Progress: it's embarrassing

Don’t get any better you fool, lest you make your own self look bad!

Two years ago I spent a wonderful week with Joseph McGurl on the coast of Maine and in his Cape Cod studio. I was helping create his first few instructional painting videos. If you aren’t familiar with his work, stop reading this right now, and click here:

Wow, right!!! And if you ever get a chance to see his work in person, do it. You’ll be amazed at the texture and surface of his paintings. From a photo online, especially if it’s a photo of a large painting, you can’t detect the surface quality in his work. I personally was shocked at how rugged and textural his paintings were while still so accurately depicting nature.

Joe said he often gets the comment “Wow, it looks just like a photograph!” Funny thing is, Joe doesn’t use photography at all in his process. Joe very wisely discerned what these well-meaning commentators were really saying is, “wow, that looks like reality.” And reality is what Joe strives for in his paintings.

Joe said something that week as we were shooting his videos that has stuck with me ever since. He said something along the lines of this:

“If you are progressing as a painter, you should be able to look at your older work and feel a little embarrassed about it.”

I remember off camera Joe talking about a piece that was framed and hanging in his little home studio gallery. He said he wanted to completely rework the whole thing, that he could do it so much better now. No, the painting wasn’t from his student days or even from 10 years ago, he’d just gotten it back from a gallery.

I don’t know about you, but it motivates and excites me to hear someone of Joe’s stature say that he is never satisfied or content with his work or techniques, but is ever searching and learning for new ways to solve old problems.

After being on the road full time and painting the past six months, I’ve felt a discernible shift take place in my work. It hasn’t been a result of any one action or trick I learned from someone else, but rather from a culmination of years of pursuing the craft.

It felt as if I was handling each painting in a completely new way, and reaching a different result than I had just months before. Scrolling through my Instagram or Facebook page I felt a tinge of embarrassment rise up, feeling like so many paintings weren’t quite hitting the mark. That’s when I remembered Joe’s words.

So I’m happy to announce that I’m officially embarrassed about some of my previous work, and I pray that a year from now I’m embarrassed about the work I’m making now.

This may sound a little negative or pessimistic, but the embarrassment I speak of is the clear and distinct sign of progress, and that is what excites me. At times the embarrassment may be obvious and visible to all, and at other times, you may be the only one aware of it.

So may you too be occasionally embarrassed at whatever it is you’re pursuing.

Progress on and happily embarrass yourself,


Check out a few of my recent paintings here:

Below is one of Joe’s available paintings, click the link for more info:

About Me

In 2010 I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art. In 2011 my wife, Teysha, started graduate school at Boise State University while I undertook a two year oil painting apprenticeship. In May of 2018, we sold everything, quit our jobs, and hit the road! We currently live in a rusty 1986 Toyota Dolphin named Dolly.