I remember the exact moment I wanted to become a watercolor artist. There was an exhibit at a local art gallery for artists who specialize in watercolor painting. I was completely enthralled with the beauty of everything, but in particular the watercolor portraits. Up until then I’d only really used acrylic paints and pastels. Watercolor, to be honest, frightened me when I first started studying art. The fluid nature of watercolor is what makes it both stunning and difficult as an art form. But as I was standing there, taking in all these beautiful pieces, I knew I wanted to face my fears and go for it.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I took a watercolor workshop for two months after that exhibit and haven’t looked back since. There was one thing though going into that workshop, that I still felt uncomfortable with as an artist: portraits. My trepidation with the human figure and portraiture art, stems all the way back to my first figure drawing class. That was one of the first times I really felt defeated as artist because it just wasn’t coming to me like it seemed to for all the other students.
I stuck with it though, sat through the criticisms, and came out a much better person and artist for it, but unfortunately I never stopped second guessing myself. Even as I got better, I could never draw people the way I wanted to. Then I made a bad decision, which was to stop trying. I pursued acrylic painting and told myself I would just never attempt to paint a picture of someone even though deep down I knew that I wanted to.
Then came that watercolor exhibit, those beautiful portraits, and that urge to create portraits again.
I’ll never forget what the workshop leader said to us the first day we started to paint.
“Don’t keep trying to paint everyone else’s art”.
It was such a simple statement, something she ended up repeating a lot throughout the workshop, and maybe the most valuable lesson I learned during that time. I honestly spent a lot of my time as an artist up until that point, wishing I could paint or draw like someone else. My goal was to achieve a high level of realism in my art, but I never really took the time to ask myself what I offered the world that was different from everyone else.
When we finally got to portraiture at the end of the two months, I’d already learned a lot about my own artistic style. Even though I was still nervous, I decided that instead of trying to force myself to paint people the way I thought my audience wanted them to look, I’d paint them the way I wanted to. Again, it sounds so simple now, but back then it was a hard hurdle to get over.
Since that workshop my portrait paintings have continued to evolve, but the focus is no longer “how can I get this to look like so and so’s art”. I’m evolving my own style, one that is simplistic and focused on lines, because that’s what I love. One of my favorite things to do is add pen on top of the paint to further draw attention to the lines that make up my subjects. You’ll see this not only in my portrait art, but figure drawings (see my yoga series) and botanical paintings as well.
One of my key pieces of advice to any beginning artist, or creative (or really person), would be to embrace what makes you, you. The artistic world is full of crazy, amazingly talented people and at some point you’re going to feel like you’re inferior to them, but that isn’t true. An artist is always growing and learning, so no matter where you are in your journey, just remember to enjoy it.
Learning to appreciate your own style can feel like a long journey, but here are some things that helped me a long the way:
1: Learning from all kinds of artists. I will forever be grateful to all the teachers I’ve had in my life. I would’ve never learned about my own style if they hadn’t been wonderful enough to share theirs with me.
2: Trying different mediums. If you see something that speaks to your soul, pursue the hell out of it. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back from being the best possible version of yourself.
3: Facing fears. Do things that make you feel a little uncomfortable. So you hate drawing animals? Go sketch enough to fill a zoo (even if it drives you a little mad). And just remember you don’t have to show anyone your sketch journal.
4: Taking everything in. Go to art exhibits, museums, talk to other artists, and connect with your fellow creatives. Learn their stories and see if that helps you with numbers 2 and 3.
And finally, 5: Looking for what you have to offer that no one else can. You might not think you’re special, but I don’t believe that and neither should you. No one else has lived your life or gone through your experiences, whatever they may be. Express those in your art.
I’m still on my own journey, and I’m sure I will be for the rest of my life as I continue to evolve, grow and change as a person. It’s something that makes life as an artist interesting, seeing the way you change reflected in your work. I don’t know of many other careers that offer that. It’s scary and it’s hard, but I wouldn’t change me or my style for anything.