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A recent drive to the mountains took me through some awe-inspiring territory.

I saw everything you’d expect: blue skies with dramatic thunderheads promising later rains; sweeping valleys dotted with horses, cattle and freshly cut hay; and ever-taller trees the further north I drove. The mountains themselves layered back into purples and blues for hundreds of miles.

What I didn’t expect was that the next step in my painting journey would be revealed with such crystal clarity.

My story

Let me share some background. . . although well-steeped in the self-mastery courses of the 80’s, and very familiar with setting goals for many areas of my life, I had not yet focused this skill on my painting.

My own art is strong in composition and values. I started out with a pencil and every piece of paper I could get my hands on, and through drawing I gained a native understanding of light and dark, highlights and shadows.

Learning photography and working with miles of black & white film in the darkroom (now I’m dating myself!) further trained my eye to understand composition and the play of light and shadow.

But. . . that wasn’t enough. I wanted to paint with juicy, gorgeous oils, and I was struggling with translating the mastery of light and dark into color.

Setting goals is so simple, so obvious—so why don’t we do it?

Scott Christensen addressed this idea in a painting class, suggesting that artists should create new goals every year for our art. First, we should choose an area where we want to improve—mastering trees, middle distance, improving your composition or color, etc.—and then set goals that we can succeed at.

As I drove north into the mountains, the classic light bulb flashed on above my head, and I realized what area I wanted to improve in.

My eye is already trained to see values; my next step should be to see and play with warm and cool colors so I can begin creating those values with brilliance and clarity.

Putting goals into action

Now that I know where I want to improve, how will I proceed? How should we proceed?

Books and online material often come to me just when I need them, as do people with the skills and knowledge I’m searching for. But really, they appear because I’m focusing on my goal each day—consciously looking for answers whether I’m at my easel or not.

And when I step up to my easel and start to paint, my sense of exploration and discovery has already been activated. I will be thinking and looking differently, with my goal in mind.

So to begin with, look at your own work and allow yourself to uncritically ask, “What do I want to learn? What could I focus on that would improve my art?”

Is it perspective? Color? Composition? Edges? Values?

Do you know someone whose skills are a few steps ahead of yours who will help you see more clearly where you can learn and grow?

When you have the area you want to improve in, set a goal that will move you ahead with your work, be fun and challenging, and most important—be achievable.

Set yourself up for success and learning, NOT failure.

Maybe you simply want to paint more. If you work a full-time job, setting a goal of painting five times a week may be heartfelt but unrealistic. Instead, can you set a goal to paint consistently one time each week for three hours?

If you do more, terrific! But always set your goals to stretch yourself a little past what you are doing now. This makes them do-able, and THIS is what makes it possible to succeed and grow.

Here’s to good art getting even better. . .

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

Mary squirmed in her chair as she continued, “I just don’t know what is wrong with me. Why can’t I just do it? I feel stressed all the time when I’m not writing. ‘I should be writing’, I say to myself, but I don’t."

"I think, if I just get the laundry done, then I’ll be free to sit down and write the next chapter. But then I don’t. Maybe I need to exercise. . . read more

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