The best feeling about making art is realizing that there was nothing there, and suddenly, there is. There was no drawing, no painting, no photograph, no essay, no story, and suddenly, there is. The second best feeling is to know it was exactly what you needed to make.
This second feeling does not happen through skill alone. It is the result of self-knowledge, deep reflection, the work of an inner detective. A locksmith that opens our secret doors.
Maybe we are afraid of confronting a particular subject, we avoid it by painting generic flowers or doodling a few creatures. It’s not wrong, but when you do go there, into those mysterious corners of your mind, you create a connection with your work that shows and, in turn, connects with the viewer.
Sometimes I browse online museums. I try to identify the feelings I get when I see a particular painting. If it makes me stop and look at it, I must ask myself what made me stop. I want to know because I want to access those feelings when I make my own art. When I uncover the themes that I genuinely want to explore.
I’ve spent a good number of years acquiring skills. I felt happy to suddenly being able to draw a portrait with some likeness, but I kept gravitating to raw, scribbly, intense paintings instead of the perfect, realistic style. Surprisingly, the scribbly, raw portraits were a million times more difficult. Why? They seemed so simple: “even a child could do them”…
The truth is there is the emotion behind the lines, brushes, paper. The strokes are unique to each artist. You could imitate Egon Schiele all you want, practice until your hand turns blue, but it will never convey the emotion.
Finding the source of your expression (not style… please)
I believe it’s a delicate interweaving of skill, play, and intention. As self-taught artists, we don’t have the advantage of studio practice like students in Art school. We don’t know what we are doing or why. We are attracted to the most basic expressions of drawing and painting and to common themes, aspiring to more. More self-expression.
We want to build a body of work that is coherent, that can provoke more than a: “that’s nice,” comment.
Some of us have a world of references from different disciplines and areas, we just don’t know how to make that unique creative recipe. How do we pull from all the things we love and combine them with our skills. Most of all, how do we meet ourselves where we are?
In my Guide to Creative Independence, I try to offer a path to finding this. It’s beyond style, it’s beyond skill. It’s the source of why we want to make art. It’s a path for self-taught artists who don’t have access to feedback, theory, and other necessary components.
I have not stopped developing my skills and trying new mediums and techniques, I have been reading many artists’ interviews, mainly where they talk about their path. I love to see early work by the masters and see their evolution.
Recently I took a Domestika class called Sketchbook Creation: Find your Own Language. I bought it because it had a good discount, it hasn’t been my favorite though.
But, there is an interesting video where the instructor encourages you to mix and match your sketchbooks, tearing bits from one, and putting them on the other. Or another where you identify the themes that follow you around. It’s a useful exercise to understand what lights you up in terms of creation.
This class might be helpful for someone who is trying to get into a sketching habit. I have a lot of trouble using sketchbooks. I’m too afraid of ruining them. I work better with loose paper, which I then staple or clip together, but I can see how I can use these loose sketches to build spreads in my fancy sketchbooks.
All this to say that it is crucial to step away from the looping treadmill and to do that you need to mash-up everything you know.
You can find my guide here: it’s “name your price,” so if you are currently not in the possibility of investing in your art, please do take it for free. If you can support it, I will be so grateful.
I want to help self-taught artists, especially those who are ready to jump from hobby or amateur art, to something more meaningful. I hope this guide is useful.
And do share with me what you are making. Write to me and tell me if you are stuck, or have too many ideas, or feel lonely with your practice. I’ve been through it, and I love to talk about it.