Make bold strokes in life.

Years ago, I decided to take art lessons in order to awaken my creativity. I hadn’t kept up with drawing and sketching since my college days, but realized it was something that enriched my life.

I found a wonderfully eccentric woman who lived in a large, Gothic-inspired home where she rented out the top rooms to university students. She was great. An accomplished painter herself, she helped me connect once again with the joy of sketching.

It wasn’t easy getting back into art. You’d think someone who drew throughout her life would find it a slam-dunk to sit before a group of objects and sketch away. But it didn’t happen like that.

In fact, I found it very difficult to focus. I kept fidgeting and looking at my watch to see how long it was before my lesson would be over. I felt like a ship tossed around in a storm.

Finally, during my third lesson, I started to relax. I found myself at last caught up in the sheer joy of looking at objects and taking in their lines and shadows. I was starting to capture their forms while delicately using short, light strokes of my pencil to create an image.

I’ll never forget the time when I was sketching a vase on top of a book. The image was drawn with my usual light strokes. But my teacher wasn’t impressed. She finally asked me to move to the side while she sat on the bench before the sketch pad. She took the pencil and bore down on it to make the shadows heavier.

I remembered cringing a bit because I thought, “Good night, she’s going to tear a hole in the paper!” But she didn’t. It was just my own perception of what constituted pressure on the paper. After she measured a few heavy strokes, she got up from the bench and I sat down and finished the sketch, this time enlivening the image with darker strokes.

The point she was trying to make was this: shadows need to be dark in order to separate it from the lighter portions of the drawing. Without contrast, the sketch looks bland. It has no energy or excitement.

The drawing needed boldness. And to draw boldly like that meant taking a risk.

Using the short, light strokes was playing it safe.

I realized then that it wasn’t just a lesson for drawing, but for life.

Are you playing it safe?

Are you lightly sketching your life? Or are you pushing yourself to take a risk and make bold, strong strokes of intention, vividly bringing your vision into reality?

This week, ask yourself what you need to do to “draw boldly.” Perhaps it’s calling someone who could be a potential business partner. Maybe it’s creating a web page that is authentic and transparent rather than offer the same shallow content like your competitors.

Maybe it’s taking a risk and deciding to finally call that coffee house and ask if you could get on their entertainment schedule.

When mulling over what you need to do, remember these things:

Don’t worry about what other people think.

This is a big one. Too often we worry about what our family may say, our friends, and even our co-workers.

You may want to step out in the world and live boldly, but yet you also may have to battle your loved ones who are cautioning you to play it safe.

They love you and overall, don’t want to see you hurt or disappointed. Yet be careful when listening to them. Look at their own lives and ask yourself, are they living boldly? Or are they also playing it safe?

Someone wise once said, “Never ask for directions to far-away lands from someone who never left their own front yard.”

You’re not going to get inspiration or advice from others who never took risks of their own. And the naysayers? They’ll hold you back, mostly because they’ve never done anything to pursue their own dreams.

Don’t worry about failure.

Here’s the deal: you’re going to fail. Of course you will fail if you’re attempting to accomplish anything of significance. There will always be a long line of imperfect experiments on the way toward achieving excellence.

We all have an inner critic. For motivation, read The Flinch by Julien Smith. (Free Kindle book) Julien does an outstanding job of identifying the critic within us and how to punch through.

The thing is, we have what Seth Godin calls “the lizard brain” that wants to play it safe. It pulls us back when we look at something we really want to do and says, “No, you don’t want to do that.”

It’s a constant battle of overcoming the lizard brain. The lizard brain wants you to keep analyzing every angle of a new project instead of leaping forward. But over-analyzing is making light strokes on the pages of life.

Don’t worry.

Have you ever been asked: “If you could do anything you wanted without worrying about money, what would it be?”

It’s meant to help you identify your true passion so you can start taking steps to make it happen. I always found the question interesting because we do worry. We worry about a lot of things, most of them never coming to pass.

There will always be ups and downs to life. Victories. Defeats. Battles won and lost. But if you want to live boldly, that is part of the package. You’re not going to experience those shining moments of brilliance without the darker shadows of failure.

Remind yourself that worrying doesn’t change anything. It is a waste of your creative energy. Instead, turn that worry on its head by asking, “What if?”

“What if…” is a great question. What if you do take a chance and call that coffee house to see if you could get on their entertainment schedule and… they said yes? What if you went to the coffee house with your guitar and sat down nervously on a small stool while wondering if anyone would appreciate your art? And then what if those who were there did like what you played?

What if there was someone there who needed a guitarist for his or her book release party?

What if…

Take your own type of “pencil” in life and start to sketch boldly. Don’t worry if anyone likes it. Only be concerned with being true to your heart.


I still have my sketch of the vase sitting on top of the book. I had it framed. And every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my tendency at times to lightly sketch my life and how much more interesting things look when I use bold strokes, instead.

Boldly make your mark.


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