Friday, September 13, 2019

9 Suggestions for the Beginning Artist

9 Suggestions for the Beginning Artist

It might seem presumptuous for a newbie artist such as myself to offer advice for other artists, but who would know better what a beginning artist is going through than someone who has recently been through the beginning phases herself? I’ve only been painting for about four years now. All those initial growing pains are still fresh on my mind, and I’m still working on these suggestions in my own art. I’m not going to give you advice about technique or craft. This is about the practical, nuts and bolts of getting started as an artist. They are the things I struggled with at first or that I found to be most helpful to me. So, for those of you who are just embarking on your art journey, here are my suggestions to make the road a little smoother and more enjoyable.

(1)    Create an “Artist’s Statement.” I know . . .  having an artist’s statement sounds all hoity-toity. However, I can tell you that it makes a BIG difference!  Even for an absolute beginner! Your vision as an artist is what drives everything else. The process of writing an artist’s statement is invaluable. It forces you to think through your whys and hows. It will help you solidify your focus and purpose in painting. It will keep you from wasting time on things that don’t fit your vision. Set aside an hour or two, and get it done. Then post it where you can see it when you paint. Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote about how I came up with my own artist’s statement. Check it out if you want to know more about my process.
Be prepared: Your hopes and plans for your art will change as time passes and you paint more, and that means your artist’s statement will change, too. That’s a good thing because it shows that you’re growing.

(2)    Gather the materials you will need. Nothing will kill your desire to paint more than having a great painting idea but not having the materials to follow through. Often, by the time you gather all the materials, that inspirational spark has fizzled. Make a list of the supplies you will need, and then get them. If you don’t know what you need, research it. The internet is a great resource for information, but don’t take one source’s word for it; check out several. Make sure your materials include a sketch book that’s small enough to carry around with you so you can make quick sketches when you find yourself in a waiting room or with time on your hands.

(3)    Set up a dedicated space for painting. It doesn’t have to be a big studio, but it does have to be a space for art and nothing else. You won’t paint much if you must clear away papers, dishes, or toys every time you want to paint. I started out with a desk in a spare bedroom, and later I converted our bonus room into a studio. Your studio is whatever make it; it can be a table in the corner of your bedroom, a desk in the kitchen, or an easel set up in the laundry room.  It can be a spare bedroom, space in your garage, or anywhere that you can create an area just for your art. You will need some type of shelving or cart to keep your supplies. Once you’ve claimed your space, set out the materials you gathered in #2 above and have them ready to be used.

(4)    Take workshops and/or lessons from a variety of artists. Find available classes and workshops by checking out community centers, calling your local arts council, getting online to research, calling nearby colleges and universities, or checking the arts section of your local newspaper. Then sign up for a workshop that most closely matches your own interests.

When you take a workshop, go in with an open mind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attended a workshop and seen a student or two so involved in their own painting that they don’t pay attention to the teacher’s demos or instruction. You’re there to learn. Embrace the experience – follow the instructor’s suggestions – try out new techniques and materials – use the instructor’s palette – take notes. When you go home after the workshop, practice what you learned. Keep what works for you. Some things will resonate with you; others won’t. Also, talk to the other workshop participants. Get to know them. They will likely share with you about other art opportunities. If you like the artist/instructor, find out what other classes they teach. Workshops are vital to growing as an artist. Even nationally recognized artists take classes in order to keep learning and growing.

(5)    Get involved in the art community. There is a thriving art community on many levels – local, state, region, national, international. In the few years that I’ve been painting, I’ve added an entirely new dimension to my circle of friends and experiences. Here are some suggestions for involvement. You can’t do them all, but you can pick and choose the ones that appeal to you the most.

a.       Find and join local art groups. Once you’ve joined one or two local groups, get involved. Volunteer to help with shows and paint-outs. You don’t have to be an amazing artist to be involved in the art world. Does your community have “art crawls” each month? One caution: Don’t over-extend yourself. Start small and make decisions about your involvement based on your artist’s statement. Will this group help me reach my goals? Is this group’s vision in line with mine?
b.       Subscribe to and read art magazines. (Fine Arts Connoisseur, Plein Air Magazine, etc.) Regularly set aside time to read them and keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of art. It’s fun to read about all the shows, conventions, and galleries and see the art that other people are producing.
c.       Join artist groups on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media, and “friend/follow” other artists. Artists generally post their work, and you can see what other artists are doing. If someone posts a painting you like, leave a comment telling them you like it. That helps to start building relationships.
d.       Join Associations such as Outdoor Painters Society, American Impressionist Society, Inc., and Oil Painters of America. Find groups for the medium(s) you use. Associations offer information, videos, workshops, paintouts. and competitions. They provide opportunities to network and learn. They also sponsor shows that give you the opportunity to submit your art for consideration.
e.       If you’re interested in plein air painting (painting outdoors), then do your best to attend the annual Plein Air Convention and Exposition (PACE). You’ll be with hundreds of other artists and have dozens of well known artists that provide sessions about elements of painting. Participate in as many of the sessions and activities as you can. 

