Think about what you are passionate about, what catches your eye, what is in front of you. What do you wake up thinking about and what do you feel urged to paint? You can use reference materials (it’s always best to create your own references, as that will make your artwork original and will avoid any copyright infringement). Value the direct experiences of your life. Draw from life, your imagination and from your memory – trust it all and exercise it.
Go beyond reality
Don’t just aim to create a strict likeness but go for more of a feeling or try to create something magical – we can only hope that grace will enter the artwork. You have to be prepared to go beyond reality to reach greatness.
Let go of any excuses why not to be creative – being creative is part of every human life. Find your clarity (stop using stimulants like caffeine, alcohol or nicotine), give yourself a calm and peaceful life, free of distractions and let go of drama. Work from a place of being centered, from a place deep inside you, your stillness, from a place of quiet, so you can hear the dialogue with your art – listen to each step. You might get into a bit of a battle at some points and it can get uncomfortable but that’s ok, it’s part of the process of letting go and obeying what the artwork demands. There is something more powerful than you at work here, something that you tap into when in the process of making – surrender to it! Create from your heart, dig deep, keep an open mind and allow what wants to come through you – don’t judge or deny it. Like a seed, the artwork seems to have an innate intelligence to grow organically (using your skills, chosen materials and life experiences as a filter) to take a physical form.
Good studio practice
Give yourself ample space to work. Treat yourself to some juicy art materials and use them liberally. Keep your palette clean and wash your brushes (don’t leave them in water, as that will make the paint flake on the handle). Keep your tools clean and ready to use and tidy your work table at the end or beginning of each session. Don’t store oily rags, as they are flammable. It takes less time to put plastic sheeting down and wear old clothes than it does to clean the space and your clothes afterward. Store your finished artwork carefully in a clean dry space, away from your working space to avoid ruining it.
When I start a piece of artwork, I will make a rough shape (if it’s a sculpture) or do an underpainting, using my favourite colours. This gets rid of the preciousness or the anxiety of spoiling a blank canvas. Just start randomly and loose, then you can enjoy tidying it up, forming it and correcting it. Trust yourself.
Work fast and free
Work faster than you can think! This avoids analysing or overthinking. Be totally free in your studio, no pressure, just give yourself total freedom.
Drawing and composition
Precise drawing is easy on the viewer’s eyes. You can get the drawing down by any means possible – practice life drawing, project it, trace it, measure it or use a grid. You can work it all out as you go along or you can play with the composition, scale and colour palette on the computer. If you are working out your composition directly on the canvas or paper, and the subject goes off-piste, you can just add or attach extra substrates. You can do anything you like, it’s your artwork. Wipe back, rub down and rebuild as much as you like – this creates a visible journey and depth to the artwork.
Small works are is just as valid as large pieces. Working small can offer an achievable goal, where you can work out what you are doing without such a commitment of time and materials. Working large can be a bit egotistical and takes a lot more effort – scale up when the work demands it. If the art demands you go bigger, then do it! Any attempt to deny what the art wants is futile. We are slaves to our art – be obedient!
Put the time in, show up in your studio, even if it’s just for a tiny amount of time – you’ll find it’s always worth it.
A linear journey
You can’t make the subsequent piece without fully experiencing the making of the present piece. You need to work chronologically – to explore the materials, your imagination and your personal process. You have to go through the creative process and then you get the painting at the end. It is a linear journey, though you can always go backward to improve on a piece or master a technique.
Don’t even try to make a masterpiece
When you are in your flow, remember to stand back regularly, to take stock of the whole of the artwork. Take photos of each stage of development, so you can look back at the decisions that formed the artwork (and remind yourself of what was working before, if you need to reverse back a little, you can). Defy your inner critic – your root belief might try to hold you back by calling you rubbish. If you think it’s too easy or even futile, you can set yourself some challenges to achieve within a piece, like adding a bit of realism or to mix as many hues as possible or to be as surreal as you can. Be prepared to sacrifice the best parts for the good of the whole artwork. Leave some areas raw, so some of the early stages remain visible.
Scared of ruining a half-decent picture? If you don’t do it, you will never know, never move forward, never learn. I tell myself I can work it out on the next piece – but the circumstance doesn’t occur again. Be brave, do not fall in love with the work too quickly – keep seeking exploration. Don’t be precious, even if you have used a lot of valuable art materials. Listen to the piece, let go and just create to see what comes out.
Practice makes perfect
There were two teams, one was told to make as many pots as possible and the other team was told to make the best pots possible. The results showed that the ones given the task of making the quantity ended up also making the best pots.
Avoid fussing over it, remember 80% of the work is done in 20% of the time and 20% of the work is done in 80% of the time. You have to learn to accept what you make and avoid judging your own artwork. Be gentle on yourself.
