Embracing the Artist Process


by Casey Roonan, Art Prof Teaching Assistant

There was a long time after art school when I felt like I was just spinning my wheels. I’ve always been a very product-oriented thinker, and throughout art school I treated both class assignments and freelance projects as problems to solve. I loved the challenge of finding a visual solution and the perfect art media or format to express it. If the first image that popped into my head was at all workable, I would go for it. There wasn’t room for exploration. I was excited just to skip to the end.

When I was home on break I would give myself the objective of completing a comic book every summer, each time increasing my target page count. In a sense, I was doing exactly what I used to do as a kid when I would steal stacks of printer paper from my Dad’s office, staple them together, draw a “cover” on the first page, and then fill in from there… I was starting with the product first, then working backwards. The primary difference was that now I would at least finish the booklet, instead of just wasting office supplies.


That approach worked for me at the time, and I’m still proud of a lot of the art I made during those years. But shortly after graduation, I found I no longer was finishing the little booklets I dreamt up in my head… I’d start in on those preliminary sketches, and then things would sputter out before I could move onto the final artwork. I was stuck in my sketchbook. Without school deadlines to push me, I found I couldn’t prioritize one idea over another. How did I know a concept was good? Which product was actually worth making? I was filling up sketchbook after sketchbook with fragmented, half-imagined notions and unresolved doodles. Everything looked awful. I was wasting paper, again!

Paradoxically, my only solace from making such bad drawings came from… well, making more bad drawings. I began regularly hanging out with my old high school art buddy, Mike Karpiel, and we started making “jam” comics: We would pass our sketchbooks back and forth, trading off panels in collaborative comic strips. We drew directly on the page in pen – crummy pens, even – without any kind of forethought or pencil under-drawing.


Jam comics with Mike Karpiel

The goal wasn’t to make drawings that looked good, as we didn’t plan on showing them to anyone. The point of the exercise was to pass the time, to riff, to surprise the other person with a weird twist, and to make each other laugh. At first we would work at my place or his, but soon we were drawing while hanging out at coffee shops, or in bars. We started incorporating characters and objects from our surroundings into the strips. Suddenly, I was drawing from observation again! Not in the way I used to when I was going to figure drawing sessions in art school, however… In an unprecedented way, I was taking in my every-day surroundings, and drawing from my life as opposed to simply “from life.”

My sketchbooks started to look completely different. I’d tricked myself into enjoying drawing again. I started treating drawing as a process, rather than a means to an end.


Lately I’ve been drawing virtually everyday, and I do it for a number of different reasons. I doodle aimlessly to get my mind moving. I brainstorm by drawing directly with my black pen, to fully resolve ideas as they come to me. I sketch out compositions in pencil for my freelance work. Before starting a finished piece, I warm up with blind contour drawings in colored ink, using photos I find on Instagram, magazines, or old yearbooks as my references.


Teaching Assistants Casey Roonan with Yves-Olivier Mandereau on the Art Prof set

I carry smaller sketchbooks with me when I go out, so I can capture the faces I see, and I draw “master copies” of the art when I go to museums. I draw on top of the lists I make compulsively to keep myself on task, or over my notes for future projects. If something feels compelling I redraw it, over and over again. The disparate ideas gradually come together. Initially unrelated influences meet and become coherent.

I mark an especially interesting idea by leaving an empty page following it – a space to resolve the concept more fully in the future, when I’m nearing the end of the book and my need to just fill it becomes undeniable. As a result of all of this, I’ve probably doubled or tripled the amount of paper I stack up on a regular basis, but at least now those pages are filled.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts which provides equal access to art education for people of all ages and means.

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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.

Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.


Make Your Art a Necessity


by Deepti Menon

One of my greatest struggles as an artist has been staying motivated to create my own artwork while balancing all my other responsibilities. I’d always hoped that chunks of free time would be an opportunity to just create anything and everything.

However, jobs, internships, or just day-to-day activities were exhausting. Working on personal projects would just frustrate me more. My mind was in so many different places, so I would end up just staring at the paper or craving something less stressful. This became cycle of continuous frustration.


