The 10,000-hour problem

A Scottish proverb says that to the making of a piper go “seven years of his own learning, and seven generations before.”

You have to put in 10,000 hours at anything to master it. So says neurologist Daniel Levitin -- that scientific studies show you need 10,000 hours to achieve the level of mastery associated with being an expert — in anything. Me? With the new AI enhancements, I’d say 6,000 hours to become seriously good.

That’s three years of your life. So you’d better pick the right thing. Or at least spend a little bit of time – at the start of the journey – trying to pick the right thing. As an artist, you have a unique problem – you like to draw, you like art, but it’s all too easy to invest too much time becoming an expert in a part of the art world that will never pay off.

The skills you really need

Let’s see. First, you may think you’re an artist, but let’s inflate that a bit. You’re really a content creator. A visual communications expert. A communication can be words and pictures, text and images, writing and art. To be effective, a communication must be received... and your artwork helps make that happen.

Now, an organization may never buy one of your drawings or paintings, but will pay you a great deal of money to create artwork for communications. For ads, brochures, web pages, press releases, newsletters, elearning, and much more.

Communications = words and pictures, text and images, writing and art.

You’re already ahead of the game on the art side. You’ve been drawing for years; your competition has not. It’s vitally important to know how to draw, to the degree that you can sketch an idea or concept clearly. To make sure the message is received (repeat that over and over).

Then there’s writing. ‘But wait,’ you say, ‘I’m an artist!’ Well, strike that. You are now a visual communicator, and I want you to become a halfway-decent writer. Like art, it comes from practice, and any junior college, or night high school, offers highly effective English composition courses. Or, creative writing courses, or technical writing courses... just plunge right in, the teachers will get you writing and before you know it, you’ll have another extremely important arrow in your communicator’s quiver.

Here’s a secret – you actually learn faster from failure than from success, as long as there’s someone around, like a boss or a teacher, to show you the right way. So just bury your mistakes, and keep on writing!

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