Master of None.

Scan 7

I have always been a dabbler. I have tried so many things, thrilled at the initial excitement of learning a new skill.
Here’s a partial list.
In high school, I learned the basics of how to write computer programs in BASIC. I sort of learned to solder electrical circuits, to make picture frames, to throw pots, to weave, to make silver jewelry and cloisonné.  I formed a Marx and Engels study circle after school. I learned the rudiments of playing the banjo, the piano, the saxophone, the harmonica, the electric guitar and the vibes. I acted in plays and directed them too.
In my twenties, I learned about cooking, photography, carpentry, and construction.
In my thirties, I learned to bind books, to screen print, to ballroom dance, to lift weights, to edit film, to design books, to get around a golf course, and to change diapers.
In my forties, I learned to watercolor, to use a dip pen, to podcast, to properly pack a suitcase, to write in HTML, to use a DSLR, and to make ice cream.
So far in my fifties, I have dabbled in barbecuing, painting in acrylics, gardening, entrepreneurialism, and driving properly.

Despite all this dabbling, I am not especially good at any of these things. I am not an expert, not even particularly skilled. (I can sound like I am which can be useful to dinner parties, allowing me to find common interest with almost anyone, except rabid hockey fans.) And yet there is still an enormous attraction to me in learning something new, in going to YouTube to research instructional videos, in buying specialized equipment, in delighting at those first glimmers of ability.
Some of the skills I have tried to pick up seem like they could transform my life. Many just seem interesting. And many turn out to be a lot harder than I thought, frustrating me until I throw down my banjo in disgust, and wander away, beating myself up at another failure.
But I don’t regret being a dilettante. I think far-ranging curiosity is key to a creative mind. Though recently, I’ve wondered if I need to cool it and stay on track. Time seems to be finite and it’s better to refine what I know.
But then again, I’ve always wanted to try my hand at lithography. And boxing. And After Effects, Oh, and the ukelele. Yeah, the ukelele.


  1. Catalina Velásquez

    I can completely relate. I have also tried many different things and disciplines and I still love to try out and learn many more. Like you, I have considered just sticking with one, but I am not able to, I just need to satisfy my curiosity, and just learn something new. I am in my 30s and sometimes afraid that all of these “new things” hinder me of really becoming an “expert” in something, but sometimes I just think that all these new learnings just complement the knowledge I already have.

    So go for the ukelele and let us know how that works out :)

  2. Susan

    Ukelele sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll learn to play the kazoo.

  3. Lis Barton

    Don’t change, Danny…its called getting old! I’m the one who can’t draw at all (except garbage bins which overflow( and at shhhh.. 70) am teaching myself how to sketch…thanks to you and the other Urban Sketchers groups…never stop getting excited about new things!!!

    • Carol Berger

      You and Danny sound like me. I love learning all kinds of new things and sketching is just one of them. I, too, am 70. No time to waste. Back to my sketching thanks to Danny.

  4. Rene Wojcik

    I know exactly where you are coming from. Done that and continue doing those kinds of things. I do love hockey……

  5. Jan

    Ah, the ukulele?! Well, THAT happens to just make life all around better! (My Critical Part that would chastise me for “being a Dabbler” can relax, laugh a bit—Really now, I believe the uke was made so we could help our Serious Parts have some joy!) Thanks Danny, appreciate you!

  6. sallylynnmacdonald

    Got my husband a ukelele for Christmas. I’ll make him a dabbler yet… Keep growing and trying new things!

  7. Sandra Deutsch

    As a fellow Dabbler I say, “Rock on!” I’m 72 and for years kids in their 20s ask in very slight awe, “How do you know so much?” And I reply, “I’m just very curious.” All this miscellany is not only handy for dinner parties and impressing the green who have been brought up in today’s one track environments, but is great for NYT Xword puzzles!


    Hi Danny, just to put my 2 cents in, I’m no literary expert, nor am I an art critic, but I know what see and read. I love your work.

  9. Lenore Vanden Handel

    I have this problem just within in art making. I am constantly inspired by you and other artists you have introduced me too. I get all excited about a new technique or material or medium and off I go in that direction. That is why I have had to stash my art books and supplies so that my family doesn’t realize my addiction…I guess I could have worse addictions. ;)

  10. artisticfire

    All of the things you have studied or experimented with probably see their purpose and meaning in your primary goals and projects.

    I saw this first hand when I went from working at an auto parts store to working at a library. I hated working at the auto parts store, but when I found it gave me a foot up to get my library job, I was stunned and grateful.

  11. nancy

    Danny…..hurry up and get that ukulele! but watch out……I ended up with 8 of them once I got hooked into the joy of the sound! and thank you from the bottom of my heart for SBS! yippee! it really rocks!

  12. David Ferguson

    I too, am a dabbler. I find I get bored if I don’t try new things, much to the chagrin of my wife. Your books and blog posts have been an encouragement for me to try new things, thanks. I also dabble with the Ukulele, it’s quite fun.

