by Peta Tranquille
As with any profession, if you want to not only be the best, but be the best version of yourself, you must practice. This comes in many forms and will differ from one artist to another. You might be one of those artists that thrive on painting 100 days in a row, or perhaps you wait 11 months to be involved in a monthly challenge each year. Either way, it is up to you to choose what is best for you. While some social media posts claim that to be a great artist, you have to practice every day; they don’t know you. You know you and have to do what suits you.
While my art journey started as a young child, yours may not have, and this is another area where all creative people differ. Whether it is from childhood, something you have found later in life, a hobby or for therapeutical benefit, creativity needs to be nurtured to grow.
Last week we discussed context and how important it is for your practice. This week I want to discuss other factors that will help take your art practice to the next level.
Many of you may not like drawing or feel there is a need for it in your practice, but I firmly believe that drawing is a necessary skill. Drawing is not just about making marks on paper but can be very helpful for whatever your choice of medium. Drawing helps improve your observation skills, which enhances the way you absorb the world around you. Drawing helps you to observe the subject matter and really SEE it. If you already draw, I expect it plays a big part in your creative journey, but if you don’t, I seriously recommend that you give it a go. Start by drawing something straightforward, like an apple. Then, observe it, observe it some more and let me know if you start to see it differently.
Another crucial part of being creative is how you see the world around you. There is seeing, and there is SEEING. Rather than trying to explain this, I will tell you a story about an experience I had in my teens. While attending an art class, I had a moment of clarity that, to this day, I have never forgotten. First, let me explain what we were expected to do in the class that day. In the centre of the room was a table, and one of those old retro metal fans was on it. The tutor expected us to paint the fan with pastel, and this is where I thought, “well, this is a bit too easy”, as I regularly did still life with pastel. Anyway, half an hour in and I had already started adding colour to my work. The fan was cream in colour, so I blended pastels to create that colour. Then, what was an easy task became a moment of clarity.
We all know that feeling when you know you are being watched, but I didn’t expect it in class. The tutor watched me for a few moments, and then I was anxious as he walked closer. I was hoping he would give me praise about my progress, as it was pretty good, in my opinion. That day was when I realised that my naïve opinion meant absolutely nothing. How could I be so young and think that I knew what I was doing? He looked at my work closer and asked me if I was looking at the fan. Of course, I immediately responded with “yes”. Again, my naivety shone brightly, and I soon understood why he asked. He told me to LOOK at the fan and asked me what colour I could see. I thought, “it’s cream, why are you asking me that?” but I looked in more detail and saw so many other colours. Where were they coming from, and why were they on the fan? Although the fan was cream, it reflected multiple colours, including my clothes, from around the room. How did I not see that before? They must have been there, but I hadn’t seen them until I was told to really look at the fan. Observation makes all the difference to the way you express yourself.
You may already know your medium or material of choice, but did you try everything before making that decision? Are you only using a particular option because you think you should, or because it is what a professional is expected to use? For example, many believe that professional painters only use oils, but many well-known artists use acrylic. To broaden your creative knowledge you should get to know as many mediums and materials as possible. Over the last 30 years, I have been exposed to many different mediums and have found there are some I like and some I don’t. I have tried dry mediums, like pencil, pastel, charcoal and Conte crayon. While they are all fabulous, I personally, prefer clean hands, so I usually avoid charcoal.
When it comes to painting, I have tried gouache, watercolour, oils, acrylic, and vinyl. I expect the debate has already started, with oil painters saying it is the best and the acrylic users saying they can’t handle the smell of oil, and I understand that. For health reasons, I cannot use traditional oil painting methods; however, the water-soluble oils, with linseed and water, give me an alternative that I enjoy. There are so many options available at your local art store.
Depending on your situation and what you want to achieve, there are so many great mediums or materials. The most important thing you can do for your practice is to learn how to use different mediums and make an informed, knowledgeable decision on which one is best for you. It would be naïve of you to say that you prefer one medium if you have never tried all the other excellent options. If cost is an issue, I expect you will find another artist that has something you can borrow as they might just be trying them too.
I hope that this has given you some food for thought and will help to improve your art practice. I hope you have a creative weekend, and I look forward to reading your comments.