Artist Skills–Stretch and Explore

There’s a lot of talk these days about comfort zones. Depending on the source or the situation, the advice will encourage you either to search for a your comfort zone by getting rid of uncomfortable things in your life, or stretch and explore out of your comfort zone by doing things that are uncomfortable in order to challenge yourself. Confusing.

I prefer to play.

How long has it been since you watched a really young child play? They try ridiculously hard things. They try and try and try. They fail and fail and fail, but they hardly ever get frustrated…they just try something different. They stretch and explore all kinds of ideas.

In my experience, curiosity and play are wonderful teachers. They do take me out of my comfort zone, but I hardly notice it, because it’s just So. Much. Fun!

Experienced artists know this, and tend to seek out opportunities to stretch and explore, to try new mediums, new products, new techniques and new mentors. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they come back to their studio and change their style or main working medium. But what they learned in the attempt will improve and enrich their work. Most importantly, their mind and heart were opened to new ways of thinking about the way they make art.

My job as an art educator is to give students as much scope for curiosity and play as I can. Because of the tendency we all have to stay with what we know we can be successful, it then becomes just as much part of my job to push students to try something they don’t think they want to try. To stretch and try harder techniques and explore unfamiliar mediums. Of course, that also means I have to seek out opportunities to try things I don’t think I want to try.

(By the way, This is why most artist studios are usually cluttered with a huge collection of seldom-used art supplies, and the artist will admit to an addiction to purchasing the next shiny art product.)

There are lots of ways to stretch and explore to bring enrichment to your artistic practice, and they aren’t all about making art. Taking a walk, taking a bath, traveling for pleasure, turning off the devices for a few minutes, hours or days are all actions you can take to enrich your life and give you a different perspective. Specific to art, why not watch a YouTube tutorial in a medium you’ve never tried before? Try out a crafting class at the nearby senior center. Go on an artists’ spiritual retreat. Look up an artist you know nothing about, view their art and read their biography. I’ve recently been inspired by Alexander Calder and Frank Lloyd Wright!

Or simply get out your own supplies and PLAY. Let go of the idea that you have to make a masterpiece to justify the time and supplies you will use…your justification is that you will be so inspired and enriched that your next “serious” piece of art has an exponentially higher probability of being a real masterpiece that speaks your message clearer than ever before. Get over the feeling of childishness…just let it sit there unnoticed while you go along allowing yourself childlike play. It may take awhile to overcome the discomfort of not acting like an “adult”. It’s ok to be bad at playing at first. It’s been a long time, but it’s just like riding a bicycle–it will come back to you quickly.

This doesn’t apply just to art, by the way. Every interest you have will benefit by curiosity and play, whether directly related or not. Stretch out and try something you don’t think you will like. After all, if you really don’t like it, you never have to do it again! Explore the local area for points of interest you’ve never seen.

Getting out of your comfort zone might just mean that your comfort zone gets bigger and more exciting.

Someday I’ll tell you about my experience sky-diving…

Oh, you know, just me…stretching and exploring!

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