Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Keep Your Eyes on the Trail

"City Lights"
Oil on Panel

When I moved to Evergreen last summer, I took one look at all of the fantastic trails out my back door and decided it was time to learn how to mountain bike. If you know me in real life, you know that I can be a bit clumsy (EXHIBIT A: broken wrist this summer), so maybe this wasn't the most logical of ideas, but who needs logic when awesome trails are involved, right?

(Disclaimer: I promise that this post has everything to do with your art career and not as much to do with biking – trust me and keep reading!)

Since I’m kind of a klutz and not the most athletic person in the world, I immediately signed up to take a skills clinic so I could have someone tell me how not to kill myself while hurling myself down mountains on two wheels. I showed up the first night thinking we were going to practice wheelies and drops and how to muscle our way over rocky obstacles, but instead we headed up a pretty mellow trail and worked on some things that seem really basic, but make EVERYTHING else about mountain biking come easier once you've figured them out.

The one that was the biggest challenge for me? 


Don’t look down at the rock you’re about to ride over. Don’t look at that tree on the side of the trail that you want to avoid. Don’t look down in the middle of that switchback. Instead, look down the trail at where you’re headed.

Here’s the deal:

As soon as you focus on that rock you’re trying to clear, you’re going to lose your equilibrium and come to a stop. As soon as you look at that tree you’re trying to avoid, your brain is going to make your body head that way and you’re going to clip your handlebars. But if you keep your eyes on the place you want to end up, your brain is going to get you there. The body is amazing like that.

Now, every time I’m out riding the trails, I’m constantly reminding myself to focus on where I want to go. It doesn't come naturally to me. And every time I do this I start thinking to myself what an awesome metaphor the whole thing is for how to handle a career in the arts.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Being an artist is tough. There are obstacles. There are always new things you’re trying to achieve. And to make things more complicated, you’re constantly surrounded by other awesome artists who are making all of those things look really easy.

Enter frustration.

I see a lot of artists who are so focused on getting into a certain show or gallery that they lose sight of where they want to go. They focus on those things so much that when they don’t get in, they’re crushed and can’t figure out what to do next. They don’t know where to go.

I see a lot of artists who go to shows and keep track of every painting that sells, making a mental note the entire time of who is selling and who is not. And when they happen to be the artist who isn't selling, they get so focused on the guy who is that they make themselves miserable. They put so much energy into keeping tabs on the other artist that they lose sight of where they want to go.

I see a lot of artists who take a few workshops and get inspired, then go home and hit the studio only to paint a bunch of scrapers. Instead of seeing each failed painting as a learning opportunity, they get upset that it isn't coming easy anymore, and as those scrapers pile up on the studio floor they lose their motivation to paint. They’re so focused on results that they completely lose sight of where they want to go.

When you lose sight of where you want to go, you lose your equilibrium. You forget that you love to paint, that you have the best job in the world. You stop working. You find something easier. Essentially, when you focus on the wrong stuff, you fall.

Usually in art, it really isn't about where you are and what you’re doing RIGHT NOW. It’s about knowing where you want to be.

What is your vision for your art, ultimately? What is your vision for your career, long-term?

If you start focusing on all the little obstacles along the way, you’re going to lose your balance and fall. But if you keep your eyes focused on where you want to be, you’ll get there eventually.

I promise.


  1. Thanks Stacey. Good advice and timely for me!
    The painting is great too! I saw it in Evergreen...WOW!

  2. Thanks for the kind words Scott!!

  3. Thanks for your really well spoken (written) words. I've done all that, been quite frustrated. Time to move on. Thanks!!

  4. You're welcome Steve!

    Thanks hubs!

  5. Cheryl St. John8/11/2013 7:13 PM

    Brilliant, Stacey! You sure hit the nail on the head. Sometimes it's so hard to concentrate on where you want to go because of all of the day to day stuff that gets in the way.
    You sure are on the right track.... beautiful painting!!

  6. Beautiful!!!!
    Kelly Cox

  7. Thanks for this post Stacey. I have struggled with this for a long time. I am a lifelong artist, but have had trouble with self confidence. Since graduating many years ago, my work has been all over the map. I felt it necessary to explore many different mediums and subject matters. Now I am feeling a bit more confidant, but have lost sight of the goal. I am currently working on some commission work, so that is helping me remember what it is I'm aiming for!