The Best Paintings are Created in the Mind

Do you know how powerful your mind is? Our thoughts determine the choices we make and over the years I’ve become more and more convinced that mindset is the biggest determiner of whether you will succeed or struggle, and this is as true artistically as it is in other areas of life.

This week Watercolor Mastery opened for enrollment. I spent the week educating prospective students on what the course contains and how to know if you’re ready to join (I’ll link to the video info session below). As I built this six week course, I spent a lot of time asking myself hard questions and studying the work of other master watercolorists.

I looked for answers to the questions:

What makes an artist stand out?

How are master artists different from amateurs?

What changed in my artistic mindset and habits when I made the transition to owning my style and becoming my own favorite artist?

What are the common elements that support a thriving artistic mindset and habit?

I built Watercolor Mastery around the answers I discovered. These include the artistic principles that support strong paintings; principles of design and composition that create compelling visual images, but they are also heavily influenced by mindset, and each week’s lesson, in addition to teaching skill, encourages artists to understand where negative thought patterns are influencing their art.

Master artists have adopted an empowered mindset.

Imagine how you would paint if you didn’t rent out head space to negativity, guilt, shame, fear or self-condemnation! Without the burden of negative thought patterns, wouldn’t your heart flow more freely through your brush? Wouldn’t you spend less time getting sidetracked by procrastination and instead of thinking “I should paint,” you’d just go DO it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every criticism that your art has received didn’t matter as much as the way you feel while painting?

Master artists do have a secret, and unfortunately, we’re not always good at talking about it. The artists I know who are succeeding in creating art that is authentic, honest and powerful, are artists who have recognized the value of heart-led painting. They do the inner work that informs the art more powerfully than flawless technique ever could.

I have to speak up.

When I first started teaching watercolor, I found myself sharing not just instruction on technique, but articulating my thought process as I painted. I started by just verbalizing stuff like, “I don’t know why, but I like this brush stroke,” and “I’m not sure this approach is going to work.” By being honest about my lack of certainty, I found that my teaching attracted students who felt validated knowing that even a skilled artist isn’t 100% confident all the time.

As I shared my thoughts in my lessons, I realized that there was even more going on in my head that needed to be shared. Why had it taken me so long to adopt my loose, intuitive watercolor style? Why did I linger on the sofa on an evening when I’d planned to paint? Why did it seem like some students hopped from teacher to teacher without ever finding a style of their own? Why do people who love art, stop making art?

These mental roadblocks fascinate me; the mind is such an amazing, powerful force, and we can’t overcome obstacles created by mindset if we don’t consciously set out to do so.

Last fall I decided I was going to stop being sneaky about it. Yes, in my lessons and tutorials I was intentionally exposing mindset issues and speaking words of encouragement to students, but I wasn’t sure prospective students would want to pay for lessons that focus on mindset, so I tried to sneak it in as a part of instruction on technique.

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a student fall in love with their own artistic journey. We phrase our mindset issues in different ways; feeling blocked, losing our mojo, feeling uninspired. We carry “can’ts” with our art supplies. I struggled with creating Watercolor Mastery for months before I realized that if we do not accept and nurture our inner artist, we will never truly feel the fearless freedom of heart-led creativity, and that had to be an integral part of the message of the course.

You might be struggling with mindset if:

If you are feeling stifled artistically. If you don’t know what to paint, or feel judged by the blank stare of a fresh piece of watercolor paper. If you dream of finding your style but fear you might not even have a style. If you procrastinate instead of painting. If you don’t know how to stop overworking your paintings. If you can’t get past the first wet-in-wet layer.

Spend time thinking about your thought patterns and how they affect your painting. Develop new strategies for realizing your mental blocks and reframing your thinking. Learn habits that develop trust and insight, that welcome and nurture your inner artist and invite heart-led painting.

A heart-led painter isn’t necessarily a loose painter; heart-led artists come in all styles and genres of art. They paint a variety of emotions, using a wide range of mediums and approaches. What unites them is the pursuit of authentic self-expression, and their recognition of the value the inner self adds to the work. Without a basis in self-expression, is art even art?

The more I think about the impact my mindset has had on my own artistic development, the more passionate I become on this topic. I could list for you famous artists who have both struggled and excelled in this area, and how it impacted their art and their quality of life. But I will ask instead, “What holds you back?”

Are there areas of thought that repeat themselves when you are painting, when you critique your own work, when you think about painting or investing in your artistic development? They will be revealed in your art. Work to train your mind to see opportunities instead of problems, solutions instead of roadblocks, promise instead of failure, and you will see your art grow from the inside out.

If you need an advocate, mentor & guide:

I created Watercolor Mastery for the sole purpose of transforming the artistic journey from teacher-led to artist-guided, to empower artists to take the lead on their own creative development. The students who have chosen to invest their time in the lessons, in challenging long-established thought patterns, and in contributing to the course community have realized breakthroughs that made dramatic differences in the way they approach their art. It’s why we close the course with a lesson titled “Fearless & Free.” It’s what I dream for every artist.

Watercolor Mastery is open for enrollment until March 14th. Enroll here!