General Wisdom for Artists No. 5

5. Be informed, be organised, be inspired.

In my experience creativity is fed by new experiences and new ideas. So, for us artists it makes sense that if we want to be more creative, we should open our minds to as many potential sources of inspiration as possible, and when something clicks- we should grab it! Here’s a few methods that have worked for me:

1 Be informed by the work of other artists.

This one is a no-brainer perhaps. For many of us the reason we chose to become artists is because we were inspired by the work of someone we saw when we were younger, and now with the information overload culture of the digital age it’s easier than ever to be swamped with amazing and inspiring artwork. What I would suggest to you is to whenever you see a picture that you feel can teach you something-  you grab a copy of it and put it in a folder on your computer. Once you’ve got a few images have a look through them and study what it is you admire about them so much. What can you learn from them and apply in your own work?

2. Be informed by your own boring life- make notes.

Yes I wrote boring, but I’m of the opinion that great ideas are not delivered from heaven in  golden envelopes accompanied by fanfares and cherubs- more often than not the best ideas are accompanied by showers or bowel movements.  When you’re out and about and some fleeting event or idea makes you smile; record it. It doesn’t matter what it is, every trivial little idea can be mixed up with another one and combined to make something else. Ideas are conducive to more ideas and all these little ideas are the fuel we burn to create artwork! I suggest getting a tiny little notepad or sketchbook and a little pen so you never have to be without a means to record stuff.

3. Be informed by your own boring life- Observe

You can do this almost any time, anywhere, all you have to do is look at something and ask yourself “why does it look like that?” Why did the designer make it that way? if I was going to draw my own version what would I do differently. Or why is the light reacting that way on it’s surface, what am I actually seeing? Internal questions like this encourage you to actually understand something in detail so that when you come to create you have an internal knowledge base to fall back on rather than needing to simply copy something like a camera.

4. Inform your artwork: gather some reference

Similar to point no.1: Have a folder on your computer where you save every potential reference picture that may prove useful later. Have sub-folders within that folder to organise all the different reference photos you’ll end up with, one for animals, one for landscapes, people etc…

I should point out here of course that common sense applies when using other people’s photos. Don’t ever directly copy someone else’s photo and try to pass it off as your own original piece, but don’t be scared to study different photos to inform your own work. Credit those who offer their photos for artists to use and ask only for accreditation in return, it’s not such a big deal.

General Wisdom for Artists No.4

4. Don’t let “better artists” depress you

A common occurrence for any creative (especially when we first start out) is the feeling of profound and debilitating inadequacy when comparing our work to other “superior” artists. Don’t think this ever stops, it becomes less common as you advance your skills and increase in confidence but ultimately, it never really goes away. Someone always has some edge that you don’t.

Consequently we as artists and creatives have to find a way to deal with it.

The pursuit of skill is a matter simply of sustained and quality practice- and I’m sorry to say that because it’s so incredibly boring isn’t it? We’ve all heard it before and we didn’t like the sound of it then. That inane old adage is almost true “practice makes perfect”. Of course it never quite does make perfect, where would the fun in that be?

Ask yourself this question: If you could instantly learn everything there was to know about your discipline, skip all the years of slow improvement to become the very best creative you had the potential to be, knowing that you were at the top and had nowhere left to go, would you?

I wouldn’t. Personally, looking back at my sketchbooks from just a year ago it gives me great pleasure to see how much I’ve improved and how much I’ve learnt in just that time. The idea that every year I continue I stand to improve even more fills me with great excitement. More importantly, it gives meaning to my life and my decision to be artist, despite the challenges, deadlines and somewhat limiting financial prospects.

Take pleasure in your own small achievements, be inspired by others, not intimidated. If there is one thing in life that you care enough about to persevere with it, to keep climbing and to keep trying no matter how far behind the people above you are, then rest assured that you can only improve and that therefore if you keep going long enough you will one day be as good as those you admire.

There will always be people better than you, the trick is to shorten that list.

