5 Things I Wish I Knew as a Beginning Artist
1. There's no wrong way to make art.
Contrary to what your art teacher might tell you, there is no wrong way to make art! A man (Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan) duct-taped a banana to a wall, called it 'art', and it sold for $120,000. The craziest part is that it is art. Yes, even you could tape a banana to a wall, but you didn't. Your art is unique and valuable because you made it your way. Copying the technique your art teacher or someone from a YouTube video shows you are great ways to learn, but there comes a point where you need to break away from the rules. More importantly, you need to do it with confidence. My painting professor provided a list of brands and materials to use, told us which medium to mix into my paint, and which brush to use to achieve particular effects. While these were great places to start from, I felt forced to create art within these constraints. It wasn't until I started deviating from these 'rules' that I started making art that felt more authentic. To my surprise, my professor started to notice and encourage it! So break the rules! Try new techniques! And remember that the only way to make your art is the way that you do it.
“There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.” – Helen Frankenthaler
2. The quality of your art supplies.
You don't need high quality and expensive art supplies to make good art. Now repeat that with me, "You don't need high quality and expensive art supplies to make good art." Good! Now that we've established that, I want to talk to you about my personal experience with art supplies. I've found that there are certainly higher quality materials that do make more of an impact than others and in some cases, it might even be beneficial to use the cheaper alternatives!
Believe it or not, but there is a special boon that you're given from the creative gods when you use cheap art supplies. The paralysis every artist feels to some degree when staring at the blank piece of paper or canvas before laying down the first mark is lessened. Cheap paints and paper can be your best friend for encouraging creative growth. I can tell you even now after I have gradually upgraded to nicer art supplies, that nothing beats the freedom that you feel without the worry of "wasting" high-quality art supplies. I insist on using quotes in that instance because any creative use is valuable and never wasteful, but our brains have a bad habit of making us doubt ourselves at nearly every step of our creative journey - especially when our work is in progress. That being said, once you can learn to trust the creative process, you can begin to value your art not just when it's complete, but at every step along the way. This is when you want to gradually introduce higher quality art supplies into your practice. If you're serious about pursuing art, upgrading your supplies is an inevitability. Increasing the quality of your art supplies is crucial to ensuring the longevity of the artwork you make, and adding value to your work. Pigments will be more vibrant and you'll be surprised to see how much farther high-quality paints will go than the cheaper alternatives with added filler. I do however want to stress that just having nice paints and expensive brushes doesn't make you a better artist. Building your craft and improving your artistic skills isn't something that can be bought.
At the end of the day, the art supplies you use are just materials. It's just paper and your sketchbook is just a tool. Don't let the pristine sketchbook flip-through videos you see online psych you out. I'd like to remind you again of what we just talked about in the last section: there's no wrong way to make art, and there's no wrong way to use a sketchbook or any of your other materials.
3. Don't let someone else kill your dream.
Regardless if they're your teacher, parent, partner, or random stranger on the internet, don't let them kill your dream. Be sure of yourself, your opinions, and know deep down that your opinions are the only ones that matter concerning your art. Other opinions can help provide perspective, but take it all with a grain of salt. When you're unsure of what to create and you're worried about pleasing your audience, I urge you to take a step back. You're giving them too much power. They're curious to see what you want to make next, not what you think they want to see. Allow yourself the space to create freely. Work in the moment. Don't get ahead of yourself. When you decide to create a piece of art don't worry if it's worthy of hanging on a wall or if you'll be confident enough to post it to social media. Those are ideas to consider once the piece is completed. Trust the process and live in the process. Be present in your mark-making. This is how your creative aspirations thrive.
"Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present." – Marcus Aurelius
4. You have to start somewhere.
All of the idols and artists you see online started somewhere, and it's likely their early works aren't visible. Stop comparing your first, fifth, or even twentieth piece to their hundredth! These ambitions you have are lifetime achievements. Give yourself some perspective. You might be surprised to find out that you're farther along in your journey than you thought. I had that realization when I attended an artist panel years ago and the successful career artist speaking hadn't even started painting when they were my age! Now that's encouraging to young artists, but what if you've found your creative passion later in life? I didn't have a pull to visual arts any more than the next kid while I was growing up. I drew some portraits to pass the time, but it was one of the many hats I tried on in my adolescence. It wasn't until I took a beginning painting elective course at the end of my second year at university that I found my artistic passion and dedicated myself to this creative journey. Perhaps you're finding yourself with extra free time in retirement and you've found this creative pursuit calling you later in life. The creative journey beckons at every age, and every one of us has to start with the same first few steps. The most important part is taking those steps, and then a few more. Only compare your journey to your own and where you've come from.
5. Finding your voice.
Finding your artistic voice isn't something you need to start your journey. In fact, finding your style is the journey. I'd argue that it's an ever-changing and constantly moving target. It's cliché, but you don't find your style, your style finds you. I have a BFA in art, I'm pursuing painting full-time, and I still don't think I've quite found my style. I do have a sneaking suspicion that your voice & style is just you. I think that once you do find your style, you'll find that you were just trying to see your art in the way other people already do. As you search and explore for a style that suits you, the parts that you want to overwrite may actually turn out to be your strengths.
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live only as you can.” – Neil Gaiman
Regardless of where you are in your artistic journey, a great exercise is to view all of your work together as one. Place them side by side on the wall or the floor, or tile them together digitally. What are the similarities? Are there color choices that you tend to make repeatedly? What about the composition? Let the work speak for itself. One single piece of work isn't going to say everything and can't possibly express the full range of your voice or stylistic choices.
All this being said, you don't need to find your voice or style at all. The one and only rule there is to be an artist is, simply put, to make art.