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Life lessons I've learned as an artist

I’m booked in to run my first art workshop at my local gallery mid next month. This is almost as daunting as it is exciting. I’ve never run an art class before! So in the hope of discovering something worth passing on, I started a new scraperboard piece today, with the intention of reflecting on the process that I go through from concept to finished product. Often this happens in a relatively short time frame – maybe one to just a few days - but the process and related principles I came up with can apply much more broadly. I’ll let you think through the parallels...

Start with a clear vision

Sitting down to a blank sheet is sometimes overwhelming. There are so many possibilities and no direction. Planning narrows it down, creates some boundaries, and lets you develop a clear vision of what you want to achieve. If coming up with a great concept isn’t easy, it isn’t something that you can “make” happen. With an artwork I have several tried-and-true methods including sitting back and observing life, seeking out what I know and what I don’t know, and finding inspiration in the everyday.

Start with the bits you are confident about

Once I’ve come up with a rough sketch I am happy with, I draw an outline onto my scraperboard, and then it is time to cut in. This is often a point where my anxiety builds up, but it is necessary to start somewhere. Often there are parts of the image which will be easier to cut out than others – for instance I find objects easier to draw than people. To build up my confidence, I start where I feel comfortable and work up to the more complicated bits.

Take joy in the achievements along the way

As the elements of an image are coming together, it is good to stop along the way and enjoy each small success. Of course this can go both ways. Sometimes I can give myself a well-deserved pat on the back and move on to the next step. But other times self-doubt creeps in and makes me anxious that my next step will ruin any success to date. As long as I am aware of these thoughts, I just have to take charge and tell myself not to be so silly and to believe in myself. Afterall, no one ever got anywhere by standing still.

Take a chance

There’s no point hanging around when you know where you want to go. The longer I let my anxiety about the next step hold me back, the more likely I am to get overwhelmed by my worries and the less likely to actually get things done. Sometimes I just need to trust in myself and step into the unknown. Most times the result is better than I think, and sometimes it’s even better than I hoped.

Don't punish yourself

Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself, or I am prone to self-criticism when things don’t turn out the way I wanted. I am learning that other people don’t see the mistakes that I do because they didn’t have the same expectations about the outcome. Some artworks that just haven’t worked out the way I hoped are a big disappointment. It always surprises me when other people consistently judge them as a favourite. I need to learn from other people to let go of my expectations, and to appraise and appreciate the result with new eyes.

Reflect and Learn

Whatever we do in life, there is always room to grow by reflecting on what has been and what has been learned along the way. Next time we can put those lessons into practice and work more efficiently, or better, or smarter, with the benefit of better results. Life is a journey of successes and failures. We just have to learn to find the gift at each step and give it to ourselves.

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