The Okay Plateau and Working in a Series

by Lisa Call on November 28, 2012

in Being an Artist

Wendy Tribulski
Abstract Landscapes – classwork from Working in a Series
©2012 Wendy Tribulski
Acrylic on canvas
Wendy’s website

How to be a Better Artist

Have you ever thought about why you never getting better at typing even though you might spend hours a day practicing this skill?

They say practice makes perfect but if that were all it takes I should be an outstanding typist given that I spend 8-10 hours a day at a computer.

According to this test I type about 60-65 words a minute, which is above average, but it’s not exceptional and I’m pretty sure in high school I was typing about the same speed.

How fast do you type? When was the last time you got better at it?

To get better, we need the right kinda of practice. If I were to spend time doing drills and focusing on increasing my typing speed, I would get better.

I think the same concept applies to being an artist. Just making art is not all it takes to becoming a better artist. We could spend years churning out the same average artwork unless we take the time to practice our artwork with the goal in mind of becoming better.

The Okay Plateau

This phenomenon is sometimes called the okay plateau. When we are learning new skills we get better at it for a while – until we reach the place where we are satisfied with our level of achievement.

Once we reach this plateau – we essentially stop getting better.

This is because when we learn new skill, we go though 3 phases:

  • Cognitive – considerable conscious effort is required.
  • Associative – some parts are controlled, some parts require conscious effort.
  • Autonomous – we’re on autopilot.

This is fine for typing – at some point we are good enough.

But for most of us, this isn’t what we had in mind for our artwork. We don’t want to get stuck at “okay” – most of us would much prefer to make art that results in people saying “wow”, not “it’s okay”.

Moving Beyond the Plateau

So how do we do that? How do we get better at our artwork?

The trick is to stay out of the autonomous phase. You must consciously work at getting better.

Here are a few suggestions on how to do that:

  • Musicians get better by practicing scales – not just playing the same song over and over. What are you doing to improve your design sense?
  • Study yourself failing. When things don’t go well, do you take the time to evaluate why and formulate a plan for improvement? Treat your artwork like a scientific study – create a hypothesis, test your theories, tweak your methods to obtain the desired results.
  • Work outside your comfort zone. Are you consciously thinking about design? Or do you just work intuitively all the time? Are you trying new things?
  • Get critical and immediate feedback on your artwork. Better yet – learn to give yourself valuable critical feedback. Surgeons get better over time because they get immediate feedback to their work. Interestingly radiologists reading mammograms do not get better over time because they do no receive any sort of immediate critical feedback on their work. It can take years before their mistakes are discovered. This idea of critical and immediate feedback seems to be key in improving our skills.
  • Study what those that you feel are more successful are doing. What can you learn from them?

Working in a Series

To become a better artist, I believe rigorous practice is what is needed. And this is one reason I work in a series.

It provides me the structure necessary for improvement.

I view myself as a student – each piece in my series is simply an assignment to learn something. To improve, to try something different, to test a theory about color.

If you are ready to move beyond the okay plateau in your art and would like some guidance and feedback on your artwork, I’d love to work with you in my upcoming Working in a Series online workshop.

If you are ready to turn the “okays” into “wows” this is the workshop for you.

Details and Registration


Curious what my former students have to say about this workshop? I’ve created a new alumni page where you can see their class work and read their comments about the course.

“This course was all I was hoping it would be and much more. I am so appreciative of the time and thought you put into your responses to our thoughts and our work. The structure of the course and the topics you researched and presented to us were exactly what I needed at this point in my development as an artist.

The class work ethic was truly inspiring – it pushed me to do so much more than I thought possible!

Thank you for everything Lisa. I’m really looking forward to working with you in the future!”

~Wendy Tribulski
Avalon, NJ

PS – last year I taught this workshop online 4 times – each time to a full house. This year I’m teaching the class only once online.


Deborah Bein November 28, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Thank you, Lisa, for providing this excellent food for artistic creative and intellectual thought! I certainly hit home to me and has had an impact already!

Lisa Call November 29, 2012 at 7:34 am

You are most welcome Deborah. It really struck me when I was reading that book. Glad to hear it’s already had an impact!


Gregory November 28, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Lisa, I am still working on the same series from the class more than a year ago! Plus some offshoots. While I was not thrilled with what I produced during the class, I am thrilled with where it has gone since. By continuing to use the ideas and structure I mapped out then, I”ve been able to dig deeper and feel I am producing stronger work that has so much more personal meaning. Thanks so much!

Lisa Call November 29, 2012 at 7:36 am

Gregory – yay! I this is wonderful to read. I think the magic of working in a series comes over time – because it takes time to find that deeper personal meaning in the work.

I look forward to seeing the new work some day (looks like there is just 1 piece on your website now – or maybe I’m not looking in the right place)


Wendy Tribulski November 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm

How fun to see my work from the “series” class in your post! It is most definitely true that I had to leave a plateau get stretched, pushed and pulled in new directions while developing those pieces. Can hardly wait to see what other new directions emerge as I finish them and continue on in the series. The self-critiquing structure I learned in the class is going to be essential for that. Thanks for getting me there, Lisa!

Lisa Call December 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm


Your work looks wonderful.

It was fabulous to work with you in this last class – I think you are definitely on to something wonderful here.


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