The Secret for 2018

It seems like lately I’ve been busier than ever, and staying on top of it all without becoming stressed can be a daunting task.

Fortunately, there’s a secret to being organized and happy, and I want to share it with you as we go into 2018.

Click on the image to watch the video and let me know what you think – how do you manage everything in your life?

Have a great night this New Year’s Eve and an even greater 2018!

In gratitude, Nicholas

PS I’m starting my free online workshop soon and I would love to have you participate – plus it’s a great way to kick off the new year! To register, just go to

Improving Your Art the Easy Way

887_I have noticed an interesting thing about how I learn and improve my art. I used to think the more time I spent painting – meaning the actual, physical time I spent working hard – was in direct proportion to how much my work improved.

Over the years, working hard is just something I felt was my only option if I wanted to make my art really great. The harder I worked, I thought, the faster and better my art would become…Now, years later, I think that maybe I had it all wrong.

I began to understand when I was listening to the poet and philosopher David Whyte speaking in San Francisco a couple of years ago. He said something I didn’t completely understand at the time, but which I wrote it later so that I could.

He said, “…Visitation, absence, visitation, absence, visitation, absence, (he this repeated over and over again) is how we learn.”  In other words, the time between the periods of effort, the pauses are fundamentally as important as the periods of work. He believes that this “on, off and on again “ process produces more consistent, more substantial results. It is not how long we work but rather how often. I have now come to realize that this is also true for me.

I taught a 5-day workshop on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. This is an amazing opportunity for people to spend an unbroken period of time just focusing on their art. The improvement is extraordinary. However, I also have taught a 6 week, 3 hours per week evening course in my studio. What I have seen, amazingly, was that these students – even though they were only working 3 hours a week – also have had similar remarkable improvement even though they were working half as much time as those in the workshop.

I now understand that even though they were not physically painting as much, they were, nonetheless, still thinking about principles they had learned. Examples of color, value, and composition all begin to creep into their everyday life and as a result their visual sensitivity increases. Miraculously they just improved every time they came to class.

So maybe we don’t need to work harder forever and ever, but instead just sometimes put the brushes in the can of turpentine and go away for the afternoon. In the name of improving my work, I now should go bird watching more often. Or collect driftwood or even play some bocce ball. Just mix it up.

Visitation, absence, visitation, absence. This is truly how we learn. I think this way of working is going to work out much better not just for my art but for my life as well.

What do you do to stay inspired with your work?

In gratitude, Nicholas

Art and the Pursuit of Happiness

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and the discussion inevitably led to the topic of art, and what motivates us to create. The answer, we realized, is beautifully simple.

Watch the video and let me know what you think – what inspires you in your work?

In gratitude, Nicholas

PS I’m starting a free online workshop soon and I would love to have you participate. To register, just go to


3 Steps to Make Your Dreams Come True

885_If you have a dream, something you are passionate about achieving in your life, sometimes it can be reassuring to look back a few years. How did you previously accomplish something that is now present in your life that was at one time just a dream?

I do this all the time. In doing so, I have noticed a pattern of behavior.

There have always been a series of sequential steps taken. They have been present in every journey I have taken from a dream to reality.

These steps have become so familiar I finally just had to give them a name. I call it the Pattern of Desire.

Maybe this could be helpful for you too.

Step One – Begin in any way possible.

This is the hardest step as it involves some degree of courage. Whatever that thing is you desire, whether it is writing a blog, dramatically improving your Art, learning to sing (that one terrifies me) or even quitting your day job to do whatever that is your more passionate about, you first must just do one thing.

You must begin. The first steps can be small but they are essential. Do that one thing that moves you a tiny bit closer towards the dream.

The “Living on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, making Art in the morning and swimming in the warm sea every afternoon” dream (Oh you have that one too?) might possibly start by taking a beginning Italian class at the local community college. Getting your Art in a prestigious gallery might begin by taking a trip to visit and possibly just saying hello.

It is hard because it is an actionable step. You must DO something. You must be proactive. It is scary because any worthwhile dream carries within it the fact that you have never actually been there before. It is all brand new. And that is scary.

So make it a small step but simply begin it in any way possible. The pattern will not work if this step is not first taken. The world will never know what truly extraordinary thing you were thinking of bringing to life. You simply must first begin.

Step 2 – Talk about it

The repercussions of taking an actionable step towards whatever that desired thing is in your life is significant. Almost immediately the payback comes in some form of exhilaration. Pushing send on that first ever blog post you just wrote, or starting to paint on the biggest painting you have ever tried, gives you the secret sauce you need to maintain momentum. It also is newsworthy.

