As I reach a little milestone in my life, I thought it might be timely to reflect on a few things I’ve learnt, share “50 words of advice to artists”. So here you go (and they’re in no particular order of importance):
- Keep your coffee far away from your water (I keep my water and coffee far apart to avoid paint brush flavoured coffee, and coffee stained paintings)!
- Don’t worry about what others say about your work. You are on your own creative journey that nobody would really understand. Paint how and whatever makes you happy.
- It’s ok to not do the housework sometimes in order to continue that creative flow. Nobody will notice those bits of fluff and dust that are missing, but they’ll definitely notice the masterpiece you’ve created!
- Use the best tools. At all times, try to use the best brushes, paints, paper, canvas, lighting etc. Your work will be far more superior if you do.
- Experiment – with colour, technique, subjects, themes. You might just make a new discovery that changes your whole art journey.
- Congratulate fellow artists on their achievements. They will appreciate your words and you will feel good to share their success. Just think – one day it might be the other way around.
- Enter competitions. It gives you an opportunity to step up and present your best work, and you may even win a prize for your efforts.
- Visit art galleries for inspiration. See how the old masters used to paint. See how the new masters are painting. Just being in an arty atmosphere is invigorating.
- Listen to advice – you don’t have to take it but you never know, it might be valuable later on.
- Go big! If you are constantly painting small then you may become stuck in a rut. Try changing the size of your paintings, or even the layout eg if you are always painting in landscape style, go with a portrait style sometimes
- Get in and get out! This applies particularly to watercolour. Overworking can become muddy and ugly. Plan, put the paint on, then leave it alone! It will ensure your painting remains fresh and spontaneous.
- Remember your tonal values. A successful painting always has great tones. Remember to include your lights, darks, and all the shades in between.
- Try a different subject. If you are always painting landscapes, why not switch to something a bit different occasionally. You might be surprised how interesting (and challenging) a still life can be. Or a portrait, or an abstract.
- Complete a series of paintings of the same subject. Why not really get to know a particular subject and paint it in a series. I know of one artist who painted a series of escalators!
- Listen to music while you work. Whether it’s classical, rock, pop, or country, music can be quite inspiring and depending on the subject, it might be just the bit of inspiration you need to keep going.
- Listen to nothing while you paint. Whilst music can be inspiring, you might like to try listening to nothing as well. Your thoughts may make a big difference in what and how you paint so you choose what is the best for you.
- Get outdoors amongst nature and paint/sketch like the old masters. Battling the wind, rain, snow, flies, and sun really helps you to appreciate en plein air artists. And I truly believe that if you can paint outdoors, your indoor paintings will improve considerably.
- Copy an old master for inspiration (and give them the credit they deserve). If you’re stuck in a rut, why not find an old master’s painting that you love and copy it. It will help you to appreciate their style, learn about the colours they used, and their use of composition. It’s a nice way to get the creative juices flowing. Don’t forget to sign their name AND yours on the front of the painting so everyone knows it’s a copy and the original artist gets the credit they deserve.
- Use your own reference material. To avoid breaching copyright, don’t use images from the internet to paint from. Take your own seascape, landscape, portrait, and animal photos and paint from those. If you really want to paint something that inspires you and you have no way of taking a photo of it, then find an image you like and GET PERMISSION from the source eg the photographer, the magazine, or the artist.
- Take classes – no matter how good you are. You can never stop learning. In fact it’s easy to get into bad habits so take a class or two every now and then. You will learn something new, make some new friends and maybe even change some of those bad habits.
- Help others – no matter how good you are. It’s a good feeling to be sharing an artistic journey with fellow artists. And when you help one another, it’s a lovely feeling. It might even be sharing of paint or ideas, or where to get the next bargain. Just help and you will reap the benefits.
- Try a different medium – if only to confirm that your original choice is the better one! You might hate the idea of switching from watercolour to pastels, but try it anyway. It will at least give you an appreciation for the trials and tribulations (and successes and joys) that other artists experience.
- Create an artistic haven – try to have your own spot at home which is just for you. Where you can leave your painting half finished if you want to. Where you can lose yourself in your own little art world and forget about everything else for a short time. I know it’s not always possible but even if you have your own space on the table, it will make the world of difference.
- Surround yourself with happy creative things – food, pets, music, photos, reference books, art – whatever makes you feel like creating.
- Chocolate! Need I say any more?
- Get back to basics. This applies to everyone. You can get quite bogged down with detailed paintings sometimes that it’s nice to just get back to basics and paint a simple tonal painting, or just make brush strokes on paper. Rediscover where you began and get a new appreciation for the simplicity of art.
- Keep a positive attitude. Artists are creative and often very emotional people. We can easily become self-critical or negative about our art and this in turn shows in our art so it becomes a vicious circle. Remain positive and find the good in everything that happens on your artistic journey. What might be a failure might just be a step in a different direction.
- Never blame a teacher for your inability to paint well or your inability to progress. YOU are in charge of your artistic destiny. If you are attending a class, learn what you can, and practise at home. Don’t think that you can learn everything in one class. Or even a term of classes. Sometimes you may not “connect” with a teacher and if that happens, then find another teacher that you do connect with.