During my time in art school, I had a professor who always emphasized the importance of working on bits of our projects everyday, rather than all at once. She emphasized the importance of working daily, making it a routine we cannot avoid. Recently, I was reminded of this important lesson through Art Prof itself!

Having recently graduated, “real-life” responsibilities started to consume my time and my art was left behind. That is until I saw Art Prof teaching assistant Lauryn Welch’s Art Hack video in which she explains how one should treat their art like hygiene – a daily necessity. If I can allot time each day to brush my teeth, shower, etc., I should do so with my art. After seeing Lauryn’s video, I started forcing myself to do something creative for at least 15 minutes a day. No rules, just create.

I started doing a rapid-fire doodle marathon right before bed, or I would take reference photographs on my walk to work. Waiting for bread to toast or pasta to boil became a creative opportunity. I brought my sketchbook everywhere and started finding inspiration in everything. Working daily in small amounts was so much easier to do, and there was no pressure.

The best thing about these quick spurts of creation is that I would forget about it afterwards. I’d place these creative moments between two tasks, or during a longer activity. By doing this, I wouldn’t have that much time to spend on each creation and, afterwards, I couldn’t dwell on what I wasn’t happy with. However, when I wanted to sit down and spend most of the day working on my artwork, I had an arsenal of ideas I could revisit. This process really validated my ideas as well; when I revisited my sketchbook, I saw what I was capable of doing in such a short amount of time, creating excitement, confidence, and inspiration to move forward.


I realized that just making work and exploring ideas was more important than worrying about the end-product. I was able to just play around and put anything in my head onto paper, which was so informative when tackling larger projects.

Integrating the creative process into my daily life, making it a part of my daily routine, took off the pressure of making something “good”, it just forced me to create.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Art Supply Store Recommendations

As part of my “Art Supply Tips” series, I thought it would make sense to share my recommendations for art supply stores that I’ve accumulated over the years. Some are specific to the NYC and Boston area, but you can order from almost all of these stores online.

You would think artists would only need to shop at one art supply store, but I have always had to shop at several stores to obtain everything I need. In many circumstances, I have had to research and hunt extensively to find obscure materials. If you can’t find what you need, I recommend talking to store managers to see if they can help you track down an item.  The RISD Store manager once helped me find and special order 7′ x 4′ sheets of Dura-Lar that I would never have found on my own.

General Art Supplies:

Make sure you go to a professional art supply store.  While some craft stores like Michael’s and AC Moore do sell some art supplies, their inventory is very limited and items are frequently much more expensive than they would be at a professional art supply store. I happened to be at Michael’s once, thinking I might as well pick up a sketchbook while I was there. The sketchbook was $20, so I didn’t buy it, and the following week I picked up a similar sketchbook at the RISD Store for $8.


Dick Blick
Dick Blick has an excellent range of professional art supplies.  They’re the art supply store I go to first, and I can usually count on them to have the vast majority of art supplies that I need for both myself and for teaching.


New York Central Art Supply
I am embarrassed to admit that I never went to this store when I was living in NYC.  I love that they are an independent art supply store, and their paper inventory is legendary among artists.


Your local hardware store
I spend almost as much time at my local hardware store as I do at the art supply store. The art supply stores often carry the same items, but these items are almost always less expensive at a hardware store. I am always stocking up on tape, sand paper, solvents, cleaning supplies, and tools. On top of that, usually within 2 minutes of walking in the door, someone always asks me what I need.  I try to avoid Home Depot if I can, (although sometimes it’s unavoidable) I find shopping there to be really unpleasant.  I’ve had the staff there literally walk in the other direction when I was asking for help, and the overwhelming size of the store makes finding what you need daunting.