  13. Matthias

    Danny, I LOVE the ukulele too!
    I have one and I’m playing it, “just for fun” for my own pleasure.
    Yes, I’m a dabbler and dilettante too.
    But to be a “dilletant” means:
    ital. dilettare…latin delectare „to enjoy sth.” and this is GOOD, isnt’ it? :)

  14. marjunblishen

    I’m learning ukulele because as a teachers assistant I ‘m assisting our music teacher to teach ukulele to grade fours and fives. Don’t stop learning . It makes life fun. You are an inspiration to me exploring art. My husband gave me your creative journaling book for Christmas:)

  15. Barbara Sonnenshine

    I am definitely a JOATMON, although at this point in my life, my “golden” years, I have narrowed it down to (yep) ukulele and art, mostly illustrated journaling. I have always wanted to try every new art medium, play all kinds of music, taste every strange food, travel every far corner. I think that’s just how creative people have to live. I can’t imagine being “MASTER” of anything…too boring! Seriously though…take up the ukulele…it’s the best instrument ever!

  16. Diana McBroom

    Danny, I think you’re a well rounded person and a master communicator. I was introduced to you through Sketchbook Skool. The first semester has wonderfully changed my life. I look forward to “Seeing” in semester 2.
    You have the ability to inspire and lead people to develop themselves and add joy to their lives. Please add that to your list of skills.
    With appeciation, your student Diana

  17. Arlene Lennox

    Yup, sounds familiar. 0ver the years i have dabbled in gardening, piano playing, flute and recorder playing, cage birds, dog showing and training, ham radio, knitting and crocheting, ballroom dancing, etc., and now art journaling. I figure that makes us interesting…or at least interested in the wonderful world around us. Never bored.

  18. ehwilson2013

    Love it! It is keeping “The Beginner’s Mind” in Zen terms. The kiss of death is to start thinking one is an expert at anything. Experts are too tied up in being experts. Experts forget how to play! Play on, my friend, and you will always be learning. Be an expert and learning stops! Play on!

  19. Loretta Armstrong

    Ah, ah, ah! Meet your match!!! I’ve tried lithography!!! A wonderful process…from grinding the surface of the stone to clean it, to preparing it with an image for printing and then printing!! Awesome! Through my dabbling I’ve found my way to Sketchbook Skool….also awesome. Thank you.

  20. Lynn Cohen

    I hope we never stop dabbling … I’m with the 70 year olds here … if I hadn’t reached for that pen … if I hadn’t signed up for Sketchbook Skool …

    My list would go back to being a little girl making doll furniture out of small cereal boxes, paper dolls and their clothes, jumping ahead to macramé, sewing clothing out of old jeans, crocheting, later teaching myself to knit, to make art quilts … and now drawing? Who’d have thunk? And the latter I owe to YOU and that awesome Breakfast Video. It’s never too late to learn new tricks!

    Enjoy your music lesson!

  21. Mary Gayle Selfridge

    Ahh,the burdens and blessings of the gift of years.You sound more like a renaissance man than a dilettante”You have inspired me to sketch and continue on after loss,thank you Danny for that and for SBS,a true gift on so many levels,blessings

  22. lainbrain

    I totally get this post. I feel like the guy in Amadeus who wanted to be so much like Mozart, but was lacking, and his heart ached to have that gift. I would love to be able to be a genius and professionally play piano, guitar or sing, illustrate, act in films, but I am a master of none of those things. I am a Jane of all trades. LOL!

  23. I’m kind-of the same, Danny. (With stuff like book binding, paper lace, popup books, piano, HTML, a bit of French and Indonesian, even the odd bit of research on astrophysics…). I’m actually horrible at some of those, mediocre in others. (At a few points in time, I try to “specialize” but it never really works out well.) But the world is just such a fascinating place with so many fascinating things to try out that the fact that I suck is the last thing on my mind!

    Don’t ever “keep on track”. I heartily believe that none of those things are separate skills that are mutually exclusive. Everything you’ve done (even changing diapers!) has made an impact on your wonderful work that inspires so many of us now. (Speaking of learning stuff and the ukelele, check this out: )

  24. Nudge

    Say yes to ukulele! You won’t regret it. :)

  25. Helen Conway

    This is not dabbling. This is embracing life. And there is nothing to stop you picking one thing to concentrate on whilst exploring others for fun. Which is why I am dead serious about improving my textile art but also am learning how to bake bread and make ice cream, to landscape a garden, to bind books and do yoga. And before that came aromatherapy and the saxophone and, and……

  26. Debbie

    Just started playing the uke! I’m a cello and flute player, so this is a fun interlude. Join me! We’ll form a band of misfits.

