The Artist’s Life: In the Gap

A woman I know recently shared that her young daughter had been lamenting over not knowing what she was gifted at. The well-meaning mom said she wasn’t sure either. They desperately went from soccer to dance to gymnastics, believing that in order for the girl to thrive in any activity, they had to find the elusive one thing she was gifted at. I felt sad for the little girl, and her story resonated in a familiar way. This notion that we should only focus on our areas of strength is a stumbling block many of us creative types encounter time and again. All too often it is the reason someone uses to not pursue a new technique that she really wishes she could do.

"Not All Black and White" by Crystal Neubauer
“Not All Black and White” by Crystal Neubauer

The truth is that being gifted at something does not determine whether we can do it well. Quite the opposite—doing something repeatedly, even before we have any talent to show for it, is how we develop our skills. The old adage that practice makes perfect contains much wisdom and certainly applies to the developing artist.

Looking around the Internet at all the talented artists out there, it is tempting to believe they are the gifted ones with an innate ability to do something right the first time. The fear of being vulnerable enough to try a new technique and stick with it through the awkward beginnings can set in, causing you to think, “If I can’t do it right the first time, I must not be good at it. If I can’t produce the thing the way I envision it in my head or see it on the screen, I should just accept that it is not meant to be for me. This must not be my calling. Here is the evidence. I am not good at it. I am not an artist. I give up.”

As tempting as it is to play it safe and only pursue something that comes relatively easily, that scenario can be pretty limiting. My very first collage efforts were so bad that I cringe thinking about them. When I shared this tidbit in my workshops students looked at me with skepticism. But when I became brave enough to show them my very first collage, they laughed with relief. Maybe there was hope for them yet! I can remember many times in those early days when I sat down at the work table feeling nearly paralyzed, believing that I would never achieve what I dreamed of doing. I am so glad I pushed through and persisted in showing up for my dream.

"To Love and Fear" by Crystal Neubauer
“To Love and Fear” by Crystal Neubauer

When I can’t stop thinking of something I have seen, when I obsess over a particular style on Pinterest, when seeing a piece of art lights up something inside of me and my passion for it grows with each glance, that is when I know I want to pursue that medium. Instead of looking and saying in defeat that I cannot do what others do, I use it to fuel my next efforts. No matter how far it may seem from my current abilities, I know I will not be satisfied until I try, and try, and try.

While it is true that there are people who effortlessly master their craft, the vast majority of us get there by practicing. Author Malcolm Gladwell maintains that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. There is no special secret to getting there. Author and radio host Ira Glass believes that by doing the hard work of practicing we can transition from the beginning of a creative practice to where we ultimately want to be. He said, “It is only by going through a volume of work that you are going to catch up and close that gap.”

I am discovering that the more I practice my craft, the more time I spend working on what I feel passionate about, and the better I get at what I do, the wider the gap becomes for me—and that’s a good thing. This is not because I need to put in more than what’s needed to perfect it, but because as I grow into my vision, my vision continues to grow with me. There is no one place where I “arrive” and stay.

This space between where I am in this journey and where I want to be is what I call the artist’s life. Ever endeavoring toward that next goal, or vision, or dream, gives us a direction and can inform our activities. But the actual satisfaction of the creative life comes from learning to lean in to the gap and enjoy the ride.

In each blog I will share the work of one artist whose work inspires me and challenges me to grow.

My current art crush is Silvia Poloto. Silvia is an accomplished artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally. She works in a range of mediums, from vibrant abstract creations on canvas to mixed-media sculptures. It is her black and white collage series that I am currently obsessed with. The color palette, the placement of materials, and the subtle details all speak to my own collage sensibilities. As I push myself to work on a larger scale, Silvia is one artist whose work continues to inspire and inform my process. To see Silvia’s work, visit her website:

About Crystal Neubauer

Crystal Neubauer

From obtaining gallery representation to writing the book The Art of Expressive Collage: Techniques for Creating with Paper and Glue (North Light Books) to teaching workshops nationwide and opening my studio, learning to tune in to the voice within has led me on a journey of learning “I can.” Join me for an “I can” experience of your own as you learn to tune in to the creative flow while identifying the negative messages and fears that stop you. Find my work on my website, and more about the process, techniques, and my life on the blog.


Crystal Neubauer

About Crystal Neubauer

Gallery represented artist. Author of The Art Of Expressive Collage; Techniques With Paper and Glue. Blogger. National workshop instructor.

One thought on “The Artist’s Life: In the Gap

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience of being afraid that you won’t get it right the first time. I have so often feel that way as well. You have helped me to understand that it is all part of the journey.


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