Sculpture Supplies:


The Compleat Sculptor
When I was completing my MFA in sculpture in NYC, I was constantly making runs to this store.  This store has a dazzling array of obscure tools, and everything related to mold making and casting, and much more.  The other students and faculty complained all the time that their prices are too high, and one of my teachers always called it “The Compleat Rip-off.”  However, given how specialized their materials are, the incredible selection, and the knowledgeable staff, I think their prices make sense. Their website isn’t easy to navigate, so if you don’t know what you’re looking for in advance it can be tricky to browse.  If you can visit the store in person, you’ll develop a better sense of their inventory and know how to order online more easily.


RISD 3D Store
The RISD 3D Store is like the love child of an art supply store and a hardware store.  They have a wonderful range of sculpture materials/tools/hardware supplies, and unlike hardware stores, the staff know that you are shopping there because you’re an artist. The best aspect of this store is that you can have materials custom cut for you.  You can custom order sheets of plexiglass, plywood, plastic, glass, etc., cut to any size you want, in any quantity. You can get large scale canvas frames built and stretched, and sculpture armatures constructed as well. This store is also the only place where I’ve been able to have untempered masonite custom cut. (tempered masonite is not good for artwork)

Amherst Potter’s Supply
I usually buy ceramic clay for creating sculptures from this local ceramic supplier in Hadley, MA. If you live in MA and order online, you can get your materials in 1-2 days.  If you’re in the NYC area Jack D. Wolfe is an excellent ceramic retailer.

Printmaking Supplies:

The selection of printmaking supplies available at most art supply stores is always terrible. These stores carry about 5% of what a professional printmaker needs. The printmaking supplies also tend to be crazy over priced at most general art supply stores . Once, I was desperate to buy some tarlatan, and I felt scandalized by how much I paid for a tiny scrap of tarlatan at Dick Blick.   If you’re serious about printmaking, you’ll have to order all of your supplies online.


When I was in graduate school in NYC, my printmaking professor suggested Metalliferous to buy copper plates for intaglio printmaking.  Not only were the copper plates well priced, but they had an amazing range of sizes and thicknesses of copper plates. I highly recommend visiting in person, this store is an extraordinary treasure of metal supplies.  Every nook and cranny in the store was densely packed with any metal supply you could imagine.


Renaissance Graphic Arts
I personally haven’t ordered from this company before, but when I used to teach printmaking at a college in Boston, this is where the the printmaking department purchased all of their supplies.


Graphic Chemical and Ink
This store is where I order the vast majority of my printmaking supplies, they pretty much have everything you need for printmaking. I happen to really like their etching ink, ever since I discovered their Renaissance Black Etching ink, I’ve been completely addicted.


Tools for Working Wood
In graduate school, I created a series of large scale woodcut prints.  The woodcut tools that I purchased at the general art supply store were awful; the shape of the tools was awkward, and carving the wood with these tools was downright painful.  My printmaking professor recommended Ashley Iles carving tools that were available only at this store.  I loved visiting this store, it was one of those tiny hole in the wall stores in NYC, with a guy behind the counter who was quite a character. Unlike my old tools which were straight, the Ashley Iles tools were back bent, creating a much more comfortable position for your hand when carving.  The tools were incredibly sharp, and there seemed to be an endless variety of shapes and gouges. I felt like I went from carving wood to carving butter because of these tools. At $37 a tool, (I bought 6 tools) I felt financially traumatized, but the tools completely revolutionized my woodcut technique and were worth every penny.



The Picture Place
Some artists frame their artwork themselves to save money, but nothing compares with the quality of a professional custom framing job. Custom framing is expensive, but poor framing is always glaringly noticeable and can make your artwork look terrible. Finding a good framer is like finding a good car mechanic, you either need a good reference or you have to be really lucky. When I lived in Jamaica Plain in Boston, I chose a frame shop just because it was nearby. The framers there were really friendly and helpful, and that’s where I met the framer I who I work with exclusively now.  He eventually moved to the Picture Place in Brookline, MA, and he has framed all of my artwork for over 15 years.  I trust him to make excellent framing choices for me.

Photography supplies & services:


B & H Photo Video
Generally speaking, I get all of my photography equipment from B&H.  They’re located in NYC, but they ship very quickly and usually I can get what I need within 1-2 days. The one caveat with this store is that they don’t process orders from Friday evenings to Saturday evenings, and they are closed on every Jewish holiday.