  27. Jennifer McLean

    Well, I can tell you Danny, that the Ukelele is pretty darn easy to pick up. I became fairly expert at it around ten to twelve years old. It’s also great that the strings used aren’t the metal ones so the calluses you have to develop don’t hurt as much as they develop. I too, am a many-thing pick-er-up-er, lol. In forty odd years I have learned the ukelele (see above), flute, piano and recorder, then moved on to be a damn good swimmer and roller skater, then drawing and painting, sewing and pottery then some cooking, after that, Ukrainian easter eggs and crochet, then my own designer wedding cake business where I made 3 dimensional flowers first out of sugar then out of paste. I lately have been a writer for an art magazine, a book reviewer for Penguin Books and I’ve learned how to design and write a blog. Now I’m back to painting and drawing. I agree with Barbara Sonnenshine, that’s the way creative people are, and that has also led me to be in your Beginnings July 4th Klass. Can’t wait. Nice to meet a kindred spirit, lol.

  28. Michael Wysong

    A lot of this rings true with me too, Danny. The dabbling, the rush of the new, the pangs of failure. I sometimes regret not having a singular practice and a body of work which validates it. I daydream about it. I invent in my daydream that I’m, let’s say, a painter. I point to the studio full of paintings I’ve done. I point to my curriculum vitae. I pound my chest (because, I’m a monkey). And, then I wake up to a life course that’s a little more scattershot. A little fuzzier around the edges. But, what is life if not a grand experiment – another voice says. Then Apple release’s a new programming language called Swift and I’ve got to try that – right after I’ve finished the ten classes I’m enrolled in on Skillshare.

  29. Barbara Parker

    well, one thing for sure, you are not a nonchalant dilettante. I would call you a master.

  30. mepayal123

    I can totally identify with what you feel! I also have this constant need to do something new all the time! After all life is short and we need to pack it all in 😊

  31. Maggieinsc

    Been there done that…I do wish I could maintain one direction!!! Sigh…but I dont think thats EVER going to happen!!! :)

  32. Cindy

    I an so relate! I have had people say things to me like “when are you going to settle down?” or “Why can’t you stick with one thing?” My good friends have learned that it is more appropriate to ask something like: “Are you still doing _____________?” I had a counselor tell me that I have a high “novelty factor.” I’ve tried to change but can’t, I find it boring. I am now embracing that part of myself and am much happier. Here’s to us dabblers and life-long learners! The ukulele is on my list as well :-)

  33. Cat von Hassel-Davies

    I can relate to your post and learning new things but not mastering any. This year I am trying to stay focused (said with a laugh and rolling eyes) and try to… oh wait… try to concentrate… a guitar… check it out…

  34. Lydia Akers

    Tough to find something new to add…Dabbling…Yay…it keeps life interesting…never boring…and it actually helps us be better at the serious stuff, too! play (ukulele) on…

  35. Jasmin

    I’m the same – trying new things all the time, but not really an expert in any of them. Still don’t know if I like this or not…I just know that your words and pictures always inspire me. Thank you.

  36. Anna Morales Puigcerver

    Hi Danny! Thank you for teaching me a new word: dabbler. This is just what I am. I love singing and in my 20s I was a member of a folk music band and we used to sing at the weekend in the town square of the nearest villages. I have been teaching for a long time and in my late thirties I started drawing and painting. But I was also interested in computers, so I took up some computer courses and soon became the responsible person for computers in our school. Some teachers wondered, – how can you be interested in computers and art at the same time?-. I told them I was just curious and wanted to know more. I’ve been painting watercolor for some time now, but when I read about your online sketchbool school, I thought this was the perfect course for me to get some discipline and learn new approaches. I’m very happy about my decision, but one thing leads to another and I’ve been thinking about the possibility of taking a calligraphy course. Am I a dabbler? I probably am

  37. Bronny Robertson (SBS Klassmate)

    As kids we weren’t especially interested in learning and just wanted to grow up, but once we’re all grown up, all we want is to be that kid again and learn new things! Keep doing it Danny – you rock!

  38. Nancy McConnell

    But you are oh so good and exciting with the things you partially learn. Getting older just means there’s less time to learn new things — so keep adding to the list. The diversity is what makes you you! And since you’re in California part of the time — why not add surfing to the list. I’m 67 and it’s on my list (hopefully sooner rather than later). “Riding Giants” (available on DVD) is a great introduction and inspiration (not to ride giant waves but just to surf in general). Rock on Danny!

  39. Jodi

    Let’s not forget clown school ;)

  40. Barbara S. Mease

    I had to laugh; this sounded so much like me! Not the same studies, unless you did openwerk, counted cross stitch, fabric dying, quilting, and other fabric crafts. I just love learning new things.

    I’m well into my sixties now, and struggling with some health problems. This is what I’ve learned: (first and foremost) don’t keep doing a craft that has lost its appeal; don’t give up a craft you like because it’s hard or you’re not good at it; give what knowledge you have and look for knowledge from your peers, not just your instructors.

    Finally, ask for what you need clearly. Don’t just hang out; jump in!

  41. pagesNita

    I once read a “find your best job” book that divided people into Skimmers (who love to learn lightly on a lot of topics) and Divers (who go into one or a few very deeply). I have always been a Skimmer, and one the the best jobs for a Skimmer is to be a writer/blogger/communicator. I’d say you’re there, Master Skimmer!

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