Learning The Craft – Why Making Art Is Only The Start

Wood Carving
image: Will Pate

Whatever art forms we choose to experiment with – and express ourselves through – in time we begin to settle on one or two that fit us better than all the others.

These become our predominant language, our way of channeling all that creative energy and all those ideas that simmer, and sometimes blaze, inside of us. They become our means of communicating to the world, in an evocative and beautiful way, all we have to say.

So naturally this means we must spend hours, days, months and years honing our craft, becoming ever more eloquent and effective in our artistic expression, getting better not only at using our chosen tools, but also in using them to speak in a way that is most purely us.

This whole element of refining our craft is a given.

Although we may, and most likely will, venture into other media, we will dedicate most of our time to our core artforms, the ones that become a seamless extension of ourselves and who, and how, we are.

What we tend to overlook though, is that making the art itself is just the beginning of being an artist.

We’re not born instantly masterful with a paintbrush, a pen, a camera, a clarinet, our brains or our bodies.

Similarly, we’re not born knowing immediately how to best gather and record our ideas or deal with inner resistance.

We don’t automatically know the best time to create, the structures and routines that will support our creativity most effectively, and the ways to avoid getting overwhelmed by too many projects, too many options.

We don’t realise immediately the most powerful and flexible way to fit this whole experience of being an artist in with the rest of our lives, our other commitments, our families and our fears.

We are artists, and we are human.

We thrive on learning, we have the most incredible capacity to try new ideas, plans and approaches, find which elements work best for us, embed them in our lives, then move on, always tweaking and adjusting.

We know when something doesn’t work so well, when it pushes against our natural tides and leaves us off balance and unsettled. Then we take this new knowledge too, apply the teaching, and continue to evolve, becoming gradually ever more graceful and competent at being ourselves.

This is what it means to be a human, living artist.

We don’t leave the womb being expert artists. Or expert human beings. We learn step by courageous step.

It takes time. It takes a lifetime.

Let’s be honest about that.

So, the next time you catch yourself saying: “I should know how to do this, I should have it all perfectly figured out by now, I’m supposed to be an ARTIST!”, just stop, take a breath and give yourself a chance.

Be kind to yourself, remember that we’re all here constantly learning. It’s an adventure where we sometimes don’t know what the next step will be, let alone how the next seven chapters will unfold, or how our story will look years from now.

Allow yourself space and time. And, perhaps most importantly, give yourself the permission to learn and hone your craft, and the compassion to learn and hone how to be you.


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9 thoughts on “Learning The Craft – Why Making Art Is Only The Start”

  1. Nice post, Dan. It’s good to be reminded of this. When creativity gets so frustrating, it’s great to be reminded that it’s an exploratory process, always. Ernest Hemingway wrote THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA in about six weeks, and when an interviewer asked him how he did it so fast, he said, “Fast? It took me my whole life to write that book.”

    How do you approach the problem many creatives have, of choosing one focus or outlet, when we’re attracted to so many different things? Would love to hear your thoughts on that (I’m on a mission to actually embrace a wide range of creativity rather than narrow it to only my main focus of fiction writing.)

    Thanks, Dan!


    1. Thanks Baker. That’s a great example about Hemingway and how much “research” he need to write that book.

      I’ve learned more and more in the last year or two about getting focus and simplifying life, and how it firstly helps us see what’s most important, and second, how it allows us to spend more quality time with those people and passions we value most.

      I think they key is to find a sweet spot between having enough variety in your life to keep you interested and stimulated, but to as far as possible give your entire focus to one thing at a time, whether that’s the person you’re conversing with, the food you’re eating, the dishes your washing or the art you’re making. That’s where the richness and most enjoyment comes from, doing less but doing it more deeply, more fully.


      1. I like your point about focusing on one thing at a time to find richness and depth. It’s so true.

        I also feel like creativity is a muscle, and the more we use it, the more we have to use. So I’ll often play and follow my instincts on new creative ideas while keeping the main focus on a larger writing project, because I know (whether I’m conscious of it or not) that the side explorations will feed the big work somehow.

        By the way, here’s the project I’m doing to live as creatively as possible: http://www.catfishparade.com/the-great-create

        Thanks again, Dan!


      2. So agree Baker, those are two hugely important points – about creativity being a muscle, and about the need to have little experimental projects going, to keep playing.

        Yes it does all feed us, we are one living, growing organism, and everything creative we do feeds it in some way.

        Thanks for your input. 🙂


  2. Fab article for ‘human, living artists’, Dan 🙂 And love, love, love the new blog look 🙂

    I agree with you, Baker. The side explorations feed my work too. Just started a Tumblr blog – much more general and free format than my usual one – and it has had the unexpected result of making me write more on my original art blog.


    1. Thanks Cherry, so please you like the new blog design. It was time to make it far cleaner and simpler, so we can focus on reading without distraction. I hope the design further reflects my ethos about keeping things simple and getting focused on what matters.

      I had a browse of your new tumblr yesterday, looking fabulous so far. Have added to my RSS feeds.

      Thanks again.


  3. Dan just wanted to say I love, love, love recieving your posts. They always inspire me to allow that great big well of creative energy that resides in me to shine through. Not to judge what it looks like and give it a chance to breath and grow. So thanks.


    1. Deborah, I appreciate you saying, it’s comments like yours that let me know I’m on the right track with my work. 🙂

      That’s a great line about the big well of energy, keep shining!


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