Color Services
This is a high end photography lab, they do printing for some of the most renowned visual artists in the Boston area. I have only used them once, to print photographs of my beeswax face sculptures. I was astounded by the range of options that were available in terms of paper choices, mounting, surfacing, etc. They are not cheap, but it is definitely worth it if you’re serious about getting high quality prints made.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Ask the Art Prof: How Can I Balance Planning and Spontaneity in My Artwork?

Chipboard Personality Sculptures

“I paint based on my intuition, and I usually do not know what the message of the painting is until the draft is down. This usually evolves over a few weeks, with new insights and connections happening. I feel rather out of control, and my tutors say I should finalize a plan and then execute it. Instead, I modify during execution. Is there some balance between planning and going on impulse that is ideal? “

The key is to strike a balance so that planning and spontaneity are mutually supportive. You can maximize the benefits of both by organizing your time and fostering work habits that will allow these two approaches to complement each other. I organize my time so that I have periods that are dedicated to loose experimentation that are balanced by periods of executing finished pieces. Managing these periods in this way keeps me focused and provides a well-rounded experience.

The ability to think and work in an unpredictable manner is most useful in the beginning stages of an artwork. This approach significantly expands the range of work you can create, and is especially critical when brainstorming ideas for your artwork. From a practical standpoint, it’s crucial to limit the physical execution of the artwork to small scale sketches. This strategy allows you to quickly make fundamental, sweeping changes without the consequences of wasting expensive art materials or needing to start over a time-consuming piece. You can explore many options without investing large amounts of time.

At this early stage, spill everything on paper and entertain every option without passing judgment prematurely. Maintaining flexibility is hugely important; you have to give yourself the freedom to react to anything that arises and then run with it. If you are too fixated and on your first ideas and unwilling to make impromptu changes, you will shut down potential options that might have been great.

An impulsive approach can lead to fresh and exciting ideas that might otherwise not come up. Excessive planning and thinking can sometimes paralyze your creativity. The equivalent would be a baseball player who ruminates about how to hit the ball, when really, no amount of thinking will help when the ball is being thrown at you at 85 mph. I frequently tell my students to turn off their brains and just touch the paper with the charcoal. Start a physical action and then let yourself react to those actions in the moment. This approach will get your creative juices pumping and push your progress forward.

However, you can’t do this forever, and ultimately you have to arrive at a cohesive vision. At a certain point, you will start feeling scattered and overwhelmed. When jumping around becomes detrimental to your process, it’s a signal that it’s time to start making decisions and nailing down what you want to do.

If the preparatory stages of your work was substantial and exhaustive, fabricating the final pieces should be fairly straightforward and smooth. In my own artwork, executing the final pieces always takes much less time than the planning stage. Frequently I spend months, sometimes even up to a year brainstorming and sketching. As a result, I reap many rewards; my preliminary work is comprehensive enough that by the time I’m ready to make the final pieces, I’ve anticipated and ironed out almost all of the problems. I can concentrate exclusively on the technical aspects of interacting with my art materials. This allows me to work without the distraction of troubleshooting unresolved issues.

Keep in mind that fundamental, sweeping changes at the execution stage can be disruptive, expensive, and impractical. You can waste a lot of time and art materials, and end up doing a lot unnecessary backtracking. Once you’ve spent $300 on canvas and paints, and invested 12 hours working on the painting, it can be painful to discover that deep into the process, you want to scrap everything and create a pastel drawing instead. Once in a while, the situation can be so dire that starting over really is the only solution. After all, no one wants to squander their time beating a dead horse. So, be thorough in the brainstorming stage, and avoid this situation if you can.

I’m not saying you can’t make changes while you execute the final work. Inevitably, new challenges emerge that you couldn’t predict, and you have to build in room for adjustments. Modifications made at this point should be minor, so that they enhance the overall work without sabotaging your progress.