I always tell my students that the challenges they are overcoming, getting their work from A to B might not be pretty, it might be hard but it is almost always super interesting for other people to hear about. We all appreciate the Mona Lisa but wouldn’t it be fascinating to hear how Leonardo felt insecure the day he painted it? That he was going to work on that other painting of his neighbor’s dog but since he couldn’t find it in his messy studio he just decided to work on the one of that rather plain looking girl he had started but didn’t feel particularly good about?

So let the thrill of beginning enter your life and share it with those around you. Talk about what it feels like to have your first ever reader comment on something you have written, say you feel happy in Italian or share on Instagram a photo of that started painting that is so big it practically couldn’t fit into your studio.

It is not boasting. It is generosity because your willingness, your bravery to take a step towards whatever it is you desire in your life inspires everyone around you. Talking about it, sharing it also adds to your momentum. Like a child first learning to ride a 2-wheel bicycle, you are wobbly but OMG! I think I am actually doing this and now the feeling is contagious. This is big news. Make sure all those you care about know about it. Tell them your dream is starting to come true. Because, in fact, it is.

Step 3 – Teach Someone

I used to think I had to be the world’s biggest expert to teach. I now see how that thinking was flawed. It really held me back for years from helping people because of course I never could really become the world s biggest expert in anything. It is also not necessary. In fact, all that is needed is that you are simply just a few bends down the road ahead of the person you are teaching. So wherever you are on the road to accomplishing whatever you desire in your life, I assure you there are quite a few people behind you wishing they were where you are right now.

So help them.

The act of teaching, offering guidance will not only be super helpful for those around you but equally important to you. There is enormous personal conviction gained by teaching. The universal principles of first giving and then in turn receiving – not to mention the confidence and personal authority that all comes with helping others – is often all the additional tailwind that is needed to hold your course steady to the realization of your true desires.

It does of course take time. It might take years. However, knowing that you are on a reliable course, that there is a worn path ahead of you, makes the journey far more doable. If the journey is familiar, it will be palatable. The path can be enjoyable and even exhilarating. If it is, there is a strong likelihood you will remain upon it. And of course if you do, then that desire that once was only a dream, might just possibly come true.

What are some of your dreams?

In gratitude, Nicholas

Tahitian Aqua

I wanted to share with you my recipe for this great tropical blue color I frequently use with my work. You can’t buy it in any store, so I thought it would be a perfect topic for the Sunday Blog.

Click on the image to watch the video and let me know what you think – do you use any colors that are particular to your practice?

In gratitude, Nicholas

PS I’ve put together a free assessment designed to help artists identify and solve their biggest art making challenge. You can take it by going to If you find it helpful, please feel free to pass it along to anyone who you think could benefit from it.

What feels harder than making art?

what-feels-harder-than-making-artOne of the hardest things in my life I have ever done was become an artist. Like so many people, I had serious doubts. I saw my life hadn’t been one of any particular struggle. I believed great art had to come out of monumental struggle. A place of deep anguish.

Nothing particularly traumatic ever occurred in my life. Finally, I just decided that even though my life wasn’t filled with huge amounts of pain, there was plenty- it was filled with that I wanted to express. I chose painting and actually writing to do this. I am still figuring it out.

Over time I was able to slowly build up the self-confidence to put my art out in the world. And of course your art is actually you. This is why it is so scary.

Our biggest fear is that we will be criticized. Someone we don’t know or even worse, someone we actually care about, will tell us what we are making is not adequate. It doesn’t measure up and as a result of our efforts we somehow are less.

When this occurs it can rupture the relatively thin filament of self-confidence we as artists have so slowly and tenderly built up within ourselves.

Usually those people who put you down are not artists and therefore their words, at least for me, are not so much of a concern. Those who have even a tiny inkling how fraught the creative process is with insecurity and self-doubt rarely feel the need to make the situation worse for someone.

But when it happens, and it will, don’t let it. Don’t give it too much attention. Somewhere I heard the saying  “Don’t let it rent space in your brain” which I love.

Hear it, consider it, look for a morsel of learning if there, and then step away.
Let it go and move only towards the people and things that bring you alive.

And never, never look back.


The Clifford Wilton Ashland Museum Show

I visited my late father’s show at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Oregon, last weekend and I wanted to share this little recording I made with all of you. He was clearly a man of talent and skill, and it was amazing to be able to see all of his work in one location, hanging in this beautiful space.

In gratitude, Nicholas

PS I’ve put together a free assessment designed to help artists identify and solve their biggest art making challenge. You can take it by going to If you find it helpful, please feel free to pass it along to anyone who you think could benefit from it.

