The Self-Taught Artist

Lessons from Five Years of Making Art

Flowarte Sketches and Studies on the wall

You know when you think you’re putting all your efforts towards something but then that something wasn’t the right thing? This has happened to me over and over. 

As a good student/citizen etc. I wanted to follow the rules, work hard, get results. 

I would research like mad, take courses, make lists, plan, etc. But then, my enthusiasm would wane, and I would switch projects.

It’s caused me much agony; I always beat myself up for not focusing, for not sticking to one thing, for not being disciplined. 

Yet, unbeknownst to me, I was focused, disciplined and I did stick to something: I wanted to break free from purely representational work. I was sick of drawing reference images; I was tired of looking at my work and feeling meh about it. I wanted to be excited, but I had a huge block: I approached things through a hierarchy. I would see levels, people within those levels, mainly regarding education, skill and popularity. If they were household names, they were good, and so I had to learn from them. 

But this meant I would become influenced by their style and I quickly became frustrated with myself. 

I fell into the monetization siren song too early and often, which only made me lose myself more. 

Early Oil Pastel Drawings

What I needed was to approach things within a territory. 

 These concepts come from a book with which I have a love-hate relationship (mostly hate, as it is written from a very masculine-white-American viewpoint: The war of art by Steven Pressfield. I mean, he uses Schwarzenegger as a metaphor).

Towards the end of the book, he talks about the difference between Territory and Hierarchy, and it clicked: am I drawing to attract the good opinion of others? (hierarchy, authority, good graces) including my husband, my family, my friends and my -gasp!- followers, or do I want to plop myself in my own territory and go where my brain, my imagination, my world is trying to take me?

And so I began a, sometimes painful road of destroying what I had been making and overcoming my fear of wasted resources:

  • I already paid these coaches and consultants, and I have no desire to keep going with the projects I thought I wanted to do.
  • Is this wasted? (No, reuse, repurpose, combine, remix)

It began as a small rebellion.

Literally, like a baby learning to walk:

I took a piece of charcoal that I had never used and began drawing on newsprint—sheet after sheet of drawings. I used loose-leaf paper. I piled them up. 

In the evenings, I kept going on the iPad. 

I filmed many videos for my patrons, which helped me decipher the ways I naturally draw. I filmed videos where I did basic drawing exercises that I had neglected to do in the very beginning.

I did morning pages until I was sick of them. I scrolled online museums instead of Pinterest; I stalked University professors and stole their references. I stopped looking at the how-to books in the library and plunged into art criticism, art history. I watched documentaries instead of movies, read interviews, re-read the books I had glazed over in my quest for mastery. 

Experimenting with the Zorn Palette

Art Education

I gave myself a good slice of the art education I wanted. Of course, there are huge gaps, and the experience will never be like having a studio practice for four years, but I’m slowly trusting my gut to see where I’m headed.

One thing I’m confident, as a lifelong learner, I will not stop taking classes, although now I approach them a little more lighthearted, instead of that agonizing feeling that I had to wring every last bit of knowledge out of them. 

A new direction for Flowarte

And so, I’m examining the role of Flowarte in all of this. What began as a blog to document my own path to art has become a place for:

Artists searching and taking brave steps to set foot in their territories. Those interested in building a body of work, a sense of momentum and work on their art without letting outside forces derail their focus or attention.

Line drawing by Luisa Nino

Artists who are building their practice in service to themselves: for mental health, for creativity, to feel good, to inspire, to make life more interesting.

Artists who crave the time to do their work and rid themselves of questions of practicality, monetization, or “is it worth it.”

This mission became clear after the first In Flow: Online Art Residency where we worked solidly for six hours (There were supposed to be only 4.5 but we extended the co-creation sessions because we were on a roll!), plus the time we established on our own during the week. Although more on this later. (Suspense!)

The classes and courses are there, and they abound, but we need time, work and kindness to ourselves to get to where we want.

If you tend to drop your practice the minute something else needs your attention, resentment inevitably follows. Frustration invades us.

The faster life goes by, the less we should put our creative impulse on the shelf.

If you really want to make art, you will find a way. Like I described above, I went deep. I have the same clothes I had five years ago; I reuse things as much as possible because my money and energy went where I wanted them to go.

I keep a part-time job to avoid falling into the trappings of having to make things to sell. 

What matters now is to do my work—the one I really want to

This year I will finally create my own artist website, and I will move all my personal practice. Flowarte will then become a welcoming studio for people who are looking to establish a sustained art practice. 

This studio will go beyond pep-talks, permission slips and will not indulge in self-coercion, comparison and superficiality. We will avoid focusing on creative blocks too much. There are plenty of coaches and mentors who specialize on that. On the contrary, this studio is for facilitating the research of our fascinating natures and extract those things that make us.

At least, that’s what I aspire to. 

Dreams go on; I want to curate a Gallery for artists because promoting ourselves as individuals is not a fair fight.

Set up for final project during the In Flow: Online Art Residency
Work in Progress during In Flow: Online Art Residency

Slow and Steady

All this will unfold slowly. There is no way I want to feel rushed or to lose myself.

I want to run another residency just before the summer begins, enrich it with new content and format. (Sign up to the waitlist!)

Pop-corn Brain

As I sat on the floor in my ratty cushion feeding my special-needs dog with a spoon (yes, this is my life), I thought about a small but significant difference between terminologies:

self-taught vs self-educated

I may sound snobbish, but I think there is a considerable difference between the two things:

Self-taught to me is skill-based, and it remains at that level, while self-educated goes beyond the skill. A well-rounded education encompasses many different things, and it all feeds into the creative well. Plus, it’s a life-long endeavour.

Education is never final.

I wish Flowarte to be a fun oasis of self-education, the fountain that satisfies curiosity and a place to live the art life.

Final Project for the Residency

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