• Michael Skalka

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone


Sometimes making art requires the same strategy that is employed when doing physical exercises. Doing different sets of repetitions, increasing the quantity helps you improve. The same hold true for artwork.

I have heard many watercolorists or pastel artists complain that they can’t switch media because it mentally interferes with their ability to use their media of choice to their best advantage. Selecting a different media creates a mental “gear shift” that causes counterproductive habits to be established.


A simple solution to this is to not attempt to duplicate what you do in another medium. If you paint portraits or landscapes in oil, refrain from doing the same subject matter in a different medium. Exercise your hand-eye and brain skills in a completely different way.


Create a monotype, assemble a collage, do an abstract oil pastel, construct a sculpture from cardboard, paint using your medium of choice abstractly if you usually paint realistically or vice-versa. Since so much of what artists do focuses on composition and values, those concepts can be carried over to other media. They can make you see things you are already doing more clearly or potentially correct underlying mistakes. They can be used as warmup exercises in preparation to engage in your art making theme.


The other idea to embrace is the use of quality art materials. Think about having two types of art materials. One is the everyday, moderate or inexpensive stuff you use to plan, practice and visualize artwork that will be executed in another format. Low quality sketch pads are great for this.

Think about purchasing and building a body of sketches, watercolor, gouache or other media studies that you keep in a really nice high-quality sketchbook. It provides both a rich experience to handle a well-made book with really good paper and once it is full, it provides a charming record of past work that you can revisit over and over again.


Perhaps most importantly, it keeps you linked to traditional materials that were made with high quality and longevity in mind. It is what I repeatedly refer to as the “analog” world of art materials. It has nothing to do with electronics, high tech synthetic materials and over-engineering. It is the simple pleasure of rubbing your hand over a hand-made paper, admiring the color, texture and appearance. It is the feeling of seeing a leather or quality cloth cover with pages that when opened lay completely flat.

Take pleasure in carrying on the tradition of filling sketchbooks with drawings, watercolor renderings and notes about a scene as an aid to memory for a studio work.


Take time to use a pen that requires you to dip the nib in an ink bottle in order to put down a line. Write your notes carefully in cursive. Don’t worry if your children or grandchildren won’t be able to read them. They are for you to enjoy. Treat yourself to at least one great sketchbook with high quality paper and relish using it for the sheer joy of having something that is special. Art can, but should not be about looking for the least expensive product to fulfill a need. Indulge in purchasing something out of the ordinary. You can always get cheap everyday items from a national chain of art suppliers. But sometimes, find an item that you normally would not buy or stretch your abilities by using a medium or technique that you don’t usually use. Art is about having fun, isn’t it?


The Syntax of Color



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