Art School Lessons – How To Navigate The Dip

The art college foundation course I attended was run by a crazy & wonderful sculptor called Keith.

Keith had the looks and scariness factor of an old tattooed biker. He didn’t give two hoots for authority or “the rules” and did things his way.

On our first day (all wet behind the ears, nervous 17 and 18 year olds) he announced that for the first month of our course we would do absolutely nothing but life drawing. Cold fear struck our hearts. None of us could draw very well, having only just barely negotiated A level art.

For the next month we continuously drew models clothed, unclothed, walking, running, dancing to The Firebird and on one memorable occasion, suspended naked from the ceiling by clingfilm whilst some discombobulated and blushing men with clipboards from the local council attempted to measure the wall.

There were frustrations, dramas and tears but by the end of the month everyone had got a great grasp of drawing.

What Keith had done, with his rough hewn wisdom, was forced us all kicking and screaming through “The Dip”

Navigating The Dip

Learning a new form of art or a new technique starts out as exciting  fun. Then it gets harder and more serious until it hits a low point where it is no fun at all and you wonder if you will ever master it or manage to make it work. It’s frustrating and depressing. You cant see yourself ever getting better at it.

This is what Seth Godin calls The Dip.

Recognising you are in The Dip is half the battle.

Godin says that there are only three ways to deal with The Dip.

  • Get stuck in it
  • Quit it
  • Cross it

Harsh but true…

Masters of their craft struggled across to the other side

How do the people who are masters of their art get to be there? Did they wake up one morning with the knowledge of how to sculpt a perfect body in marble or paint a stunning portait in oils?

No, they struggled through the mental and spiritual wilderness that is The Dip, always keeping the goal in the forefront of their focus. The Dip is there to weed out the uncommitted. When you cross to the other side you are joining the masters of their craft who REALLY wanted to master it.

The Dip is powerful. The bigger the barrier the greater the reward for crossing it.

And maybe sometimes, quitting is the right option. If you realise something really isn’t for you then maybe it is time to stop struggling and find something you do REALLY want to commit to. The Dip can make you realise where you truly want to focus your energy.

Your Navigational Map

There are some tools that will be useful as you struggle across your own personal Dip

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses. If one way over just doesn’t work for you, take a step back and see if there is another way you can achieve it more suited to your ways of working.
  • Cross with friends. It may be easier to cross in a team if you can find alllies who are attempting to learn the same thing and who can help you when you fall. Joining a group or class to learn may really help.
  • Study failure. Look at the people who didnt make it. Why did they fail? Study what stopped them and then you can attempt to avoid making the same mistakes.
  • Just RECOGNISE that The Dip is there and focus on getting through it. It’s not forever and you will emerge on the far side with your newly fought for skills.

So, next time you are expanding your creative repertoire, recognise The Dip and use these strategies to help yourself across it.

I’m truly grateful that Keith & my old art school helped me to recognise that The Dip was there to struggle across and the bold would make it to the far side….

You may also like

We Need Your Opinion – Enterprising Artist’s Survey

Opportunities for artists have changed radically over the last 10 years or so.

Widespread use of the internet has begun a process of democratisation of the artworld as never before. New opportunities have been tempered by new challenges. It is a huge sea-change which has altered the art landscape forever. More and more artists are finding that it IS possible to make a living from their creativity. You no LONGER have to starve for your art…

What is less clear is that how do we fit into this new landscape as artists?

HOW are people doing? WHAT are they doing? WHERE are they going? Just HOW is it all panning out for YOU?

Introducing The Enterprising Artists Survey.

To get a little more of an idea, Artonomy has partnered with to create The Enterprising Artists Survey.

Your opinion and experience counts…

We need YOUR EXPERIENCE to understand what is going on.

In return for 10 minutes of your time filling out the survey, you will be emailed the summarized results and get a more detailed picture of today’s entrepreneurial art landscape.

So please help us  by completing the survey here

Thank You

Artonomy & Right Brain Rockstar



You may also like

Reader’s Showcase | Dan Avenell | Illustrator & Laser-Monkey Maker.

Dan AvenellHi, my name is Dan Avenell, and I’m an artist, illustrator and graphic designer based in London, UK.

Dan Avenell

This is some of the art and design I’ve done over the years. I usually create my art with pen and ink, then scan it into Photoshop and finish digitally. I also work in traditional media such as acrylics, oils, and the silk-screen process.

Dan Avenell

I enjoy working on a wide range of different projects, and if I am not working for a client I am probably doing something for my own amusement – as such, the pieces on this site are a mix of commissioned work and things I did for fun that I thought were worth putting on the site or selling as prints.

Dan Avenell

You can view more of Dan’s work {and his fabulous Laser Monkeys} and get in contact with him via his website or here on Facebook

You may also like

The Japanese Secret That Will Help You Achieve Your Creative Goals.

Do you ever feel just OVERWHELMED by what you are trying to achieve?

I’m currently trying to learn a new and complex creative skill which will take my art in a radically different direction over the next few years. At the moment I am in “depressing beginners phase” where each piece of work is “wrong” in some way, knowledge is guarded and hard to find and it feels like I will never be able to climb the precipitous learning curve to achieve the sweet upper slopes of mastery before retirement age. Great!

However, one thought keeps me going. The Japanese concept of KAIZEN or “continuous improvement”.

Kaizen – 改善

Kaizen – Japanese for “improvement”, or “change for the better” refers to philosophy or manufacturing practices that focus upon a continuous, never ending commitment to consistently increase the quality of products in every aspect of the business – every single day.

Sounds pretty dry and business oriented eh? But basically it means “getting better at stuff every day and not stopping getting better at stuff every day”

Well, that’s my take on it and Kaizen is not just for business. It is important in all aspects of life…

If you have heard of Kaizen before, like me you may have thought that it was originally an age old Japanese concept. Well interestingly, I just discovered that Kaizen was actually introduced to the Japanese by an American quality-control expert called Dr W Edwards Deming. He was brought to Japan after the second world war to try and help rebuild the war ravaged industry of the country. After the war, inflation, shortages and unemployment in all areas of Japan seemed overwhelming but by introducting the concept of Kaizen and continuous improvement every day, the Japanese people were able to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems to pull themselves out of the mire and become economically prosperous in a relatively short space of time.

Kaizen, creativity and your big plan…

When creating, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the scale of a task.

  • Perhaps you want to create monumental sculptures.
  • Maybe you want to create art works with collaboration on a global scale.
  • Possibly you want to learn a new and difficult creative skill.
  • Maybe you want to earn a living from your art in the next few years.

Whatever your big plan, utilizing Kaizen in your beliefs will help you achieve it.

In order to succeed you must have a long term focus. The beliefs you hold control your decisions and therefore your future. If you can hold on to the belief that you can constantly improve every day, each step forward takes you nearer your goal.

Persistance, trial and error and the zillions of tiny improvements you make along the way are what success is built on in the end.

Monitor your progress

At the end of each day, in order to monitor progress, ask yourself three questions…

  • What did I learn today?
  • What did I enjoy?
  • What/where/how did I improve?

The answers will allow you to take charge of your progress and to enjoy the fact that you are constantly moving forward, even when it seems little progress is being made. You will get there in the end.

I will leave the final word to my hero Thomas Edison

“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”


Have you used Kaizen to improve your work or achieve a goal? Do you think it will work for you? Let us know in the comments.

Post image by Nimbu under creative commons licence


You may also like