Why it’s Great to be an Artist

884_I get up super early these days and ride my bicycle to the studio. This time of year it is quite cold and almost dark when I start. There are not too many people up yet and sometimes I feel I shouldn’t be either. The cars that speedily pass me this early are most likely business people commuting into San Francisco.

My doubts about why I am pedaling so early begin to fade as I turn off the busy road onto a stretch of bike path that goes along a wetland. The sun is coming up now and the water begins to shimmer. The egrets, gulls, stilts and pelicans are everywhere. The din of the traffic is gone. This path is mostly empty. In many ways this reminds me of what it is like to be an artist.

It is the path less taken.

Gratitude is too small a word to describe how fortunate I feel to be an artist. On this particularly beautiful morning there are so many reasons why.

Here are just a few.

I love that making Art teaches me about Life.

I love when you mix cadmium yellow light with phthalo green it feels like you’re standing in a tropical rainforest.

I love I don’t know where I am going but somehow I know when I am getting there.

I love that my favorite scraping tool was originally used by a dentist.

I love that making Art is about the exceptions instead of the rules.

I love that there are people in the world who understand and desire what I make.

I love that I can have any colors I desire.

I love that I have laughed out loud when making Art.

I love that sometimes I have cried.

I love that when I make my Art, I always hold on so tightly but when I am done, I have to let it go.

I love that artists are a tribe.

I love that a bad day can turn into a great day when you make Art you love.

Sometimes I pass another cyclist coming the other way on this beautiful stretch of bike path. Maybe it is because there are not many people on this path, or perhaps because they are feeling as I do, we always nod to each other. Sometimes it is just a small wave or a smile, but there almost always is a mutual acknowledgment.

There are just two of us here, moving through this extraordinary place at the same time. The sun is rising, everything is turning golden, there are birds everywhere and, not unlike the journey of an artist, for some miraculous reason most everybody else went the other way.

I love that too.

Why do you love being an artist?


A Dog’s Dinner

Learning how to balance a painting’s composition can be difficult. If you add in too many marks, the piece can become crowded, making it difficult for the viewer to know where to focus.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution for this. Watch the video and let me know what you think. How do you solve your problem pieces?

In gratitude, Nicholas

PS. I’ve put together a free assessment, designed to help you identify and then solve your biggest art making challenge.

To take it, just go to

If you find it useful, please feel free to pass it along to your friends!

This Question Changes Everything


I became somewhat obsessed with this question early on and have been asking myself the same one for my entire life. In my current job of mentoring artists, I now help others find their own answers to this very same question. It is not necessary to even know the full answer but it is imperative to consistently ask yourself,

What inspires you?

It has occurred to me that when you become involved with this question, over time, you get better and better at answering it. The answers change with the passage of time. They become more personal and distinct the more times you think about it. Each time you ask the better the answer becomes.

For many of us this might be the most important question of our lives. It is for me. Every time it is asked, every time we allow ourselves to realign our lives to the answer, our capacity for generating more meaningful art increases.

Moving towards the fire – those things in our life that inspire us and bring us alive – generates creativity. It took me a long time to understand that out of inspiration, doing all manner of things you love, comes creativity. If you are an artist and rely on creativity like me, then it becomes imperative to protect, to nurture all things that inspire you.

I am not just talking about art. I am talking about that yoga class, seeking out and seeing those friends who light you up, taking time in your day to walk in the woods, going to see new kinds of art, taking a workshop to learn something new or just diving into a new world of a book you have wanted to read but just never found the time. It is, of course, different for everyone. It is the practice of discernment. Choosing the big YES! over the small yes or, even worse, the plain and resigned, ok.

It is important to answer the question accurately because often the culmination of the answers and decisions based on this question manifest in what we create, what ends up in our lives. It could be a new business idea, a new relationship, a painting, a novel, a song, a career change or any other countless possibilities. In short, the decisions, the choices derived can either bring us alive or hold us where we have been. We want the former, especially if you are an artist.

We just simply must get it right. Our creative lives depend upon it.

Thankfully, as artists we actually get a lot of practice asking this very important question. The very process of making art is literally thousands (actually, millions) of yes and no decisions based solely on what feels right to you.

In an art process it is all about compromising less and less, eliminating the unfulfilling parts so that eventually what remains is something incredibly potent and meaningful to you. Your art is simply one of your answers made visible.

Our art, therefore, can stand as our personal reminder, a single placeholder of what truly matters to us at that moment. It resides within the bigger context of our art making, a practice that we can return to again and again to try to better answer that essential question: What inspires me?

I am curious. What inspires you?


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