I can’t believe it’s been about 15 years since I decided to go to art school back in 2007 to get my degree in Fine Arts. 15 years doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it does feel like a long time ago since I was a beginning artist.
I wanted to share with you my story and some of my struggles as a beginning artist.
So if you are a beginning artist, or you’re still in some of those early beginning stages, this one is for you!
I have been there too, and I have so much empathy and compassion for where you are because it is such a scary place to be. It’s exciting, but it’s also scary, confusing, and frustrating.
In the beginning, I started taking some art classes before I went to art school because once I looked up and researched art colleges, they kept referring to something called a “portfolio”. Okay, I didn’t even know what a portfolio was y’all! So I had to Google and ask people what a portfolio was. I learned it was the best examples of your work, and I thought, I don’t have any work! That’s why I want to go to art school…so I can have work and make work.
So that’s the first struggle. Just not knowing anything and feeling like you don’t know a damn thing about art, making art as an artist, and just feeling total intimidation, total terror, and overwhelm.
Every step of the way, I remember there were just so many things I didn’t understand and just didn’t know. One of the problems is learning how to put up with that level of intimidation and be able to deal with it. The fear and terror can make an artist give up, quit, and stay isolated.
What happens is, too many artists just keep isolating themselves because of these things. I know firsthand that it’s super uncomfortable and it sucks. I hated it. I didn’t embrace it. I didn’t embrace the suck back then. For me, I even feared just going to a class.
I remember the first group class that I signed up for was in North Attleboro, Massachusetts and I was so scared to attend that class. Luckily, the teacher was a little indifferent. Maybe she wasn’t getting paid that much to be there or maybe she was just not interested in teaching, but she just didn’t really care very much.
So on the one hand, it was kind of good because it made me feel more comfortable. But on the other hand, I didn’t get a lot of help or instruction from her. She did, however, have a nurturing, caring, compassionate kind of approach. Plus, it was a small class of five or six people, which still terrified me back then because I was so scared to make a fool of myself.
We can get lost in thoughts like, “oh, my gosh, I’m gonna get in there and everybody’s gonna be so good. Everybody’s gonna see so quickly how bad I am. They’re gonna kick me out of the class, or everybody’s going to laugh at me and tell me how terrible I am”. Right?
I know y’all are with me. I know, y’all have had these thoughts and experienced these things. And maybe you’re there right now. If you are, I just wanted to say, God bless you. It’s just such a difficult thing to go through.
But you can do it. Just keep going, keep feeling the fear, and doing it anyway, as the saying goes. Keep practicing, keep showing up. Even if you feel intimidated, terrified, and all of that stuff, you WILL build your skills and you WILL get more comfortable being in those situations over time.
Another struggle for me was materials. What is all this stuff?!
Luckily, some of the classes I had had a pretty specific materials list. I do my best in The Art Life School to give my students all the materials that I use. But even then, you could have one color on the material list, but then you go in the store and there’s like 20 brands and you don’t know which brand to buy or why to buy that brand.
I remember one time I bought a canvas. It was one of those cheap, Frederick’s canvases, which, if you’re a beginner, you might not even know what that is. It was basically really low-grade materials. Most beginner artists use them because they’re cheap and it seems silly to buy something that’s four times as much when starting out.
Obviously, there’s a reason for the price difference. Better materials will give you a better painting experience. But in the beginning, we don’t always know that or why that is. So even things like understanding what makes a higher professional quality material better than a low-grade quality material can be frustrating. Back then I didn’t know so I would just buy those low-grade cotton canvases that were barely primed and wrapped around a piece of cardboard.
Storytime. Once, we were given a white-on-white painting assignment. Which at the time was like, what? How do you even do that? So I toned this canvas in phthalo blue. If you’re a beginner, you might not know what that is, but I’ll tell you right now don’t ever tone a canvas in phthalo blue. Needless to say, I just kept fighting with this painting because I didn’t have another canvas and I was just that stubborn to keep going.
If you don’t know what phthalo blue or prussian blue is, these pigments are super strong, staining pigments. They will stay in your bristles, get all over your hands and clothes, and I looked like a Smurf at the end of the session.
So because I toned it with phthalo blue, everything looked like it was in shades of bluish-white or blue-green in my entire painting. This white-on-white still life exercise study that we did basically looked like it was under the sea. But hey, I lived and learned. And you will too! Don’t let beginning mistakes like this bring you down.
I also remember not understanding how to use medium, how much medium to use, or what kind of medium to use.
I remember the first material on the list was turpenoid. So I went to Michaels, and I saw a can of turpenoid natural, and I thought, well, that’s got to be better, right? It says it’s nontoxic and it smells good like oranges. So I decided to get turpenoid natural because I thought, “that’s got to be better”.
So I’m in class painting with this turpenoid natural. It was so funny because my brushes were so clean, and my hands were totally clean because this turpenoid natural was all over me. Then the instructor came over and she said, “wait, are you painting with that?!” And I was like, “yeah, it’s turpenoid it was on the list.”
She was like, “oh, no, no, you can’t paint with that. You just clean with that. You can’t use that as a medium.” It was so aggravating that I didn’t know that beforehand and it’s just one of the ways being a beginner can be so frustrating.
That’s really what I wanted to share with you, that if you are just getting started, know that every artist has been there. They might not talk about it, they might not share these beginning stories with you, but every artist had to start in the same place.
You really just learn as you go. You learn all these little things, these little details. You learn about the materials, you learn what to use, what to paint on, and how to mix color.
I’ll never forget being in this acrylic painting class. The teacher had a huge palette of colors that we had to buy. It was a figure painting class, and I was like, none of these colors look like the flesh tone on the model up there. The instructor didn’t do a lot of instruction or demonstrations and it was like everybody just showed up and we painted the model.
She would walk around and help people but there wasn’t a lot of demos or instruction beforehand. Needless to say, by the end of that painting, the poor woman in my painting had a streak of turquoise here, and a streak of hot pink there. I just had no clue how to mix color. I had no clue what to do with all these crazy wild colors that I had never used before that were on this instructor’s supplies.
So remember that you’re not alone.
If you’re in that beginner stage and still working through those beginning struggles, please know that you’re not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not stupid or untalented. You’re just learning this world of making art, whether that’s drawings, paintings, or sculpture.
Most of this stuff we’ve never been taught how to use, and we don’t usually learn how to use it in public school or even in private school for most people.
I never had any art classes, so other than a number two pencil and a piece of paper from school, those were the only art supplies I ever really had or knew growing up. I had very little awareness of materials that professional artists use, and it’s okay if you do too!
So if you’re a beginning artist, hang in there, keep going, keep trying keep showing up, and you WILL grow. Find a good teacher that can help teach you those fundamentals before you try to become the rock star artist that you want to be, and will become if you keep going.
The 5 day still life painting challenge is coming up at the end of this month. So make sure that you get registered for that. It’s going to be an awesome five days and it’s super affordable to join. It is really meant for beginners as well. So if you are a beginner it will be perfect for you!
Register for the 5 Day Still Life Challenger HERE.