Artistic authenticity

Cherry2

Now, you know I’m a big fan of the Gram.

It’s to a great place to put your work out for the world to see.

What makes me kind of sad though, is when I see work out there of dubious origin.

I clicked on a post in my Instagram feed recently, thinking I’d missed a painting by one of my favourite artists. It certainly looked like her work, but it wasn’t.  When I say it looked like her work, I don’t mean I thought it looked like something she might paint: no, I thought she was reposting a previous painting.

Not only was this painting very similar (a landscape in oils), but the same person had also just posted work that looked almost identical to some new and very different work my favourite artist had recently released (abstract mixed media). Coincidence?

Looking further back through her feed, it wasn’t clear how she’d arrived at these paintings; not an evident evolving style, not a body of work. Just a few paintings early on that don’t appear to bear resemblance to their newer work.

Sometimes you do see artists with very similar aesthetics.  Usually there’ll be a particular series or point in time where their style will seem similar,  presumably in response to current trends. But there will be a solid body of work over a longer period of time that doesn’t resemble anyone’s art but their own, even if they are inspired and influenced by their favourite artists.

And my own Instagram feed does not tell the full story of my own artistic journey, because I tend to curate my feed, and I don’t want crap I painted two years ago hanging around.

But I do keep everything I painted. And my blog is a record of some of my process. It’s good to pull it all out sometimes and remember how far you’ve come.

I know that feeling, that longing to create good work, to get better. To be desperate to paint your vision.  I still feel that now!  When I was learning, I did copies of other artists work – and credited them properly.  There’s a couple of my Instagram feed, credited to David Atkins and Bob Rohm.

Studying and copying, yes, copying, are perfectly valid forms of learning, particularly for beginners.   Copying your favourite painting is brilliant for understanding decisions another artist made in terms of composition and colour.  Follow along tutorials are another form of copying, all great for getting you going.  And recently one of my IG friends (a brilliant painter) commented she was so frazzled she painted a study of one of her favourite artists,  so she could just paint and not worry about all the other stuff, so she could be soothed by the act of painting.  This is the beauty of art – that it can enrich people in ways other things can’t.

Then there is the baaaddd sort of copying.  Like the sort of thing I saw on Instagram, captioned not with “a study I did of blah blah blahs painting” , but just sort of passed off as their own with some trite ” just a little painting I did today!!!” in the comments.

There’s been a flurry of words around this on Instagram this week – check out Emily Jeffords, she puts this delicate issue across so well, not to berate people but to point out that in copying others, we deprive ourselves and our audience.

I agree.  And I also come back to this post I wrote a while ago after reading Ian Roberts.  No one can be original.  There is no such thing as originality – it’s all been done before.  But, authenticity.  That’s a different thing.

Authenticity does not come from being dazzled by what everyone else is doing on Instagram.  It is not to be found externally.

Authenticity comes from keeping records, journals, sketchbooks and observing.

It comes from making mistakes, exploring, playing, changing things up.

It comes from doing the work, not waiting for inspiration.

Authenticity comes from within. It is an internal process: listening to yourself.  Your fears, your hopes, your vulnerabilities. They will shape your art, along with your creative process. And this will give your work a truth that will shine through, and others will see what you see.  And you will be an artist.

 

I know how love works

I am lucky enough to be married to someone I not only love, but actually like.  He is pretty much the bees knees, the dogs doodahs in my book.  

Over the years, he has shamed me by persisting in this commercial shenanigans of buying me a Valentines card (shenanigans unless I decide to sell Valentines cards in the future.  Then I’m just an artist trying to earn a few pennies.  Don’t judge me).

I don’t need a Valentines card.  I know every single day how he feels about me even with the all the nagging.  But I did begin to feel bad that I forgot (genuinely – what can I say, our love blooms all year round) to get him one in return.  Now I’m much better at remembering to get him a card, and this year I got him his favourite chocolates too.  He bought me gorgeous warm red roses.

And guess how we spent our Valentines?  I painted the flowers whilst he cleaned the bathrooms. This almost beats the year we took time off from our jobs for our anniversary – and painted the house.  Yeah, as I say, our love blooms all year round.  What a keeper.

Valentines
apols for the crappy quality – the light was fading fast!  Valentine roses, oil on paper.

DIY Bachelor of Fine Arts PART THREE: OVERCOMING FEAR

 

Fleur

When I say fear, I don’t mean creative stumbling blocks that are part and parcel of being an artist.  I mean proper paralysing fear of even starting anything.

