So I’m an amateur artist. But amateur or not, I subscribe to the school of thought that if you do something, you should do it right. Painting is a skill and if you’re going to give it a go, you should have a game plan. Really, that’s true for just about anything you learn to do.

Everyone starts out as a novice, but the goal should be expertise. It just says good things about you. No one thinks, “Mediocrity, now, that’s where it’s at!”

I could go into the details of what abilities I’ve acquired as painter and give you a quick how-to from the world of water colors and oils, but I’ll spare you. What I’d rather do is explain what I’ve come to understand about creativity and the learning process through my experience as a painter. So without further ado, here are a few things I’ve taken from my experiences as a life-long learner:

1. Go Slow

Be careful about diving headfirst into something you know very little about. A lack of knowledge shouldn’t deter you, but it should at least make you cautious. I hate to say it, but creativity is expensive and if you’re not careful, you’re just going to be frustrated at yourself later when you’ve bought all the paraphernalia that goes with your new hobby only to have it collect dust on your kitchen table. You’ll get calls from both “Hoarders” and Dave Ramsey and they won’t be just to chat. Instead, rent an instrument, try charcoals, practice with play-dough, and then see where it goes. Sometimes something sounds good only because it’s new; once that wears off comes the true test as to whether this is your thing.

2. Emulation is not Bad

I have this thing where I want to create something truly original and I get frustrated when I start to see signs of other artists’ styles pop up in my work. It makes me feel sub-par, especially when I think of creative minds I respect like Sufjan Stevens who are so unique they can’t be defined by genre. To me, it means it’s possible and I’m not doing it.

As I’ve grown as an artist, though, I’ve realized that to be without influence is virtually unattainable. As you begin learning a new skill, this is where you start. You have no precedent to help you achieve mastery, so you glean ideas from those who have, all the while developing your own style. The key is choosing who you will allow to impact your creative process. This will give you huge insights into your character that you might not have discovered otherwise, especially if you are more open minded about what you consider noteworthy and avoid what’s popular.

3. Enjoy It

For me, when I paint, it is q verbally quiet, spiritually cacophonous experience. I’m pretty good at it now and that does add to the enjoyment of it, but even when I was a newbie, I was still thrilled at the thought of having time to spend at the easel. That’s kind of the point—your creative efforts should be something you love for the experience in and of itself. If the only pleasure you get is the end result, you are missing the best part of the process. Mastery and expertise will come in its due time if this is the attitude you take to your work.

The point I’m trying to get across is that learning is incredible and it’s something that shouldn’t end in a classroom. Maybe we would be less stressed, over-worked, under-socialized or whatever else modern sociologists claim our problem is if we would just give that thing we always thought we’d be good at the ‘ol college try. It could be great, or it could really suck; but how would you know if it never became more than an idea? We have precious few excuses to not try any more with the resources we have access to.