Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Talent Myth: Why perseverance and passion trump talent

talent myth
As an artist and an art instructor, do you know what I hear over and over again?

“I wish I had your talent!”

Although I’m so grateful to hear that compliment, I truly believe anybody can be an artist. However, you need to develop the right mindset and learn the skills and techniques to get the results you want.

Artist Miriam Schulman painting watercolor in her home studio
Artist Miriam Schulman painting watercolor in her home studio.

Everyone was born with creativity inside of them

From the very first finger painting, you were an artist. And as a toddler, your artwork wasn’t accompanied with mind chatter that convinced you that you weren’t good enough. You painted because it brought you joy.

Anyone can develop skills to paint...
you just need to be shown proper techniques.
There was no doubt that you could do it. Then you started to notice that other children got more praise than you did when they showed off their art. In time, you began to believe that you couldn’t be an artist. You started to believe the “talent myth” that some were born with talent and others weren’t.

But the truth is...

there is something else going on here. And that is you need to have skills to get results. And to have great results you need to practice those skills. So the child who starts off as a clumsy artist can acquire the skills they need and the longer that child is willing to work at it the better they get. It is just like how you learn and acquire any other skill such as tennis, bridge or knitting.

You just need to be shown the proper techniques.

Not everyone is a child prodigy, nor do you need to be

Let’s face it. There are only a handful of child prodigies. The rest of us who achieve fame, marginal acclaim or just make a living or a hobby with painting, dance, music or sports, do ONE thing. We work at it and we don’t give up even when it isn’t easy.

My mother was a professional dance teacher and studied dance in college, but she would be the first to tell you she was always the worst one in the dance studio. How did she make it as a professional dance instructor? The answer is simple, but maybe not obvious. She simply didn’t give up or get discouraged.

My daughter is studying to be a professional musician. Although she showed an early affinity for musical rhythms and music, she didn’t begin her formal lessons in cello until the fifth grade. That is considered really old to begin classical musical training especially when you consider that Yo Yo Ma was already playing at the Kennedy Center at age 7. But she didn’t let not being a child prodigy or getting a late start at cello discourage her, and she’s on the road to realizing her dream as a professional musician.

How is she able to do this?

Because she doesn’t give up even when things aren’t easy. She works incredibly hard and spends her school vacations and summer working on her scales and technique to catch up. Meanwhile the “child prodigies” in our neighborhood...every affluent New York suburb has one...have already gotten bored of their instruments and moved on to other things.

Why consistency of effort counts

My son heads to the gym before school with his father every morning to lift weights so that he can wrestle in college. He also goes to a wrestling club to hone his skills in the off season. Every time he tests his technique during training, he’s practicing. Some days go well, others don’t, but he’s learning and getting better by being shown the proper skills and techniques. To get to the level of a Division 1 athlete he has chosen to train over the summer instead of hanging out with his friends. Any coach or athlete will tell you what makes all the difference is the consistency of effort over the long run.

I wasn’t born with “tennis” talent

I play tennis for fun with the town recreation department. I wouldn’t say I was born with any special talent for it, but lessons certainly helped. And I didn’t just take one lesson..but I take lessons each week during the summer so I am good enough to enjoy the game.

Imagine if I just shrugged my shoulders and said I couldn’t play tennis because I wasn’t born with “tennis” talent?...or I was too old to start?

artist Miriam Schulman in her home studio
But that is exactly what I hear all the time from folks who say they would like to paint but don’t have any artistic talent. Obviously you won’t see me at the US Open or even leading the town tennis team, but that’s because tennis is not my singular is. However, I am good enough to play for the sheer joy of it.

And I encourage my students to feel the same way about their art. Yeah, maybe their paintings won’t be hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art one day...(and by the way, neither will mine) but is that really the point?

The process of painting made them happy and with a little patience, practice and perseverance their art can make others happy as well.

The power of passion and perseverance

I’m in the midst of reading a marvelous book by Angela Duckworth titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

As much as I would love to plagiarize and quote long passages from this text, I encourage you to unearth these treasures yourself.

In sum, her whole book is about the myth of the genius or the myth of talent. Now this may not be a new concept as Nietzsche was writing about the cult of “genius” since the 19th century. He said, ”For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking.” What he means is that defining others a genius or talented lets us off the hook from working hard, but as Nietzsche and the studies have pointed out, genius and talent are acquired through hard work.

Here are some excerpts from Duckworth’s writings which I’ve been reading out loud to  my children at the kitchen table:

“When it comes to how we fare in the marathon of life, effort counts tremendously… “Grit” as she calls it is ”about doing what you love, but not just falling in love—staying in love. Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

Are you ready to fall in love?

I’ve heard many people say they can’t paint. What they really mean is they expect to paint like they have been painting for as long as I have, without being shown how. When you want to go from zero to proficient without skills acquired by effort and training, that frustration leaves you giving up at the beginning.