- Never put another student or teacher down. You don’t know what is going on in anyone’s life. Be kind, patient, understanding and forgiving. EVERYONE is on their own life journey, whether they are a teacher or a student. How you treat someone today may well be the turning point in someone’s life (good or bad).
- Keep envy at bay – it destroys your soul.
- Stand up and step back. You need to step back from your painting from time to time to get a better look at how it’s progressing. After working close up for too long you can get a little cross-eyed and lose focus of what you’re painting. Stepping back and squinting at your work will put it all into perspective again (in more ways than one)!
- Sleep on it. Whilst it’s nice to keep painting away for hours on end, if you find a problem starting and you just don’t know how to fix it, it might be a good idea to leave it alone for a while and come back later. Preferably the next day! You’ll see things with “different eyes” the next day and more often than not, the problem with solve itself.
- Join an art group. You’ll meet other like-minded people, increase your art network, give you an opportunity to participate in group exhibitions, and open up new art opportunities that you might not know about if you stay at home.
- Everyone has their own style – find yours. Look back over your paintings from the past few years and really analyse them. Is there a particular style coming through? Why not try to develop it? The more you put it out there, the more it will be recognised as uniquely yours.
- Practise, practise, practise – I’ll say no more.
- Frame your work – don’t leave it lying in a portfolio under your bed! Get it into a frame and on your wall. Be proud of what you’ve done and show the world!
- Paint or work when the time of day is right for you. If you’re a morning person, get up early and paint till midday. If you’re a night owl, paint at night till midnight or the early hours of the morning if it suits you. You know your body better than others so paint when it feels right. I know it’s not always easy to do, especially when you have other commitments but do what you can, when you can.
- More chocolate!
- Have fun. Art doesn’t have to be serious. If you start a painting with the attitude of “what the heck, let’s see what I’ll make today” then you’re more likely to be more relaxed and open to whatever new discovery you come across.
- Don’t do commissions if you don’t want to. Don’t be afraid to say no if you really don’t want to paint a portrait of your best friend’s husband or wife, or if you don’t like painting animals and you’ve been asked to paint giraffes on an open plain! You need to paint what you’re comfortable with because what the person has in mind might not be anything like what you produce and then everyone will be disappointed.
- Still on commissions – if you are doing a commission, make sure you set the ground rules first. You could ask for 50% deposit and let them know it is non-refundable (or partly refundable) if they don’t like the finished painting. There will be a number of hours put into the work, whether or not they like it at the end, so you need to cover your time at least.
- Look after your equipment. Wash your brushes out carefully, and don’t leave them sitting in the pot of water for too long (any more than 5 minutes is too long)! Keep lids on paint tubes, and keep paper away from dust, sprays, water and other little nasties that will cause problems when you paint.
- Don’t shake your bottle of masking fluid. It will bubble up and not only be a problem when applying to paper, but will also congeal in the bottle, turning it into a gluggy mess!
- Exercise! And by this, I mean the physical kind. Get out and clear the head. If you’re sitting or standing too long at an artwork, you’ll end up with backache, headache, and a big belly! Exercise will stretch everything out and give you a renewed energy.
- Keep a camera handy with you at all times! You never know when you’ll find the perfect reference photo. I’ve taken some of the best reference photos when I least expected to.
- Keep a sketch book handy with you at all times. And a pencil. You will never have to waste time again if you’re waiting somewhere – you can do a quick sketch instead. It might be of the people around you, or a park or mountain in the distance. It might even be a piece of rubbish on the ground. The choices are endless.
- Analyse and re-assess. When you’ve finished a painting, stand back and ask yourself what you like about it, what could be improved upon, and how you would approach it differently next time. This will help you to improve and make the necessary changes to become more successful in your art.
- Remove yourself from negatives in your life. Negative situations will have an impact on your life AND your artwork. If people or things are affecting you, switch to a more positive situation and you’ll see changes almost immediately.
- Celebrate your successes. If you have finished a painting, and you really love it – celebrate! Chocolate is good! Or a glass of wine. Pat yourself on the back and be proud of what you’ve achieved. It’s taken hard work, lots of practise and a great deal of enthusiasm to get where you are now. You should celebrate. Then move on to your next success.
- Be you. And this relates to art as well as life in general. Only you can paint like you do. You are unique, so why try to paint like someone else? You really don’t want to be a clone of someone else, do you? Develop your own style and express yourself in a way that nobody else can. And be proud of it.
So there you go. I hope some of my advice will inspire you in one way or another to enjoy your artistic journey and become a better artist. Good luck!
Very wise words! Thank you for sharing with us.
July 11, 2014
All such good advice Renata. You have taught me so well over the last few years. Thank you for helping me to get started with watercolour and for all your pearls of wisdom both here and through class. I am really enjoying my own little world of art these days and continue to explore with different mediums though I still love watercolour best of all.
July 12, 2014
This is quite a comprehensive list of recommendations that I can relate to in practicing Karate, moulding Karate-ka and fostering a two way relationship with everyone involved. I have even done number one but I didn’t care because the paint was non-toxic so I just drank my purple coffee.
It is really inspiring to see people close to you forging ahead with success. Your looking good 🙂
July 12, 2014
Great advice Renata you are a great teacher thank you.
July 13, 2014
Thanks for your compliment, Sandra. It’s a pleasure teaching you.
July 13, 2014