Three Tips For The Self-Taught Artist

"Patio At The Inn" 30"x40" Acrylic on Canvas

The notion to apply paint to a canvas came late in life for me, long after acquiring a business degree and charting my course towards a life in the retail industry.  In 2006, at the age of 46, I picked up some pencils and sketch pads and discovered that I could lose myself for hours in the process of creating expressive subjects and compositions.  Roughly a year later, I found myself in the aisles of Hobby Lobby gathering together tubes of acrylic paint, canvas boards, brushes and a color wheel.  I really had no idea what I needed and I was too embarrassed to ask for help,  so I ended up bringing home what I now realize may be a lifetime supply of some items.

The feel of the wet acrylic paint moving around on the canvas resonated with me and I quickly found myself back at the store buying large panels of stretched canvas.   One of my first paintings was a 30” x 40” impression of the restaurant patio at the historic inn that my wife and I were operating at the time.  I felt that the canvas was too large to use little brushes to apply the paint and I did not yet like the way that a palette knife felt, so intuitively I took an old credit card and went to work.  Within a few hours I had completed a painting that would become a much admired and talked about conversation piece, hanging on the restaurant wall until we sold the business in 2010.

Five years and perhaps a hundred paintings later, I have yet to produce a piece of art so quickly, intuitively and easily.  I now paint with oils, I know how to use brushes and knives and I don’t even know where that color wheel is, but the process of completing a painting of lasting value is certainly no easier than it was when I painted that patio.

If you are a self taught painter at the beginning of your journey, there are three tips that I have learned that I want to share with you:

  1. There is no such thing as a self-taught artist.  I finally took my first formal painting class just last year, but I have been a student since making that first trip to hobby lobby.  We are all students, no matter how long we’ve been at it and we learn from every image we see and every artist we meet.  The inter-net gives us all the opportunity to learn an share in a way that the old Masters would have never envisioned.  Initially, I was very defensive about being self-taught, stubborn in resisting the idea that someone might influence my growth in a direction that was not authentic for me.  I now know that there is no way you can avoid your own originality if your true purpose is to express yourself.
  2. Paint what you are passionate about.  For the first few years, I tried painting just about everything that I saw.  Often times I tried to paint something that I thought others might enjoy seeing or that someone might want to buy.  It took a few years to realize that it really works the other way around.  If you paint what you know and feel and love, somebody will love what they see and want to buy it.
  3. Just do it.  Paint does not end up on a canvas by thinking, talking or planning.  There is no other way to create than to put the brush in the paint and begin taking chances.  If you fear that you won’t do it right, then you won’t.  Every mistake is a tool, a barometer.  If it is used properly, it will tell you when you are painting with fear rather than with knowing and feeling.

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