Finish what you start, even if you don’t like it and feel like abandoning it. I have sold many of my rejects and pieces that nearly ended up in the bin several times during the creative process. When someone sees the magic in something that you don’t like, it can switch you on to seeing it differently. Thus you can be a poor judge of your own work. Don’t throw any art away until you have checked them out several times with fresh eyes, keep them for a minimum of 6 months.
A vision is just a starting point – use it as a motivation. As soon as the first happy accident occurs, go with it and see where it takes you. Have no expectations or preconceived ideas, be uncontrived – keep going, keep trusting the process. Just keep doing what the artwork demands, all those tiny steps add up!
If you don’t know what to do next, just listen and observe to identify the next step and act on it. Even if it’s hard to find and seems like a little insignificant step that you think won’t make a difference – do it anyway! Then the subsequent step will be revealed. By identifying the tiniest step, you can start moving an artwork forward again. If you get really stuck, just put the piece right away for a day or so, so you can’t see it. Come back to it with fresh eyes and then you can see what it requires more clearly.
Take regular breaks, stand back or use a mirror to observe your work – this gives you distance. Photos help to give distance too, you can see your art more objectively using your phone screen. Going into your studio with fresh eyes in the morning will give you a more objective view of what you have made.
Often artists block is linked to an unresolved emotional issue – you could speak to a counselor. Making art can express things that words can’t. Art can be your therapy, to access your emotions by simply giving your subconscious some space to express itself. Make a doodle and colour it in, look at your picture and think about what it means to you. You don’t have to tell or show anyone else.
A true reflection
Only ask for help on technical issues, otherwise, people will readily impart with their ideas for your artwork, without having to lift a finger to make their own art. A piece of art can be one of the few things in this world that can be made by only one person. Thus it can be a true reflection of who you are, where you are in your life and what you can achieve.
Take notes during your creative process, so you can recall how you made something, what you discovered or just what you were thinking. Look at your work and write done what it means to you, be completely honest with yourself. Practice communicating the truth behind the work, find the stories that people find interesting.
Photograph the finished piece in hi-resolution and archive the file. I use a filing system that starts with a folder named, ‘art archive’. I put folders that named by the year. In those, I have more folders named, Painting, Drawing, Film and Sculpture. I keep my art files inside one of those, in a folder named by the title of the art.
Count your hours and material costs, as a basis to get to know your costing, though your hours do not necessarily reflect the true value of a piece because all your studying, dedication and experience is of value too. Find out from other artists what they sell similar pieces for. What people will pay depends on place to place. There are usually prices that people do not think twice about spending, like £70 for a small piece or £350 for a larger piece. Find out more by reading my blog, Selling art – a practical guide.
Show your finished piece to the public in a neutral space, so the work stands out from its background and it can breathe. It’s like releasing the painting to the public, so they can interpret it any way they wish. Give yourself plenty of time to hang your show, at least one day before the opening night, so you can be fresh to receive your audience instead of being tired and stressed out. Read my guide on how to organise an exhibition.
Find or start an artists’ social group, to exhibit with, so the emphasis is not just on you – you can share the experience and all the responsibilities too. The idea is to pool your audiences because people are more likely to enjoy the exhibition if there is a varied amount of work to see and there is a chance that they will meet other art lovers. It makes coming out to an exhibition a fuller experience and people are more likely to make the effort if there is an hour’s worth of activity, rather than 10 minutes. Also once you get established your audience will be coming to expect to buy art because like Etsy, people will be attending with the intention of finding something they like.
Join or start an artists’ group, so you can support each other and talk shop. So you can have discussions with people who are experts in your chosen field of creativity.
Go to exhibitions and look at a piece for more than 10 minutes, I call it slow looking. Let the piece grow on you. Communicate with your audience how to do this and do it together. Share your experiences.
Show an interest in the audience
Remember for every sale there will be a conversation at some point during the process, even if it’s just about paying for the piece, so you might as well start the conversation off by saying, “hello”. Talk to the art lover about their life, what kind of art they usually like, if there is anything they like in the show or something they can’t stand and find out why. Show an interest in the buyer, after all, they have taken the trouble to come out and see your art!
Grow your mailing list
Ask the audience for their contact, so you can invite them to the next exhibition. Ask them to tell their friends about the exhibition.
Only ask for feedback if you are willing to listen and take it on the chin. Ask for what people like about your work as well. Read tips about giving feedback on my Art sandwich post.
Where I’m at now, is making things badly – losing my perfectionist streak and just allowing myself to be a bit careless or carefree in my attitude. And guess what, the work still comes out good because I have been practicing! I’ve stopped rebelling, stopped trying to make things different by changing colours radically – I’m accepting what I make and I’m looking harder when I work. Read my tips on how to be an artist!