I spent what felt like months…oh wait, it was months…reading how to paint, how to draw, watching all of You Tube, and too afraid to actually put any of what I learned into practice.  For fear of failure.  I was so overwhelmed.

It’s seems incredible now, as I’m quite prolific, that I ever went through that, but I did.  Getting out of that place was sort of sudden I think, but I can’t remember the specifics….I just ended up committing more and more to my art.

The only solution, if you are in the place where I was, is to do it.  All the books say to do it, and everybody you’ll ever ask will say just do it – just get on and make some art.

At some point, surely, the fear of never ever trying will outweigh any potential duds you produce.  There will be duds, but there will also be indescribable moments of pure joy that pierce your soul, when you create something (even a square inch of part of a painting) utterly magical.

The more you do this, the quicker that fear will recede.  It’s no mystery why many artists set themselves challenges, like paint 30 paintings in 30 days, or 100 painting challenge.

All I know is, when you’re a beginner, you invest every part of your being into what you think is your masterpiece and agonise over it.  Well, if you paint regular, you can’t do that.  Each painting is just a stepping stone to the next one.  I can honestly say very quickly after finishing a painting, all that I have invested in it is gone.  I’m ready for the next one. Using what I learned to do better.

One of the things I struggled with was establishing a creative process.  I found it really hard to find out what other artists did (they can be cagey you know) at 10am on a Friday, for example.  And I do like a sort of framework as a guide.  As it happens, I got into my own rhythm and one day realised I had in fact established my own creative processes and practice – it evolved naturally from the act of doing.  Which goes back to the original point of this post: if you’re that freaked out you can’t even look at your paints without breaking into a sweat, then here’s a list of books I read,  to get the bogeymen in your head simmering down:

  • The War on Art, by Stephen Pressfield
  • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers
  • The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
  • How to be An Artist, by Michael Atavar

And when you’ve read them, have a word with yourself and start making.  You’re most welcome.  Good luck.

Putting my big girl pants on

Readers, today I had to let down a client.  And by client I also mean dear friend.  I do not feel good about this.

She’d commissioned me to do some art work for her – she has her own coaching business. She loved my work and wanted to incorporate it into her website and downloadable planner.  She wanted me to have free reign so my creativity could flow.  And she quite liked the doodle type illustration as a style.  Having dabbled in that sort of thing ages ago, for about 5 minutes, I felt confident I could pull it off.  Plus, this girl is one of my biggest supporters and has bought a LOT of my art.  Not quite the shrine my mother has in her dining room (like my own personal gallery, 6 pieces of actual canvas no less, that she bought from my first pop up shop. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry), so I wanted to do a good job for her.  Prove I was the fabulous artist she thought I was.

Me, being me, did not sit back and think about all this, and I didn’t recognise at the time that really this was a branding exercise.  We hadn’t even had a face to face discussion about it, as I cancelled our last get together as I was sick.

So I’ve spent this week exploring her ideas in an illustrative style and what I’ve ended up with is something that looks like my dog did it.  I mean, it just looks so basic.  Actually worse than that it looks baaaaad   It’s not ideas or the concept I’m struggling with, it’s…….the execution.  I actually do not have the skill in this area folks.  There we go, I said it.  I just learned a huge lesson – I know where one of my creative limitations is at.  Like a musician that can play a few instruments but not all, being an artist is comparable.  Illustration is just so unnatural for me.  I couldn’t draw a cute flower if I tried.  I need a reference.  And then I’d want to paint it in a painterly style.  Being an illustrator, or a graphic designer is a specialism in it’s own right, just like fine art is for me.

What was hard for me, and took several miserable, chocolate fuelled hours at my desk to comprehend, was that I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off, and for the first time EVER say to someone (that’s not one of my kids, they don’t count, I say it all the time to them) “I can’t do this for you, “, gulp.   After a long little spell of negative thinking at the end of which not only was my friend hating me but the entire world hated all my art anyway (apart from my mum), I realised I had to put my big girl pants on.

So I got on the phone and was honest with my friend who made it so easy for me as she’s one of the nicest people.  She didn’t say “WHAAAAAAAT?  You’ve been dragging your arse on this since December and now you say you can’t draw a flower?  And you hate watercolour?  ”  Nope.  She said “Don’t worry”.  And she meant it.  I mean, obviously she would have preferred it if I’d been able to produce something she could use, but she was so understanding about the whole thing.

So, when we meet later this week for our usual coffee/massive breakfast feast off, we have this whole business/web branding/design style issue to go over, and hopefully I can help her with what to think about even if I can’t actually do the work.

