In the 1850s the Hudson River School painters painted in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York — and were accused of exaggerating the colors of the sunsets. Yet living here and experiencing the sunsets each night, I can testify that the colors are so brilliant, so vibrant, that no matter how brightly or brilliantly they may have been painted, they could not touch the colors in the sky.
Banner in the Sky
In 1861 Frederick Church painted a piece called Our Banner in the Sky, a depiction of the American flag made up of bright-colored clouds, with a hint of blue sky and stars showing. I always thought it was a bit kitschy and made-up, until I saw an almost exact reproduction in the sky here, with red stripes of clouds between white stripes, and a patch of blue showing. The only things missing were the flagpole and the stars.
On Golden Pond
This has been the summer of sunsets. I posted a video on my Facebook of brilliant golden light shimmering on the water, reflecting the gold in the sky. Almost every night has been a display of color so brilliant that no paint color could possibly represent it. Last night I sat here on the dock as the sun went down and watched a light show of color that got better with every second, and just as I thought it had peaked as the sun slipped behind the pines’ silhouette, the entire cloud-filled sky lit up like the Las Vegas Strip.
This morning the sky has reset in preparation for yet another show tonight. There is dew on the dock and it’s cooler today, the lake is like glass, and the birds are happily entertaining with some soft, quiet chirps to fill in the silence.
Last week I mentioned giving yourself some oxygen, but what I didn’t tell you is that I had planned a little oxygen for myself this past week. I blocked the week out on my calendar, took the week off, and spent all day, Monday through Thursday, working on improving my painting skills.
Two Big Goals
Specifically, this goes back to a moment of frustration two years ago when I felt I was not making the kind of progress I should be making. So I crafted a plan to see if I could make a dramatic leap, starting by realizing I had two goals … to get better at landscape and plein air painting and to get better at portrait or figure painting, my two passions. (It’s no coincidence that I have a magazine and a conference for each, with the PleinAir Magazine Plein Air Convention & Expo and the Fine Art Connoisseur Figurative Art Convention & Expo.)
I decided I needed to study under two people I greatly admired for their skills and their ability to translate those skills to the feel of emotion in their work. I then decided to watch their videos to learn and practice all that I could. I considered a workshop with each, but found my available time was limited. With busy family and business obligations, more time away was not an option, so I had to figure out how to fit them into something I was already doing. So I made an arrangement with a top landscape artist to meet me at one of my events, where I would be out painting daily anyway, and asked him to paint with me and coach me for the week. This past week I did the same with a top portrait and figurative painter I highly admire. Since I would have been working anyway, we worked 9 to 5, and I was home with the family the rest of the day.
It’s a little soon to know the impact of this past week on my painting, but if it works as well as my landscape painting adventure, it should make a significant difference. In both cases I had good basic skills but needed to get to the next step fast. A week of solid, dedicated instruction was just the ticket. Now I’m committed to using these techniques and colors going forward for the next few years so that I reinforce what I’ve learned. And in both cases I’ll watch the videos a few more times to remember things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.
I find it a bit comical that the guy who could barely graduate high school because of bad grades could be so obsessed with learning, but the key is finding something you’re passionate about and making it a lifelong education. My dad used to tell me, “Education is a bargain at any price.” It’s so true.
Meeting the Challenge
Over decades I’ve interacted with and experienced lots of different kinds of people, and the ones most frustrating to me are those who claim expertise, yet don’t reach or strive to be at the top of their game. God has given us each a life, and it seems as though we should choose to be the very best in the world at what we’re trying to do. Why just get by? Why not be the world’s leading expert? Though I’m far away from being the world’s leading expert at anything, I’m driven to be the very best I can be.
It’s Not Done Till It’s Overdone
Painting is just one example. I want to be the best I can be in my business, be the best I can be when I’m on stage, and be the best I can be when writing. That’s why I am a member of a mastermind group that meets monthly by phone and three times a year in person. That’s why I travel to conventions and events so I can meet and study under the best in the world. That’s why I pay to attend writing workshops and speaking workshops, and why I take lots of online training. Anything done should be done well.
What I Strive to Be
I once saw a speaker on stage at a radio convention. He was the best speaker I had ever seen. He was confident, entertaining, outgoing, and exuberant on stage. I wanted to be that guy, so I went up to him after his speech and asked if he would teach me. I then attended his workshop for a week. I’ve done this with several great speakers because I want to get better at my craft.
The Deep Dive
We are all wired differently. You may be thinking, “This isn’t for me. I don’t see myself working that hard.” Or maybe you simply don’t feel it’s the right direction for you. I hear you, and I don’t want to suggest this formula is right for everyone. But I can tell you one thing I’ve discovered on this journey … a deep dive into anything you love is an investment in your happiness. These things can excite you, reinvigorate you, and make you feel better about yourself. And there is no better confidence booster than seeing personal growth and having it reinforced by others.
Not only is pushing yourself great for your head and your actual performance, you’ll find yourself getting to new levels, then challenging yourself to see how far you can take it. Wouldn’t it be cool to be invited into an art show of top artists, knowing it was earned?
Recently I received a compliment when a top marketing guru, Dan Kennedy, invited me to speak on his stage at his conference. Though I declined because of a travel conflict, it’s recognition that what I’m learning is making me better.
Never Ever Give Up
The normal view of the world is that you go about your days, do your job, retire from that job, and coast the rest of your life. My view of the world is that you be the best at your job and become the best in the world at what you do, just to see how far you can go. And when that ends, you keep going by finding something you’re passionate about and becoming the best you can be, and you do it so that you have the enthusiasm and energy to go forward at 180mph the rest of your life.
Though retirement isn’t for me, if it’s for you, be the best you can be when doing it. My friends from Colorado retired and started yoga training for veterans and now have an organization doing 200 classes a week. That’s what inspired me to create our initiative to teach painting to veterans. Just because your body is aging or because your career in one area will come to an end does not mean you have to coast the rest of your life. It’s great if that’s what you want, but if you keep learning, your brain will tell you that you’re alive and keep you strong and vibrant. And having a goal like mine, which is to teach a million people to paint, gives you a focal point to concentrate on. (If you’re not a painter and want to be, check out my free lessons.)
Recently I spoke about how my brain was scrambled, confused, and overwhelmed in a guitar lesson. I honestly did not think I could do what my instructor wanted me to do, yet by practicing it over and over in small chunks, I’ve mastered it. (We teach this for artists in our video The Master’s Mind).
What have you always wanted to learn? What are you doing where you can see yourself working toward being the best of the best? Maybe it’s learning a new language, learning a craft or a hobby (please try painting!), being a better painter, a better marketer, a better writer, a better … fill in your blank here. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to get the training you need, and once you start to focus on something and spread the word that you want to learn more, great things will come to you.
What’s the first thing that came to mind when I asked what you see yourself learning? What was the limiting thought that immediately crept in? (I’m too old, too young, too poor, too rich, too lazy, it’s too hard.) Push that aside and go for it anyway. You’re in control of your mind; don’t let your thoughts put up roadblocks.
Here’s to you and me learning some new things yet this summer and fall! Have a great day.