“Ask the Art Professor” is an advice column for visual artists, now featured in the Huffington Post. This is your chance to ask a professional artist/educator your questions about being an artist, the creative process, career advice, etc. Submit your question by emailing me at clara(at)claralieu.com, or by commenting here on this blog. All questions will be posted anonymously, and you’ll receive notification when your question is online. Read an archive of past articles here.
“For the last two years I have not been practicing my art. Two years ago I commenced a new job in the corporate world. Due to the demands of the job I was basically unable to focus on my art. I was tired every night coming home from work, and getting used to new systems, colleagues, etc. really took its toll. There was no energy left for my art. Due to the job, I felt as if my head and imagination was not free; I was totally conditioned to think on a practical level. Basically this very fundamental side of me has been neglected for a very long time. However, now that I am au fait with the job, I find that I am less tired and am ready to make a commitment again to creating. The thing is, I just do not know where to start. I feel impotent. I feel weak. I have no structure or strategy, let alone ideas. I am living in a small town and there is no one among the artistic community here that I feel I can ask. How do I get started again?”
The most important priority at this stage for you is to simply get started with the actual hands-on process of making artwork. Getting started can actually be the most difficult part of the creative process if you haven’t been working for a long period of time.
Many artists think that they have to start by conceptualizing a grand idea for a major art project, but this approach can quickly backfire. One of my friends from art school has a habit of psyching herself out whenever she starts to dream up a new idea for a project. She’s always thinking of projects that are incredibly complex and ambitious. You would think that ambition is a good thing for an artist, but for her, ambition is actually her biggest problem. When it comes down to actually sitting down and doing something concrete, she gets overwhelmed by the scale of the project. She can’t figure out where to start, and consequently ends up never doing anything.
Instead of embarking on some huge project, start a series of daily exercises for at least one month. I’ve seen many artists start “a painting a day” blogs where they post an image of a small painting that they make once a day. In advance, determine the subject matter, your art materials, a specific size for each artwork, and set a time limit for how long you will work on each piece. Keep the scale of each artwork small, and use art materials that are inexpensive and familiar to you. Complicated technical processes and expensive art materials will just present another unnecessary hurdle. Set up an easily accessed workplace so that you can quickly pick up from where you left off each time you sit down to work. Establish a blog where you can post each artwork every day. A blog will keep you accountable, you’ll be able to validate your progress, and also share your work with others.
Having all of these details set in advance will keep the project predictable so that you don’t have to fuss about what to do every time you sit down to work. This structure will let you focus exclusively on creating each piece. Focus on achieving a high level of productivity, and resist the temptation to judge yourself while you are making the artwork. Assume that the majority of your creations during this exercise won’t be your best. I always tell students in my drawing classes that they have to make bad drawings if they want to make good ones. Instead, take a long term view of your development and remember that progress is never linear. In my opinion, you are doing well if you create two pieces out of 30 that you like.
Once you’ve set up the project, the second challenge is to have the dedication to consistently sustain the exercise for a minimum of one month. I can guarantee that there will be days when you don’t feel like working. Be sure that you force yourself to do the work anyway, as you might be pleasantly surprised later. I’ve seen many students give up on an artwork because they judged it too soon and decided prematurely that the piece was doomed. With my own art, I’ve had many pieces that initially seemed like they were going nowhere, but because I stayed with them, they actually ended up being strong. Patience is critical here, and if you are truly committed to this daily exercise, and you follow through all the way, there is no way you won’t get results.
When you’ve accomplished this first goal of 30 artworks in a period of 30 days, take the time to reflect upon the experience in order to determine what your next step will be. Examine the 30 artworks, how did your artworks change over the 30 day period? What did you learn from creating these pieces? In this way, you’ll be ready and equipped to tackle your next project.
“Where do I start?”
“How do you keep pushing yourself to get to that next level?”
“Would you improve more if you took art classes than just studying on your own?”
“How do you learn the basics?”
“How do you break out of your comfort zone?”
“How do you get out of thinking you can’t get any better?”
“How do you develop patience for learning curves?”
“When do you let go of an idea?”
“How do I help my daughter reach her potential in art?”