Updated: Sep 19, 2021
The life of an artist is quite incredible. We dedicate our lives to cultivating our skills and craft, all the while, learning so much more than we even imagined possible. Being an artist has taught me many lessons, but a few of them stand out from the rest. Today I’m sharing my top three most important lessons for artists!
When I was in school, my Industrial Design professor would require us to make multiple iterations of each project before we could start on our final version. This would always annoy me, because I just wanted to take my first idea and run with it. But after having her for three separate studio classes, I actually began to value these moments. Having the time to make different iterations of something and improve upon past renditions always allowed for a stronger, better designed version in the end. I realized that if I had just gone with my first idea, it would have been nowhere near as strong as what I came up with after testing multiple ideas.
This lesson can be used in a fine art setting, as well. I often have ideas of what I want to illustrate or paint that are pretty cool to start with. But after making a few thumbnail sketches or revisiting the same subject over and over, the idea gets a chance to blossom into something that I wouldn’t have come up with in the beginning. And I end up with a much stronger piece overall.
If you look back at Ye Old Masters, they would paint the same things over and over again. Not because they were obsessed with hay stacks (although maybe they were, I don’t know their whole life story), but because they wanted to master the subject matter and add their own interpretations. They might have started with a really realistic painting, but revisiting it again and again allowed it to evolve into a beautiful impressionistic piece with innovative brush strokes and new color combinations.
So the next time inspiration strikes, get that idea out! And then do it again and again. After a few rounds of iteration, you might decide the first version was the best. But a lot of the time, you end up with something even stronger and more meaningful than what you started with.
Don’t Be Precious
We artists tend to treat our work as if it was our child. We baby it, take our time with it, worry about something bad happening to the piece, like putting an ugly brush stroke in. But this really ends up holding us back in the long run. When we act as though every single piece we create has to be a masterpiece, we often find ourselves disappointed or paralyzed by fear. And neither one of those situations is ideal.
I’m not saying to just start slapping things together and call it a day. However, I am telling you to stop being so perfectionistic about your work. Not everything you make is going to come out beautifully. I have a whole stack of ugly drawings and sketchbook pages filled with horribly rendered ideas. But each one of those drawings allowed me to get better and put me on the path towards creating something beautiful.
Take a load off. Remove the expectation that everything has to be the best, most beautiful, utterly groundbreaking painting you’ve ever made. Because, quite simply, it won’t. Paint. Analyze. And paint again.
Read the Whole Story, Not Just the Headline
As artists, we love(loathe) comparing ourselves to the masters of olden days or hyper-successful artists we see on social media. But that doesn’t make any sense. For starters, our lives are completely different from the people we’re measuring ourselves up against. Everything they’ve gone through led them to make the work they’re supposed to make. Stop trying to commandeer their story and make work like them. It’s never going to fit right, no matter how many tweaks you try to add.
Furthermore, we often end up comparing their chapter 63 to our chapter 4, which only makes us feel terrible. And is complete nonsense. You cannot compare where you are to where someone else is. The only comparison you can reasonably make is where you are today to where you were yesterday.
Lastly, during this silly comparison, we don’t take into consideration the years upon years that someone else might have put into their artistic career. We just see success and decide we have to have it, too. As in, right now. I blame a lot of this immediate gratification on social media, but nevertheless, we shouldn’t do this to ourselves. Pining after the “end goal” of success prevents you from enjoying the ride. And, in my opinion, the journey is the entire point of being an artist. Besides, who’s to say that when you get to where you wanted to be that you won’t change your mind and end up somewhere else entirely? Simply put: don’t wait to be “successful” to be happy. Be happy now, and enjoy the entirety of the process.
There is so much to learn as an artist, and much of that knowledge isn’t even specifically art-related. But that doesn’t stop me from applying what I’ve learned elsewhere to my artistic practice. Hopefully these little bits of wisdom will slowly permeate your practice, too!
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Thanks for reading and happy creating!