What skill level are you?͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ ͏ ‌     ­ This newsletter is about drawing. It goes out every Friday. Want to draw? Then check out my free workbook!

#25 - The Various Stages Of Art Mastery, How To Recognize Them And What To Do At Each Stage As An Artist

What skill level are you?

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How Good Are You?

I find that there are five skill levels, and for any single skill, you are somewhere on that scale.

Skill Level One

At skill level one, you are a junior. You enthusiastically lunge off in the wrong direction!

You think that you can do it because you see no reason why you can’t. But at this skill level, there are things you don’t even know you don’t know.

You think you can do the task, but you really can’t yet. You just don’t know it yet.

You find out by doing the task and discovering that, hey, things are different from what you expected. You didn’t know that!At this skill level, you need a guide or mentor who micro-manages you, someone who tells you exactly what to do, step by step, while also explaining why.

Otherwise, you end up making the wrong decisions.

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Look at how great it looks! Can you believe I have never done this before?
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(whispers)Yes... Yes, I can...(Pauses)Can I ... um ... give you some pointers?
Skill Level Two

Then comes skill level two. Now you have figured out that you lack the knowledge to perform the task.

You don’t know how to do the task, but now you know you don’t know.

If you have some experience with the process I am describing here—the process of learning how to do a task—you will be able to jump from skill level one to skill level two more quickly because you can start by assuming that there are things you don’t know you don’t know yet.

The first time you realize that there is something that you didn’t even know that you didn’t know, you know, “ah! There are things I don’t even know I don’t know.”

And then you are at skill level two.

When you start doing something new, it is therefore best to assume that there are things you don’t know you don’t know.

Start at skill level two by assuming that you know nothing.

Ask the people around you questions.

Try to learn from them.

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Ugh! This is hard! My work sucks!
Skill Level Three

Then comes skill level three. Now you are capable of performing the task, but you just don’t know it yet. This is perhaps where you have impostor syndrome. Someone asked you to do the task, but you are afraid that you will be found out to be the fraud that you think you are, because you still think that you can’t perform the task.

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I have an upcoming project—are you available?
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I do not know if I can do this.
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Pretty please?
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... Okay.
Skill Level Four

Then comes skill level four. You can do the task, and now you know you can because you have done it successfully several times now. This is the skill level where you are experienced and where you are capable of performing the task autonomously. No one needs to guide and mentor you anymore. And you know it, and the people around you probably know it. Guides and mentors do well to leave you alone and let you do your thing.

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I have an upcoming project—are you available?
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I am fully booked this month. But I am available five weeks from now. My rates have gone up, though.
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... Okay...
Skill Level Five

Skill level five is the skill level you have to avoid. Skill level five is like skill level four: you can do the task, but now you know it. And you have, in fact, already proven it several times. You have successfully done the task repeatedly, and now you are doing it on auto-pilot. You’re doing it with your eyes closed. It’s not a challenge for you anymore.

This is the problem with skill level five: you get bored. You are not having fun anymore. You are not growing anymore. You are not learning anymore. You need to get out of that space and become a skill level one at something else again!

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Ugh, do I have to do this again?
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You are the best, Hector! Thanks!
We are all at various skill levels when it comes to various tasks. For example, I am now at skill level two with making YouTube videos: I still suck at it, and I know I do. I regularly bump into things that surprise me, things I didn’t know. But when it comes to programming, I am comfortably at skill level five. Programming is something I almost do on auto-pilot. Something I do for relaxation in between the drawing, which is still hard work for me.

The Most Fun Skill Levels

The most fun skill levels are skill levels one and four. At skill level one, where angels dare tread, you enthusiastically dive in head-first. And then you are pulled to safety by someone who is more experienced.

You finally realize that you are becoming good at the task when you arrive at skill level four, and you enjoy the fact that you deliver good work.

Skill level one is where you discover that you are not at skill level four yet. You think you are, but you are not yet.

But when you are at skill level four, try to leap into something you are not good at yet. Do something else; a different art form, another medium, something you enter at skill level one again. You don’t want to end up at skill level five, because you will get bored.

See reaching skill level four as completing a computer game level. You beat the level boss! If you want to, you can do the same game level again, but you already did it, and you already know how to complete it. Let’s play the next, different and maybe slightly more challenging level.

For me, I still enjoy programming, so I may be level four still there. I really enjoy trying new things, which perhaps why I am now trying to learn how to make videos for YouTube. There is so much that goes into it! How do you record good video, how do you do lighting, how do you record audio with a microphone, how do you arrange great accoustics in the room where you are recording the audio, how to you train and warm up your voice for recording, how do you do voice over narration, how do you write a script, how do you edit audio, how do you edit the entire video, how do you design the cover image for the video, how do you write the title and description. Et cetera, et cetera.