Sometimes major changes are just not possible because of a professional commitment you’ve made. When I’ve spent a year creating a body of artwork for a solo exhibition, I cannot make hasty decisions one month before the exhibition opens. Despite a burning desire to investigate a new idea, I’ve had to immediately reject radical changes because it was just too late. Running with a last-minute idea at that point would have been foolish, and I couldn’t risk everything I had accomplished.

Take the initiative to exercise both spontaneous and planned approaches in your work process. If you limit yourself to only one way of working, you’re missing out on everything the other has to offer. Let these methods influence each other in a positive manner, and you’ll begin to achieve a balance that will make your overall studio practice more fluid and coherent.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Related articles
“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 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?”
“How can I study to become a professional artist on my own?”
“How do you begin to think conceptually as a visual artist?”

Artist Masterclass: Synthesis

Sara Bloem sketchbook page

Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem

SB: What’s been going on in the studio?

CL: Well, I finally got myself back into the studio last night, after a three week hiatus while I was brainstorming and sketching. I felt very out of shape, but excited to be back.

SB: I liked the latest sketches, the direction they’re going in is exciting.

CL: I think the thing I like the most is that these drawings are much farther away from my reference photos.  This new approach is demanding that I innovate much more with my marks.  I have to interpret and process the images more dramatically.

SB:  I think you’re skilled in both drawing in this smooth, modeled way, and drawing really energetically and coarsely.  I think these sketches challenge you to unite those approaches in one drawing.

CL:  I like qualities of both a tight and loose approach to drawing. They’re both exciting for different reasons. How is your work progressing?

SB: I’m a little frustrated, but other than that I think I’ve made progress this week. I said last week that I wanted 12 compositions by today, but I don’t have them. I feel this weird anxiety about making them. I guess the anxiety is to make all 12 compositions matching.  I feel like every composition I come up with or every idea, I criticize it a lot.  Like, “Too much detail would be too simple and boring. But too much detail would be too decorative.” I don’t know, it feels like a mental block, like my mind is coming up with excuses to not finalize things. Have you ever experienced something like this?

CL:  All the time. I’m one of those people who really thinks too much. I get obsessive about things and I ruminate over the same thing over and over again. I’ve had to teach myself to reserve judgment on my work. When I start criticizing myself is when the trouble begins, because then I can talk myself out of everything.

SB:  I think thinking about things too much can cut off an avenue before I’ve even really explored it.

CL:  It’s like you’re criticizing artwork you haven’t made yet.

SB: I caught myself thinking the other day: “Maybe black and white is too boring? Maybe I should do color?” But I haven’t even made the black and white series yet.

CL: You can make yourself insane thinking about all of the possibilities.

Sara Bloem sketchbook page

SB: I could do literally anything under the sun,  but I have to keep reminding myself: do one thing first.  Basically what’s happening is that doing little things every day has been really helpful, but now I need to transition into actually turning out finished pieces, because I can’t just sketch forever.

CL: While the sketching stage is wonderful and exciting for a number of reasons, you can only do it for so long. After a while I start to really crave finishing something. Actually, I feel that way right now with my current drawings.

SB: Yes, you’ve approached Hiding from quite a few different avenues by now.  I honestly do see how it’s firming up, though. You could get so crazy with the markmaking on the body.  It looks like it’s going to be really fun.

CL:  In the sketches I posted yesterday I still feel like I’m not pushing the drawings far enough, the sketches feel conservative compared to my verbal descriptions of what I want them to look like. I’ve got a ways to go.  So what happened to the reference photos you shot?  The images you have this week are completely different.

SB: That’s my other question for this week.  I still intend on putting together the final compositions using the models, for the record, but I also wonder if I shot the reference photos too soon. I find myself composing a lot of things by just sketching in my sketchbook, and then of course those are out of my head and I don’t have reference for them. So I wonder, should I have waited until later in the process?

