A wise art teacher gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten, and I want to pass it on to you. I had left my job as a math teacher to go back to school and learn about illustration…but after about one semester of steady progress, I hit a flat spot and I started really struggling in my drawing classes.  I felt like I was going backwards, and it seemed obvious that I was doing worse every day. I told the teacher I thought I’d lost something  and was that I was considering the possibility that I had made a huge mistake. She told me that these phases of struggle  happen to everyone at some point- and that when they do, you should “get down on your knees and be thankful”l because the struggle means  a breakthrough is coming.


I accidentally discovered that you can combine drawing and painting in a literal way, depending on the surface. 1999

Because I had put my faith and trust in this particular teacher (The great Barbara Bradley) I tried to take her advice and push through the the plateau that I was on. I was several more weeks before one day something clicked and I found myself looking at drawing that suggested a bit of a leap forward. To other people im sure that drawing by Itself didn’t look like much, but I could tell that there was something that had happened.

I tried to paint this personal project on paper, and learned that changing one variable-different surfaces -can lead to very different outcomes. 1989

Since then I’ve always tried to fight through when I run low and energy or when my work doesn’t seem to be going that well because I know that I’m on the verge of something if I just keep going. I thought for this month, I would post some of those breakthrough pictures that I’ve had happen over the years.

I was hired to paint a portrait of Lincoln for the cover of a major biography. This was a sketch that i painted over and stopped at the right time- I couldn’t use it to show the client, but it definitely had something that I could use in the future. 2008


Some of them don’t look like much and have ever been in my portfolio because many of them don’t really represent anything other than a stepping stone for me.

I went through a phase where I painted large (24×30) landscapes from life (“en plien air”, if you must) This one came after probably 10 very disasterous attempts. 1998

A used to attend a painting group once a week, where I struggled to contain my competetive nature. Once I stopped worrying about the results so much, this happened. Doesnt look like much, but theres something there for me.

They are occasionally the beginning of a personal project, or just a “happy accident” that went well. Sometimes I have had aseveral in the same year, other times they might be years-and hundreds of projects- apart.

I painted hundreds of small 20 minute daily paintings after I had a hand injury- aftera great many days of this i started to see a pattern- only much later did I realize that this- for better or worse- was actually me speaking in my own authentic voice.

an accidental monoprint. usefull.

experimenting with scale, I had a really large surface.

Sometimes my more experimental work was a good fit for a commercial project…

I once ran into another illustrator in the Frankfurt Airport. We decided to do a children’s book “Mr Blockhead” together, it never worked out but I did have this lucky accident as a result …


did a series based on a walk through manhattan, never did anything with it but a couple of the paintings had something going….



using unfamiliar tools and techniques can lead to something interesting, maybe a whole new direction. PLus theres extra pressure if you paint Sargent.

Sometimes I put them in my portfolio but more often than not they are outliers within the larger body of what I was doing, and as such I didnt show them out of fear that they would create a sense of risk for clients. Eventually I began to understand that these accidents were parts of my personal voice fighting to the surface, and I began to show them.


on of many demo paintings I have done over the years this one was a big breakthrough for me…since then I dont feel pressure doing demos.


One of my first opportunities to use my 20 minute painting method for a national audience, Mick Jagger for Rolling Stone.

my first truly sucessful (to me) Landscape paintiing. I didnt realize until I got home that I had made a good one.

sometimes I use the painti left over on my pallate to make a doodle, and once in a while the pallate looks back at me and speaks.


The pandemic was a terrible thing, and at the same time a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity. I tried to take advantage…

Even though these stepping stones may not look like much to others, they have always been important for me because I can sometimes build a whole new sequence of work on them. If you have been doing this for a while, you probably have had a similar experience. If you are just starting out, you will have the same thing happen eventually. I think if you look at your own work, you’ll find those same steppingstones and if you find yourself in a flat spot, be thankful for the struggle and keep pushing because maybe they’ll be something there.