In any discipline we have strengths and weaknesses. We also have comfort zones and challenges. Much of life is dealing with both.
The best advice I ever received about strengths and weakness came from a psychologist friend of mine. He said that we are all dealt a hand of cards in life, and as in any hand of cards, there are strong cards and weak cards. He said that what we tend to do is try to turn our weaknesses into strengths, when what we should do is use our strengths to keep our weaknesses from messing us up. If we put all of our energy into trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths will will most likely fail, and mess up our strengths in the process.
That is good advice for artists as well. We have strengths and weaknesses, it is good to challenge those weaknesses for sure, but not to the extent of frustration. Recently I read a long biography of Van Gogh, many have pointed out that he was not good at painting people, yet he was obsessed with painting from live models, spending his limited money just to have them. He never did become known as a portrait painter, now his other works, oh my.
I can relate, portraits are not my strength. Now and then I dabble, just as a challenge, yet people buy my landscapes and sketches, not sure that would happen with a portrait.
As far as comfort and challenges. As artists we all have subject matter that we find extra challenging, even frustrating. For me it is cats and boats. My poor cat Neville has many roundish-looking-blob sketches of him in my past, glad he does not notice. Boats always ended up being to long, too short, odd shapes.
A few weeks ago I decided it was nuts that I could not do boats. I love boats and live in an area with plenty of boats. So I went on line where I picked up a couple of tips – though the whole figure-eight thing (look it up) eludes me still. Then I had a bit of self-talk and realized that the problem I was having is the problem we all have, I was thinking and defining instead of drawing what was there – “Terry, take the advice you give everyone else!” Draw what you see, not what you think you see.
The only way to get good at anything is to do it, you never improve at music, sports, or art without practice. So I decided to sketch boats.
The pandemic has loosened up a bit, Tricia as an essential employee, spends a few hours at her office each week, which conveniently is at South Lake Union in Seattle; lots of boats. So I offered to drive her in, then spent time at the Seattle Center for Wooden Boats, sketching boats.
The good news is that I am no longer afraid of them, and making good progress. The sketches that follow are in chronological order, and I am comfortable with the progress. As far as Neville the cat goes, wellllll… maybe one day it will get better. All I can offer as advice is that you take a shot at sketching the scenes that challenge you, you just might find you enjoy it. As always let me know how it goes.