CL: Not necessarily, I think I’ve done 5 photo sessions with my model to date. The  idea I had for the work kept changing so I kept reshooting as necessary. I think that’s just part of the process. Sometimes by doing the photo shoot you learn something about what you really want.   In this way, a photo shoot is always useful, even if you don’t literally use those images in the final work. Don’t tell yourself that it was premature to shoot the reference photos

SB: I think you’re right. If I hadn’t done the photoshoot, I think I would be stuck spinning my wheels at an earlier stage.  The photoshoot not only brought to life what I had sketched out in the very beginning stages, but I learned much more about the mood evoked by clothing/unclothing oneself. There were a lot of nicely dreamy images created when the models interacted that I would have never come up with independently, so it was completely worth it.

SB:  I feel like these chats are really helping me transition from student to independent artist.  They keep me accountable. How exactly do you keep yourself accountable? Because I feel like from week to week it’s very incremental progress.  And only through our chats and hindsight do I see how it’s all coming together.  What are your strategies for keeping yourself going?

CL:  My two mentors, who are both former professors of mine keep me accountable.  I respect both of them so much that I feel like I can’t call them up unless I have something to show them. I feel like it would be embarrassing to show up with nothing.  Also, as a professor, you’re expected to be active professionally.  “Publish or perish.”

Ask the Art Prof: Where Do I Start with Visual Arts?

Scratchboard Project

“I don’t know where to start. I am a very creative person who one day decided to borrow my friend’s acrylic paints. I just started to blend and created something that was not that bad. Since then, I’ve felt encouraged to keep trying it. My question is, where do I start? I know nothing about art and I don’t want to come off as a poser.”

The visual arts are so incredibly broad that there is an overwhelming amount of options when you’re just getting started. I would suggest starting with the one classic tool that artists throughout history have used: the sketchbook. Drawing is fundamental to every area of the visual arts, so any experience you have with drawing in your sketchbook will eventually contribute to your experience with other media. Drawing in a sketchbook keeps things very simple and accessible.


Sketchbook by Myles Dunigan.

Buy a small sketchbook, and carry your sketchbook around with you everywhere that you go. Be on a constant hunt for ideas and images. Any time you see something that excites you, draw it or write it down in your sketchbook. Think about your sketchbook as the ultimate resource for ideas and visuals; it should reflect the inner workings of your mind. Your sketchbook is the primordial soup for all of your creative pursuits. Everything in your sketchbook should be raw and unfiltered material that could some day emerge as a larger project.

The great thing about a sketchbook is there’s no pressure to perfect or finish anything. Many artists get caught up in overworking their art because they are too precious about their work. In a sketchbook, you can draw freely without feeling like you need to live up to a set of expectations.


Sketchbook by Sara Bloem.

Commit to drawing something in your sketchbook everyday. Draw with simple materials like a pen, a pencil, colored pencils, etc. The simplicity of these materials will keep things straightforward and focused on the pure process of drawing. Date your drawings so that you can see your progress as you flip through past drawings in your sketchbook. Even if you only have time to do something quick, like a 10 minute sketch once a day, that time is still valid and will contribute to your overall progress. Spread out your work, it’s better to sketch for a few minutes seven days a week, rather than to draw for three hours once a week.

Once you’ve been working in your sketchbook for a few months, you will be able to look back on your past drawings and start to figure out where you want to go from there. I love going back and looking through my old sketchbooks, they are visual archives of my creative process at the time. You will be able to watch your ideas and images evolve, and track your progress in this way. Your experience with your sketchbook will steer you towards more specific interests, and guide you to towards the next step.

Looking for a place to get started?  Try one of our monthly Art Prof Art Dares!

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Related articles
“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?”

Artist Masterclass: Crises

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Pages

Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem

CL:  A lot has been going on.  For starters, I’m thinking about scrapping my figure drawings altogether and doing something new. I would use the same reference photos with the same figures, but I’m thinking about completely reconfiguring everything.  I’m a little freaked about it, it’s not the best timing since I have a solo exhibition coming up in one year.  Now is really not the time to be making dramatic decisions about my work!  How has your work progressed this week?

SB:  I feel bummed about it, honestly.

CL: That makes the two of us being bummed about our work.

SB:  I don’t think I put enough time in, and I’m not totally crazy about what I did. Well, I guess it’s a phase that comes to us all in time.

