4 Rules for Rule-Breaking Artists
I arrived home early yesterday morning from my weekend watercolour workshop in Vancouver. I'm still processing the events of the weekend, and excited about the things I learned. I know I went there to teach a workshop, but I always come home with new ideas, light bulb moments that have me delighted to continue my own watercolour journey, as I teach students how to progress in theirs. And I got to make new friends as we painted together overlooking the city.
Rules? What Rules?
I've thought a lot lately about the best part of being an artist, and it's simply this: I can do whatever I want. I have met so many different artists, with different styles and approaches to creating art, and what brings us all together is the drive to communicate through our paintings. This can be done with watercolour, or in other mediums, or using all mediums together. It may reveal itself in tightly controlled photo-realism or in bold, simple strokes. It may be a process taking weeks to complete a single painting, or the most minimal of marks taking only seconds. No matter how you choose to do it, it's okay!
Rule 1: In art, do whatever makes you feel most satisfied.
You're Not the Boss of Me!
One of my students asked me last week, "How much of what you paint is influenced by other people's expectations?" My immediate thought was "None of it!" I get to apply paint to paper for the pure joy of doing what pleases me. I remember years ago, working on a painting that was in the first layer stages, and going beautifully. I remember thinking, "I wish I could stop right here and call this painting finished, but no one would understand it." I now know better. I can trust my viewers to understand even my most experimental paintings, and if they don't get it, I've at least satisfied the person whose opinion matters most; me. I have to live with me, and I like myself a lot better when I'm my own favourite artist.
Rule 2: Other people's opinions should only minimally affect your opinion of your art, if at all.
Now if you are a beginning painter, you will find that there's a disconnect between what you want to paint, and what you see happening on the paper. It just takes time to develop the skill in technique you need to be able to plan and react to the paint and water, and you can trust that in the process of painting, it will get easier. In the meantime, don't plan to see a 100% perfect painting. (I don't even get 100% perfection, and I've been doing this 20 years). Plan instead to look for the 20% that is working, and if you see that percentage of success, it only takes 5 paintings to be 100% successful! Motivation to help you paint more often, which will of course help your skills grow!
Rule 3: No artist makes perfect paintings. Accumulate success by degrees.
Calling the Shots
Learning watercolour is a self-guided skill. While there are a host of instructors and artistic styles to be influenced by and learn from, you get to choose the path your learning takes. You can audition the right instructor for your learning style and skill level by watching tutorials on Youtube and taking advantage of free lessons, ebooks and emails. You can decide when to take a break from classes so you can focus on listening to yourself and implementing what you've learned in your own personal painting sessions. And you can train yourself to be alert to bad habits, weak areas you avoid, or unhealthy thought patterns that limit your exploration into watercolour and confront and correct them.
Rule 4: You choose the direction your learning should take as you seek to grow your skills.
I've never considered myself to be "exclusive" in my knowledge of watercolour or ability to teach. I love sharing what I've learned, and it's incredibly fulfilling to encourage others who might be struggling as they master watercolour. I never resent any students who choose another instructor, or who only take advantage of my free lessons on Youtube, and never buy an online course. It's so humbling to be someone's "bucket list" instructor, as one student told me this weekend, and I have my own bucket list of master painters who inspire me and serve as guides on my own painting journey.