Selective Repetition


One of hundreds (if not thousands) of studies done by the great Michelangelo Buonarroti. Is it any surprise he mastered human anatomy?

The eight laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition.” — John Wooden, NCAA record-winning Basketball Coach at UCLA

How we make ourselves is perhaps the most important thing we can do for ourselves. And, if we do a good job, we get to make our mark in the world. Therefore, it’s essential that we be conscious of what enters our bodies, minds and hearts because what goes in must come out.


Joan Miro’s studio in Mallorca. Surrounding ourselves with art, open air and quality people keeps us inspired and creative.

But what’s just as important is how often we repeat those constructive actions for repetition strengthens the act that’s being repeated and its results. Hence the importance of paying attention. The quality and frequency of deep focus is heavily tied to excellence. The greatest and happiest artists have always been those who practiced diligently. We might regard it as simply devotion (to their craft), but it’s really about finding harmony in the act of being a creative person. To qualify as true artists, we must create with focus and do so regularly.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” ― William James

And how does this tie into our happiness? Well, perhaps the world is in you just as much as you are in the world. And while it’s often said that it’s not good to be inside our own heads all the time, the truth is that our personal reality is our only reality. And since what we repeat becomes our truth, we are always biased. This is why it’s so wrong (and dangerous) to pass quick judgement on others. An astute mind will seek to understand first before trying to be understood. Only then can we continue to grow and learn from  each other.


Senecio by Paul Klee. Klee’s art playfully resembles that of a child with its beautiful presentation of simple form, color and innocence.

So each day we must really look to see the world with fresh eyes, not to find “THE TRUTH” but “A TRUTH”.  We must share and make tangible what’s uniquely inside each of us.

“Art does not reproduce the visible but makes things visible.” — Paul Klee

Unfortunately, when we don’t own our minds or bodies we get  confused. The often used but sometimes misguided advice of “follow your heart” becomes no more than a reaction based on pure adrenaline. “Feelings” are hardly objective — the biological mechanism of fight or flight is ill served in our current times. When our ego is fearful, lost or overly proud, we don’t see clearly as to where we’ve gone wrong or how to do things better. Often times, the solutions lie elsewhere — in reflection, in understanding and synergy. When our minds and bodies are sick, our compasses become misaligned. Silence and peace of mind is terribly underrated.


Rafiki from Disney’s The Lion King. Are you ensuring that your body and mind are healthy and balanced? How do you expect to do great (or even decent) things if they are not?

But when we’re balanced and healthy, ours heads and hearts can follow what we can properly call intuition. Only then are we able to choose our routines, rather than succumb to unintended behaviors that form so insidiously. Poor habits are easy to acquire.


Depending on our own biases, we’ll see either a beautiful girl or an old lady. This classic optical illusion test is proof that we all see the same things differently no matter how “obvious” it may appear to us individually.

Since we live in a world bombarded with constant headlines, advertisements, and “free” advice from experts and gurus, we must stay sharp and mindful in order to separate the wheat from the chaff — we need to be conscious of what we see, hear and absorb. Without a clear head and healthy body to suit, we are ill-prepared to handle this endless invasion of dubious information.


The Escadaria Selaron is a world famous set of steps created by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaron. (Image from Daily Mail UK.)


Advertisement in public places being passed off as public art. (Image from NBC News)

Habits are tricky things. We might make “positive” ones but without persistent effort, they fade away and die (exercise is a common example). It’s almost funny how “negative” habits seem to form and stick so effortlessly. Quick and easy adaptation sure has its price. But perhaps the bigger reason poor behavior ingrains itself so strongly is because it’s just being repeated more often. We’ve simply been far more exposed and conditioned to behave in negative and destructive ways than the other way around. Positive, inspired living requires us to choose it. In other words, we need to choose what we repeat.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

So here are some simple things to ponder as a working artist:

a) If your routine is that of chaos, disorder and lack of preparedness, then expect to see the same in your work. You will repeat many of the same trials and make many of the same mistakes over and over again. And you’ll get used to it. But the opposite is also true, if you’re well-structured, you’ll get stronger, for order begets more order.

“Repetition is the reality and the seriousness of life.” — Soren Kierkegaard


A model sheet for Scar by the masterful Andreas Deja (a former teacher of mine) done for Walt Disney’s 1994 masterpiece The Lion King. No doubt just a small sample of the countless studies done by Andreas to explore and find all the visual and emotional nuances of the character.

b) If you have the habit of always doing only what’s required (or even less than that), know that that will become your moniker, your signature among your brethren. What we do and how we do them, defines us.  Our travails (or lack thereof) leaves footprints.

“There is no reality except in action… Man is nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre


Color study for Toy Story 3 by former Pixar Art Director (and current Co-Founder of Tonko House) Dice Tsutsumi. Dice is a master colorist, but he’s also an innovative and much valued creator/collaborator inside the animation community.

c) If you only copy what’s in front of you, you’re doing a disservice to you and to art. Whether you’re using live models or objects, photographs or video reference, you mustn’t blindly copy. Art is not duplication but imagination — it’s your physical expression of what’s being filtered through you and you specifically.

“The big artist does not sit down monkey-like and copy… but he keeps a sharp eye on nature and steals her tools.” — Thomas Eakins


Both Members of This Club by George Bellows. An ardent Robert Henri follower, George Bellows embodies all the spirit of his teacher. He created work that was a gorgeous reinvention of the world around him.

d) If your working routines begin to tire or bore you, know that your intuition is working. It’s telling you to try something new, to shake things up a bit. Experiment or take a leave and then do something unusual, perhaps extraordinary.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results” — Albert Einstein

30 x 40 cm

Betty by Gerhard Richter.


Ludorff by Gerhard Richter. One thing exciting about modern painter Gerhard Richter is that he’s continually experimenting. From his early days of nostalgic photo-realism to his modern day abstract expressionism, Richter has continued to excite (and perhaps upset) his audience.

e) Be mindful of your surroundings. If your environment is one that’s not conducive to creativity consistency or happiness, make an effort to change it or move to a different one. That said, know that the most influential environment is the one you build in your head.

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” — Goethe


The great sculptor Alberto Giacometti in the comforts of his studio. Artists should always “own” their space — the physical space if possible, the mental space always.

f) Don’t worry about style. Let your influences show, let YOU come through in your work. If you’re true to yourself, then you’re the best possible version of yourself. Uniqueness is inner truth expressed.

“I am not interested in being original. I am interested in being true.” — Agostinho da Silva


Jean-Michel Basquiat, who tragically died at the young age of 27, was one of the most exciting and original artists to arrive in the art scene in the 1980’s. His fresh and intuitive work was a by-product of his upbringing, environment and the cultural history of his people.

In summary, we all know that we have to think for ourselves but responding takes effort and requires conscious design and action. Reactivity, on the other hand, is easy. We must choose our habits. If we don’t take control of our minds, others will do our thinking for us. Such action isn’t selfish. On the contrary, it’s probably the most generous thing that we can possibly do.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” ― Mahatma Gandhi