CL: You are just getting started, you probably just need to build up some momentum.

SB: I need to, but I just barely got the ball rolling this week. I would sit down, do one plan or one tiny sketch, and then feel like I didn’t like it.  It was just so pathetic.

CL:  I know what you mean, I was in the studio the other night, and I looked around and realized that I hated all of the work I’ve been doing for the past 4 months.

SB:  I know the feeling! I mean, I don’t presume this is exactly what you felt by any means, but sometimes I just have this existential crisis. And I ask myself, “Do I even like any of the work I’m doing right now?”

CL: I think I’m having an existential crisis right now too.

SB: For the record, there’s so much I like about the figure drawings as they are now. But you feel how you feel.

CL: Yes, and the sign to me that something needs to change is I can’t imagine working on these figure drawings over a long period of time.  Maybe I’m getting overwhelmed by the scale of the drawings.  That sounds really lame.

SB: Not at all. Well, I’m thinking about it now, and I think in a way, these figure drawings are busier than your previous two series.  Wading was very pared-down and minimalist in a lot of senses, and then Falling was all about the face and neck.  The portraits in Falling had more opportunity for detail in some ways, but it was focused around one thing. Bodies have so many elements, like ten times the elements of the previous two.

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Pages

CL: Maybe I need to take it to an extreme, make it even more complex, go the Hieronymous Bosch route? I’m thinking Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

SB:  That would be very interesting coming from you. Do you enjoy making these “busier” pieces? More than making something more pared-down like before?

CL:  I think I do because they’re a greater compositional challenge.  I didn’t think much about composition when it came to the portraits,  and I absolutely love a great composition.  You’ve got me thinking!  What would a Bosch-like composition look like coming from me?

SB:  I think that would be amazing.  I feel if that were your inspiration, you could go amazing places with it.

CL:  So let’s get to the heart of your crisis. Are you just not enjoying the process of making the work, or are you dissatisfied with the results?

SB:  There have been times this week when I started getting really into it and enjoying it, but then I felt too tired and stopped. So it’s not that I don’t feel the satisfaction – I do. I’m not crazy about the results either but I know I just need to work through it. There are aspects I like.I think I feel trapped inside my own persona in a way. I feel like, “Oh, black and white charcoal drawings of figures being mysterious. Typical Sara.”  I criticize myself for being so cliche, and I question if my choices are right because they just feel so predictable.

CL:  I catch myself doing classic “Clara” things with my work too.  You know…. angsty screaming naked people. Do you have to do charcoal drawings though?

SB: No, but I do sincerely love charcoal.   It doesn’t leave a lot of options for color, though, which I’ve considered.  I guess I haven’t thoroughly considered it, because I just assumed I’d be using charcoal.   I don’t feel this is a major setback at all.  It just doesn’t feel great.

CL: So the question is, do we just ride out these crises?

SB: I think yes. For me, I think I need to encourage myself to play around with this project more frequently during the day and also earlier, when I’m not so tired. I was thinking about this today, about how imbalanced it is when I’m guaranteed to think about my job 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, but the amount of time I spend with my work isn’t so regular and predictable. I think we both have high expectations for ourselves. Extremely high.

CL: That does make it hard to live with ourselves most of the time.

SB: Yeah, you have this running dialogue in your head.

CL: I think it’s fine as long as it’s not debilitating.  I did have a former student a ways back who gave herself such a difficult time that she was just paralyzed and couldn’t make any work after school. She was so worried that she wouldn’t be able to make something that would be “good enough” for her.  She was her own worst enemy in that respect.

SB: You definitely can’t let your anxieties stop you from doing something. I often think about what you said way back in freshman year, about how 90-95% of work is never shown, because it’s awful, but the good work is winnowed out from that huge mixed heap of mostly crap. So every time I make something awful I’m happy, because I know I’m 1% closer to making something good.

Related Articles:
Conversation #5: Results
Conversation #4: Taking Direction

Conversation #3: Preparations
Conversation #2: Logistics
Conversation #1: Solidity
Introductory Interview