Fall in love with watercolor

If you always wanted to paint in watercolor, but have been afraid to start, I have a class at the Inspiration Place that is perfect for you.  

Taking an online class is the perfect way to learn at your own pace within the privacy of your home.

In Watercolor Secrets you will learn techniques through step-by-step instruction, and you can practice at your own pace and develop the skills you need to let your creativity soar.

Have you already taken Watercolor Secrets?

If you have already taken Watercolor Secrets and are looking for a new challenge, may I suggest you join one of these watercolor classes which have open registration?

Click on each picture for more information.

In Case We Haven't Met Yet...

handcrafted handmade holidays gifts
Hello! I'm Miriam Schulman and I create mixed media art to tell stories. I also teach other people how to craft their stories with art. I give them the techniques they need to get the results they desire which brings more joy to their lives.

My art has been published by Somerset Studio, Art of Man and the New York Times among others and collected by an international audience. When I'm not working on art in my studio, you'll find me in a museum spending time with friends or family. Explore my art at or join the fun at

Now I want to hear from you…
Have you ever had a time in your life when you have achieved success through grit and determination?

Read More »

Monday, July 18, 2016

why handcrafted still matters

handcrafted handmade holidays gifts
This summer, I stayed with family in Portland, Oregon. My cousin showed me a grand ole time while I tried to not make more work for his wife who was already quite busy with three young children. Over dinner, she asked me about the kind of art I create. I encouraged her to open the hostess gift since my “art was inside.”

handcrafted handmade holidays gifts
Earlier she had tossed it aside while she made my bed. My heart sank as it sunk in that although my cousin, her husband, had insisted there was plenty of room for me to stay with them for the weekend, my stay meant that all five of them would be sharing a bedroom.

However, after she learned that the gift was personal, she immediately went to open it. I had carefully wrapped my gift in the same colored tissue paper and patterned washi tape I use to wrap all of my Etsy sales and added a hand sewn card on the top. (The card was a print with gold stitching around it.) Inside, she found a peacock apron, a patriotic cosmetic bag set, and a bar of French soap. (I did not make the soap, but thought it made everything smell better.)

As she marveled at each piece, I felt relief wash over me that I chose something that she liked and made my visit more welcome. I’m glad that I gave her more than just the soap.

Meaningful Handmade Gifts

In our “Buy Now” culture where we can get manufactured gifts delivered in two days from Amazon with a simple click of a mouse, giving and getting a handmade gift has become a rare phenomenon.

That’s why when I receive a handmade gift these days it is incredibly meaningful.

I always prefer handmade gifts over store bought.

cosmetic bag
see all cosmetic bags HERE
Maybe it was my grandparents’ influence over the years. They insisted on receiving handmade cards from me each year for every occasion to mark events. For my grandfather’s father’s day and birthday cards, I would include some handmade puzzles, or I would illustrate his favorite poems.

My grandmothers always loved my art on a card, and my mother still treasures the treats I send her from my CafePress shop, such as the glass cutting board, printed napkins, or the apron from my shop.

But, I know the reasons why many of us resort to store-bought gifts.

We’re too busy to handcraft something. We give in to gift cards since our loved ones “have everything anyway.” Or sometimes their wish list is so specific with must-haves, we feel they would be disappointed with a handmade gift.

Whatever your reasons for running to the store for all gift-giving occasions, I’d like to convince you to try something new this year. Find the joy in creating handmade gifts from the heart!

Here are just a few reasons to give it a go:

handcrafted handmade holidays gifts
1. {Your} Time is Priceless

Although finding the time to create a handmade gift might be the very reason that’s holding you back, it’s also the very reason a handmade gift is priceless. Your time is valuable and when you give your time to create a handmade gift, the result is very valuable to the person who receives it.

2. Truly One-of-a-Kind

There’s not a more economical way to give a truly one-of-a-kind gift than creating it by hand. For that person on your list who has everything, a handmade gift is the perfect option. It offers the ultimate in personalization, because you can hand-select the perfect colors and elements for each recipient.

handcrafted handmade holidays gifts
3. Environmentally Friendly

Most, if not all, handmade gifts you could think to give are better for the environment than store-bought gifts. The carbon footprint of your gift is reduced because it wasn’t made halfway around the world, it wasn’t transported to a retail store, and you didn’t need to spend hours traveling to and from the store to complete your shopping list. Some handmade items reuse materials that you might already have on hand, increasing the green value of homemade gifts.

womens aprons
see current aprons for sale HERE (for cooks and crafters)
4. Save Money

Most of the time, you will spend less money when you give a handmade gift, but its ultimate value is higher due to the time you gave to create it.

5. Handmade Gifts become Family Heirlooms

I am not sure I remember anymore who gave me which crystal platter for my wedding as I received so many and they all blend into each other. But I definitely remember special handmade gifts like the baby blanket given to me by my grandmother’s best friend or the sweaters she made for me and my children. The blanket and the sweaters have been lovingly stored away while the onesies and outfits from Baby Gap went to the Salvation Army years ago.