The lesson here is: think before saying yes to everything.  And always pick nice people as friends.

biggirlpants
Funnily enough, I drew this though. He was a Christmas ornament. Is this an illustration? I have no clue, but I drew him from life.

DIY Bachelor of Fine Arts INTRODUCTION

 

INTRO_Headerpic

WARNING

This post goes on and on.  Get comfy.

Only last night I wrote this declaring I was writing this blog for me.  Today this post is for others mostly.  I was asked on Instagram last night (I love that place, and I can’t believe it’s related to Facebook, I hope it doesn’t pick up any of its bad habits) about having my brains picked for painting tips.

Oh, and another warning – my resource suggestions are based around those which helped me with my approach to painting and drawing.  So if you’re interested in things like illustration, folk art or design, you may find all this totally pointless.

‘FESSIN UP

Now, I don’t have a formal art education, and I haven’t been doing this very long, but I’m happy to share the resources I’ve used so far, and pass on the good wisdom of other artists from whom I’ve sucked up every word they wrote or you tube tutorial they filmed.

Whilst, like most people, as I kid I loved drawing, and have dabbled on and off all my life, it’s only later in life and in the last year I’ve seriously put my stake in the ground and declared “I am an artist!”

In a previous life I did unnecessarily complicated things with data for the NHS.  Then I got sick and had to give up my career and find some other way of living, some other purpose, that could fit around my chronic fluctuating illness. I took a convoluted route to art.  It was in some ways happenstance: someone I was following on Twitter asked if anyone wanted to post some of their art to a drawing thread and for some reason I decided I did.  There’s not a lot to lose posting some of your art on the internet hiding from behind your computer.  It gave me confidence to continue posting my artwork and I began to think I might really invest in this way of life.

Very quickly, the need to make art became compelling.  You artist people know of what I speak!  I mean that feeling inside where you just have to draw or paint or drip or chisel or some piece of your soul will die and never grow back.

Making art teaches you a lot.  I don’t mean just about the technical side of things, like paint handling or composition, I mean it teaches you about problem solving, self sufficiency, self motivation, self confidence, self reflection.  It’s not for everyone in a full time capacity; it can feel solitary, and it’s a way of life.

WE DON’T NEED NO EDUCATION

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have a formal art education; I’m self taught.  This isn’t by desire but by design:  I already used up my student loan graduating in computer science years ago, and though it’s all paid back, you only get one loan courtesy of the government, and I do not have the funds myself.

Though I coveted a degree in Fine Arts, I’m now so glad this wasn’t in the end an avenue open to me. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it at all and would possibly have found that approach a frustrating one. Certainly I’m convinced I wouldn’t have made as much practical progress with my work as I have done, but I guess I would say that!

I also looked at a number of School of Arts type establishments around the country, some of whom offer distance learning.  I found they were either as expensive as a degree (and in fact offered degrees) or were slightly less expensive but only offered vocational qualifications.  Because they offer all kinds of payment systems I was sorely tempted, but again, I’m so glad I didn’t pursue this course of action – I came across one of these schools who had a you tube video on capturing someones likeness.  Frankly, it was a poor bit of teaching.

I’m not saying these types of education doesn’t help people fulfill their artistic potential – I just knew that they were not for me, that there was something missing from them, something fundamental. However, when I came across the classic atelier school approach, I knew, if money were no object, this would be my art education of choice, where you spend the first year just drawing from casts, and by the fourth year you’re allowed to use colour in your paintings.  By contrast to a BFA, this style of learning and art making is far more what I’d be looking for.

WRAPPING UP NOW, ALMOST DONE

In any event, none of these are an option for me.  When finances do allow, and especially as my youngest child gets older, I’d love to take atelier summer school or perhaps a distance learning atelier course, or even a workshop run by my favourite artists.  So it’s not that I don’t value education – it’s just I can’t afford it right now and so I had to get my knowledge in other ways. and this is what this blog post series is all about – useful resources and online classes that are either free or affordable.  Depending on what you want from your art, my suggestions may not be suitable.  Art is a generic term – there are various strains of it.  I’m interested in a classic foundation, leading towards impressionism and expressionism, even abstract, and chiefly painting, so my suggestions are based around that.

If you’re still reading all this – hurrah and well done!  It was lengthy and I can waffle sometimes, often for my own benefit so I can get my head clear!

So – part one will follow where I’ll discuss basics first: drawing resources.  I don’t want to just post a tedious list of links, so hopefully I’ll be able to write posts that have my own personal take on the subject, along with a list of resources I used.