on the go. What’s exciting to contemplate is what I might be able to produce once I set aside some sacred time to practice those skills that I value and that will make my work stronger. What are those skill areas for you?
Do you want to learn to draw with greater accuracy and proportion or perhaps with greater expressiveness? Would you love to add more colour and texture to your paintings? Darker characters to your stories? Learn diatonic chord progressions? Sew your own design? Learn how to weld or try an entirely new medium all together? …You get it!
Next month, to wind down 2015 and usher in 2016 I’ll be looking at how we can get clarity around establishing our desired outcomes for our work (personal enjoyment, public exhibitions or performances, sales, gallery representation, publishing, fame, fortune, etc.), how to set some “Big, Sexy, Creative Goals” working with the skills that we want to develop along with how to set up your program or plan so that the new year can be your most creative yet!
Until then…happy creating and enjoy the merriment of the season!