Handcrafted for the Holidays

handcrafted handmade holidays gifts
Are you ready to create your own handmade gifts from the heart?

This fall, I am launching a course called Handcrafted Holidays where I have invited nine other artists to teach handcrafted goodies that you can use to decorate your home or to create as gifts for the holidays.

All the gifts can be adapted for Christmas or Hanukkah (or any other occasion). Since we are still creating the course, I would love your input.

Please tell me what you’d like to learn about making handmade holiday gifts by completing this survey. Since your time is valuable, everyone who completes the survey will be entered to win the Handcrafted Holidays course for free. There will be one lucky winner and no purchase is necessary.

click here to take survey and enter for your chance to win the class for free

In Case We Haven't Met Yet...

handcrafted handmade holidays gifts
Hello! I'm Miriam Schulman and I create mixed media art to tell stories. I also teach other people how to craft their stories with art. I give them the techniques they need to get the results they desire which brings more joy to their lives.

My art has been published by Somerset Studio, Art of Man and the New York Times among others and collected by an international audience. When I'm not working on art in my studio, you'll find me in a museum spending time with friends or family. Explore my art at or join the fun at

Let's Discuss!

How do you feel about giving or receiving handmade gifts?

Read More »

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

5 life lessons from animals (art & poetry)

animal art
The reason I became an artist was that I am most comfortable communicating my thoughts and feelings visually. However, since I am often asked to explain my art through the written and spoken word, I am sometimes at a loss for how to translate them into something equally meaningful.

    We can learn a lot from art

    When preparing for my last solo art show, I stumbled across the following poem, “Straight Talk from a Fox” by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. The poem was the perfect counterpoint for my fox painting “Dandelion Wishes” which will be part of the juried show and fundraiser “Rescue Me” at transFORM Gallery in New Rochelle from July 9-Sept. 24, 2016.
    fox art for sale

    Here is the poem in full so you can enjoy the beauty of the words.

    Straight Talk from a Fox by Mary Oliver

    Listen says fox it is music to run
    over the hills to lick
    dew from the leaves to nose along
    the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
    ducks in their bright feathers but
    far out, safe in their rafts of
    sleep. It is like
    music to visit the orchard, to find
    the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
    rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
    is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
    writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
    be told. It is flesh and bones
    changing shape and with good cause, mercy
    is a little child beside such an invention. It is
    music to wander the black back roads
    outside of town no one awake or wondering
    if anything miraculous is ever going to
    happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
    moment’s miracle. Don’t think I haven’t
    peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
    making love, arguing, talking about God
    as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
    instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
    in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
    home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
    responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
    give my life for a thousand of yours.

    Circle of life

    This poem about the circle of life and the fox’s interpretation of the human condition resonated with me. Maybe it’s because I have long admired the inquisitive mind of the fox and the nocturnal creature’s use of subtlety and cunning. As a smaller carnivore, it can’t compete on brute force alone, and prefers to stay behind the scenes. Plus, foxes are incredibly adaptable animals. This adaptability allows them to be successful in many environments.

    cat art for sale
    Ebony's Bath  →collect cat art

    If we’re just willing to listen and observe, we can find meaningful life lessons in poems, artwork and other creatures.

    We can learn a lot of valuable life lessons from animals. It’s one of the main reasons I paint them and Mary Oliver writes about them.

    Our pets love us unconditionally and yet, they don’t care what people think. They go about each day’s activities with zeal (my cat has elaborate rituals for each part of the day). They use all of their senses to survive and thrive in their world, and they stay mindful in every moment.

    pig art for sale Life Lessons from Animals

    Through my observations painting animals, here are 5 life lessons we can learn from animals:
    • Death is part of life
    • Trust your instincts
    • Love unconditionally
    • Be mindful of every moment
    • Take naps
    You’re Invited: Rescue Me

    The Rescue Me event at transFORM Gallery, where my fox painting Dandelion Wishes along with several of my other animal art paintings will be displayed, benefits the Humane Society of Westchester.
    art show
    The show will be on display through Sept. 24, 2016, and features artwork that is animal themed in nature in an effort to raise awareness for the compassionate care and treatment of animals.

    Other Posts You Might Like:

    In Case We Haven't Met Yet...

    Art Journaling Inspirations →
    Hello! I'm Miriam Schulman and I create mixed media art to tell stories. I also teach other people how to craft their stories with art. I give them the techniques they need to get the results they desire which brings more joy to their lives.

    My art has been published by Somerset Studio, Art of Man and the New York Times among others and collected by an international audience. When I'm not working on art in my studio, you'll find me in a museum spending time with friends or family. Explore my art at or join the fun at

    Let's Discuss!

    What life lessons have you learned from animals?

    Read More »