I believe I am at skill level two at most of these now: I know I am not good at these yet.

And I am having so much fun with it! You really do get a lot of energy if you try to do something else.

To Summarize

To summarize, there are two parameters. Parameter one indicates whether you think you are good at a task or not. Parameter two is about if you actually are good at it.

At skill level one, you think you are good but you aren’t.

At skill level two, you are still not good at it but now you know.

At skill level three, you are now good at performing the task but you just don’t know it yet.

At skill level four, you are still good at performing the task but now you do know.

At skill level five, you have done it so often that boredom sets in. You need to find something else to do, something where you are at skill level one.

Doing something new tends to give you energy.

My Favorite Drawing Exercises

Given the five skill levels that I outlined here, list three things that you currently do in your life, and see where you think you are. Maybe you play a musical instrument? Perhaps you enjoy cooking, and maybe you are somewhat of a buff when it comes to Thai cuisine? Or maybe you are good at certain sports? Or maybe you are good at some artforms, and maybe more so than at other Art forms? Can you qualify what skill level you are at for each of these?

You can also stay within art and list three fundamental skills, and consider at what skill level you are for each.

Do you know how to do perspective? Anatomy? Tonal composition? Color theory? Brush control for inking with a brush? Color theory? Do you know how to design a comics page? Or how to create a cartoon? Or how to sculpt a figure from clay? Or how to draw digitally? Or sculpt digitally? Or maybe how to design a poster or a book cover? Or how to do character design? Typography design? Website design? Logo design? Icon design?

The list goes on and on, even if you stay within the confines of art.

If you believe that you are at skill level four or five for all of these, then you are either old, and you have been at it for decades and decades, or, I have news for you: you are probably at skill level one in most of them. And that is good news! It is a vast landscape you get to explore!

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Now, what is this?
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I am trying to illustrate plays.
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Why the hell would you do that?
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I am hoping it will make them fun to read.
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It looks like a graphic novel, anyhow.
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It is not!
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I have never seen this!
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Well, but it might be worth trying, right?
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How do you intend to make money with this, then?
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I do not know yet what this wants to be. A book? Stories told online? Or political satire, like Spitting Image but on paper? Short excerpts from plays to wet the appetite of a potential audience? Young Adult literature? Could this be made into a shareable form for social media?
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(puffs)Huh. I do not get it.
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That does not matter. I am having fun with it and I am writing and drawing a lot. If this ends up being just for me, that would be fine.
Hi, friend,
New year, new goals, right? My Practice Drawing This newsletter is chugging along nicely, but I found I needed something else, something more creative to pour my energy into.

And I had a lot of energy! Because of the Booster Shot, I just kept on working from nine in the morning until three at night! It was weird, as if pure coffee was filling my veins.

This was also helped by the fact that I stopped thinking about making things that can be posted on social media and such: I haven’t done much on Instagram and YouTube lately, and it is so liberating! The amount of time I suddenly have to try new things, things that don’t necessarily work well on social media! I mean, how do you share an illustrated play? YouTube? Medium.com? Twitter? Instagram? They are not made for this. A blog can work, as can email, as you can see here. Webtoons, maybe... It’s not the audience for theatre though, methinks.

And I am having so much fun with it!

I might even do this newsletter in this form in the future. Did you know the old guys—Plato, Socrates, and such—did non-fiction in dialog form?

I drew lots of portraits, and I translated around three hundred pages of public domain English theater plays into Dutch. I’m going to send it out to publishers to see if there could be any interest in this sort of thing. Frankly, I am not holding my breath. This is different enough that it doesn’t fit into any existing catalog. It’s a new book category: illustrated plays.

On a side note: I discovered that I am way more expressive in Dutch. When I write in English, I tend to come up with one way of writing a sentence. In Dutch, several options pop up. I think I’ll try to write in Dutch first from now on, and maybe then translate to English.

Anyway, so, this is something I wanted to try: theatre plays with illustrations. I am having a ton of fun translating and illustrating those! I think this is a good sign. If I got bored with them, then other people would probably not enjoy reading them either.

Will I keep doing this? Who can tell. When doing creative work, always follow your muse. Work on what you feel like working on, otherwise you will end up resenting it. Don’t worry too much about practicing hard if you don’t feel like it. Don’t worry too much about what it is you think the market wants.

You think you want to be at skill level four, but do you, really? In my experience, skill level one is more fun even though what you produce isn’t very good yet. And the beauty of it is that you don’t see yet that your work sucks. Take the dialogue sample above. Worthy of an Oscar nomination, right? But I had fun, I tell you!

Play. Experiment. Be like a child. Let your subconscious lead you.

With that thought, happy creating!



You might also like this article where I describe a way for you to find out how much you actually don’t know yet.

I also have an article on Gamification of your art creation process .

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