The Truth About What it’s Like to Be an Artist!
I was sitting at my easel last night, working on one of my newest paintings and thinking, as I normally do. Painting has kind of a meditative quality and all sorts of thoughts drift through my mind.
Last night, I thought about how weird it is to be an artist.
Here I am, sitting in my house at 7pm by myself creating another person on canvas.
To do art, I have to spend a lot of time alone.
I am sitting at my desk instead of being out in the world doing other things. I never have the TV on. (In fact we don’t even have a TV in the main two rooms of our house). I do always have music on, and sometimes I listen to YouTube videos.
But day after day, night after night, my art desk is where I choose to be.
If I’m not at my desk, a large part of me feels like I should be.
And if I’m at my desk, by myself with my dogs at my feet, I wonder . . . am I weird? Is this weird? Other people aren’t spending 30 minutes making sure an eye looks like a eye, or that the folds of the ear are painted correctly.
It is cool to be an artist. Don’t get me wrong. But, like everything else on Earth, there are good and bad parts to it.
Not Everything is a Masterpiece
There’s the time I spend starting new paintings and realizing as I get into them that they are complete shit. I’m doing something wrong but can’t quite figure out what. So I abandon it to either come back later to finish, or paint over it and start a new painting. It feels like such a waste of time, starting a painting that goes nowhere.
Part of me, the rational part, understands that I can’t get every one exactly right. That some pieces are just to teach me which ideas work, and which ones don’t. Or that certain things capture my attention, and some others aren’t interesting enough to me to complete.
Unfinished paintings still have value, because we are always learning, even when we are making mistakes or abandoning ill formed ideas.
Art is Perfect for an Introvert
Painting complements my introverted nature. I have a hard time being in close proximity to a lot of people all the time – fun for being a mom to 5 kids in a blended family. Not only does it drain my energy, but I start to feel trapped, suffocated by too much peopling. When I paint I have an excuse to zone out, escape, regroup.
On the flip side, when I’m alone and painting, I question my nature. I haven’t fully accepted that it’s okay for me to be a bit of a loner. I can retreat and recharge some of the time, and come back and spend time with people the rest of the time –and that’s fine.
But sometimes it is lonely and I feel weird that not only do I like being alone, I need to be alone for my sanity and the personal safety of other people. I joke, but also . . . it’s true. When my battery runs out, I can’t handle even simple things and tend to get very irritated and frustrated. So being alone for stretches at a time with my music and my dogs and my art is exactly what I need to be able to function like a human the rest of the time. It’s what allows me to be a good mom and a good fiancé and good to my dogs.
You’re Constantly Learning (and Making Mistakes)
Three to four days a week, I wake up at 5 (5:30 or ten till 6, depending on how many times I hit snooze – let’s be real here) to go to painting lessons. I’ve been doing this since 2018. I am NOT a morning person in any sense of the word, so it has been a real learning curve, both art wise and life wise.
But I did it and I am still doing it – because it’s important.
Learning to be an artist is not like learning math or memorizing the periodic table. There are so many techniques, and mediums, and ideas out there. Couple that with personal style and skill level, and it feels like you could learn something new everyday from now until eternity. Plus, I’m convinced that 99% of learning to be an artist comes from practicing.
Actually applying what you’ve learned not just once, but over and over again.
And messing up.
And learning how to fix it.
My art instructor says everything is fixable. “Do not, worry, it can all be fixed.” Sometimes I panic or get frustrated because I can’t get something to look right, but I try to remember his words. It can all be fixed.
That’s why practicing is important. Why learning techniques and styles is important. Taking risks and trying something new. It’s easy to get caught doing the same thing over and over, but safe leads to boredom and eventually everything you do feels stale and uninteresting.
That’s why I think being open to learning and trying things is the best thing an artist can do.
It Can Be a Long, Slow Journey
You know how it seems like certain celebrities burst onto the scene, and there’s the inevitable discussion about their “over night success?” Only later, we all find out their success didn’t happen overnight at all, it had actually taken years of them singing in bars or at festivals, or performing in commercials and local theaters.
It’s the same with art. There is no such thing as an overnight artist.
I have been doing art in some form since I was 15. It took me a decade (or more) to even begin to feel confident that I wasn’t an amateur hack who would get laughed out of the room. I took college level art courses and felt like a total imposter. I taught myself scrapbooking, digital scrapbooking, digital art, and finally mixed media art.
In 2015, I took online art courses and started to feel a tiny bit of confidence in my art. My favorite place to go for courses was Willowing, home of artist Tamara LaPorte, who does short and extended courses. I think she’s most well-known for her yearlong “Lifebook” course. At any rate, the instruction I received there made me feel like an artist!
I Did the Best I Could
I started spending more and more time doing art and finally had a dedicated art space to myself. In 2016, I painted fifty small paintings in fifty days, a big challenge to myself. From 2016 to 2020, I took more courses, made more art and showed my paintings in 2018 to a professional artist – who literally changed my life.
He offered me an art show and started teaching me to paint. Now – when I look back on the art I was so proud of in 2015 and 2016, I cringe.
It’s so embarrassing.
My faces are cartoonish and out of proportion. I didn’t know how to blend. I didn’t understand dark and light tones. There was so much I didn’t know back then.
Of course, as the saying goes: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
So I was only doing the best I could with what I knew.
In late 2019, early 2020, I finally can look at my art and feel proud of what I have created. I can see my progress and I finally feel less like an imposter and more like . . .
And hey, it only took me almost 25 years.
Doing Art Fuels More Art
I’m not even done.
I used to feel frustrated and lost because I didn’t know what to paint or draw or create. Despite having this burning need to do art, I had no idea what to create. I would start something and not like it or get stuck, so I would abandon it and start something else. I was very unsure of myself, so nothing I started looked like I wanted it to. In my head, it would be awesome, but in reality it looked like an 8 year old did it. I kept hearing that artists needed to work in series, but nothing felt like “me.”
Now, I am so overrun with ideas that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make them all.
I have 10+ canvases with ideas started so I don’t forget the ideas later. And that’s in addition to the 5-10 paintings I am currently working on.
I did some series, and some standalone paintings. (And everything in between). I developed a style that feels like my own, and sometimes I stick to that style and sometimes I do something new or different.
Learning Made All the Difference
I think the main difference between me as an artist in 2020 and me as an artist in the past is simply that now I believe I can finish what I start. It may take a while. I may put it away and then bring it back out several times.
I may not have all the answers at the start, but I know enough to figure it out along the way.
Art is as much a part of my day as eating lunch or putting on shoes to go outside. If I don’t do art, it feels like something’s missing.
Am I weird? Probably.
But most of the time I am okay with that. I would choose my weird artist quirks over life before art any day.
Even when I feel weird, or lonely, or different because I am sitting in my house making sure the curve of a lip goes the right way.
That’s what being an artist is like for me.
What do you think? Does being an artist make you feel different from people who don’t do art? Do you have any weird artist quirks or truths that you deal with? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Want to hear more about becoming an artist and living the art life? Check out The Most Important Art Advice You’ll Ever Receive
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