(6)    Be patient. When I started painting, I wanted to be a great painter IMMEDIATELY! I wanted to instantly know about how to mix colors and how to paint impressionistically! It doesn’t happen that way, though. Learning takes time and practice. You’re embarking on a marathon – not a sprint. Remember that, as you continue to paint, you WILL improve, and you WILL learn. It is through this process that you will develop your voice as an artist.

(7)    Embrace your vulnerability. I can’t stress enough how important this is! It’s what I had to work on the most. When you paint, you are baring your soul and heart. It can be painful to put your art out there where others can comment and pass judgment on it. Every doubt and insecurity you ever had will push itself to the forefront. Don’t let your vulnerability freeze you, though. Remember: Different people = different styles of painting. You are the only you. It can be intimidating to go to that first (second, third, hundredth) workshop where you paint in front of people and where a professional artist/teacher (gasp!) will critique your art. Embrace the fact that you’re human and not perfect. It’s okay to be a beginning artist with much to learn.

I want to share a quick story to illustrate: When I attended my first Plein Air Convention and Exposition (2018), I didn’t know what to expect. It was in Santa Fe, and there were so many people there. I was intimidated because I only knew one other person. I attended lots of sessions and went on the paint-outs but did not participate in the social activities. I felt so out-arted by all the amazing artists there that I ended up isolating myself. When I signed up for the next year’s PACE, I resolved to jump into the activities and participate more. That year (2019), it was in San Francisco, and it was a much better experience. I met more people, finished some paintings, and learned more. At one point when I was walking back to the bus after painting the Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End, I remember looking at the gorgeous scenery and all the artists painting and thinking, “I love this!” THAT is the feeling you’re looking for! And that is the result of embracing my vulnerability as a newbie artist.

I deliberately use the word “embrace” rather than “accept” because embracing indicates an enthusiasm. It’s a good and valuable thing to be vulnerable. Go ahead and post your paintings on your Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages. You are you, and there’s no one else that will paint like you.

(8)    PAINT. Do your art and don’t let anything stop you. We all likely know one or two people who talk about being an artist, but they never quite get around to actually painting. Don’t let that white canvas or panel intimidate you! You are the boss of your art! Sling a little paint on that canvas. Make a commitment to paint every day for a week. Or commit to three days each week. Set a do-able goal and then do it! The simple act of starting a painting is often all that’s needed to get you going. It doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s the beauty of art. You can always wipe off the paint or paint over it.
I was an elementary school reading specialist for many years, and one thing I often told students was that “the more you read, the better you’ll read.” I told them that reading lots of “easy” books” would enable them to move to harder books much more quickly. The same is true with painting. The more you paint, the better you’ll paint. And painting easy subjects repeatedly will enable you to paint more difficult subjects. I will say it again – You are the boss of your art! So get busy art-ing! Throw that paint around!

(9)    ENJOY the journey! Painting will change your life. You will never look at clouds or trees or flowers or even an apple the same way again. You will never see a white cloud again because now your newly awakened “artist eyes” will see all the purples and browns and oranges that are in there. You’ll gain a new vocabulary and start talking about cast shadows, local color, values, chroma, saturation, and shapes. You’ll become an obsessive photographer – always aware of the need to get shots of scenes you might want to paint someday. It’s a lovely and healthy way to live – with heightened awareness of the beauty of the world around you – the textures and colors and intricacies of nature.

Being an artist is a calling – a calling to journey through this life being more observant, more caring, more intuitive. A calling to embrace your imperfections, to explore your world, and to translate your deepest thoughts and emotions into color on a canvas. Enjoy the journey.


  1. Thank you so much. Some wonderful tips here. I didn't know about PACE. Will check it out.

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