My wife studied studio art in college. And as part of her coursework, she spent a good chunk of time not only looking at but re-painting or re-sculpting pieces by master artists. On the wall near my desk is Amy’s study of Wayne Thiebaud’s “Black Shoes.” I find Thiebaud’s original piece particularly remarkable because the artist painted black shoes, with black laces on a black background—without using black paint. Instead, Thiebaud employs varying shades of green and blue and even the occasional stroke of white. The execution of such a thing takes a considerable amount of skill and vision… the kind of skill and vision characteristic of a master artist like Thiebaud. By re-painting That piece (and others like it), Amy learned at least some of how that master achieved the effect. By imitating him, she learned a few of his skills and caught a glimpse of his vision.

When I set out to write my first book, I took time before I started (and throughout the process, actually) to read works in similar genres by masters. Because the book had a memoir-ish bent, I read a lot of David Sedaris and took note of the way he characterizes the physical features of a space, item or person. Several of the pieces in “When I Am Engulfed In Flames” held me in place for long moments, describing a tone or a face or a tear in fabric. Those details gave me a sense of place within the story he was telling. And be- cause I like to make people laugh, I thumbed through some old Dave Barry books and was challenged by the way the humorist would never let a joke, as funny as it was, take a story off the rails – he never sacrificed the whole journey for a good, funny moment.

In the practice of art, there are very few formulas. A Master Study, imitating the way of superior artists, is one practice I’ve found that consistently bears fruit.

This is an excerpt from my book Title Pending, which is available now.