Now, because I’m so confident in the validity of my argument, here is an artist better than you to be inspired by 🙂

General wisdom for artists No.3

3. Warm up first

Do you ever forget how to use a tool properly or is that just me? I’m not kidding you know. If you’ve been working in one medium for a long time and you find yourself one day deciding to use another, you may realise too late that you’ve become a little rusty with it. If you happen to have dived into an important piece and realise part way into that it’s rubbish because you’re using the brush like a spanner (so to speak) then you may become disheartened and go off in a sulk to do something else. Worse yet, you can then become scared of using that medium again since your most recent failure is the thing you most strongly remember.

This happened to me recently with oil paints. I hadn’t done any oil painting for a year or so until several days ago when I mangled a canvas by treating the paint like it was digital. This could all have been avoided with some relaxing warm up doodles or paintings where I refreshed my understanding of the strengths and limitations of oil painting.

Whatever it is that you do, its best to do a little warm up session before you attempt your magnum opus. This doesn’t just apply to knowledge of media, it also applies to knowledge of stuff like anatomy and lighting. If you’re in the business of figure drawing, then why not draw a few rough gesture drawings first? On top of the fact that you can refresh your knowledge this way, it also helps you get into the right mood for the important stuff. Just be careful that you don’t spend too long warming up and expend all your creative energy before you get down to the important stuff.

Whatever it is you mean to achieve today, do a few scribbles first!

General wisdom for artists No.2

2. Sit up straight!

Sometimes in our quest to further our artistic ambitions we may find ourselves succumbing (god forbid) to laziness. Sometimes we may find ourselves succumbing to laziness to such a degree that we get nothing done. Therefore it stands to reason that if we want to become the best artists we can be then we need to keep laziness at bay!

So, having your best interests at heart as I do, I’ve listed here a number of things you can do to keep going that little bit longer. After all, finishing before you should only disappoints people.

1. Sit up straight.
This one is hard but important. If you slouch about like a wilting lettuce leaf and get too comfortable you may find yourself getting drowsy and lethargic. This makes it only too tempting to take a break or to “switch off” and not concentrate on what you’re doing. The solution is simple in theory but hard to maintain for those of us with all the poise and posture of a sandbag.

2. Don’t drink caffeine, or too much of it anyway.
Caffeine is all very well when you need a little pep up in the morning, so long as you don’t let it get out of hand! If you get to the stage where every time you feel you need to concentrate then you require a strong cuppa, I fear you may have a bad habit. It’s a common enough habit among creatives and other people who spend most of their time in chairs to have 18 coffees a day, but it’s a bad habit all the same. Reliance upon caffeine means that all the time you aren’t riding that caffeine high you’re probably feeling knackered and craving caffeine instead. Humans already need to stop feeling good when we’re hungry, thirsty or in the thrall of other niggling bodily demands, so why add another thing you need to the list?

3. No booze/drugs before/during working.
I’m worried that this one might be a little too obvious. Continuing in the same vein as the last tip, anything that makes you tired, lazy, stupid or constantly in need of the toilet is probably not in your best interests. This of course is all “in an ideal world”. While I’m here giving lifestyle advice I may as well say eat healthy, exercise regularly, cease staying up all night watching stupid videos on YouTube and all that other stuff I myself should probably be doing.

4. Be aware of the temperature and lighting in your workspace.
You know when you were at school in one of those lessons where it was too warm and the room was lit by a few dull orangey fluorescent tube lights and you couldn’t help but feel incredibly sleepy and not at all interested in William bloody Shakespeare? Well you don’t want your work environment to be like that for obvious reasons.

5. Find your hidden glass of water
Yes I know that I said that having too much water was a bad thing in the last last post, but in moderation it’s a good thing. Also a little sip of some cold clear water will do wonders for helping you feel a bit more awake.

Now, since every post should have a picture or two, here’s something unrelated I made earlier:

General wisdom for artists No.1

Lately I’ve been trying to think of ways that I can improve how I work as an artist. There’s a lot of specific tips and techniques out there for all sorts of different disciplines and media and with the internet to help it’s never too hard to find out how to do some specific technique or learn a new skill, but of late I’ve been more interested in ways to improve at being an artist in a more general sense

You know, ways to get better at actually making yourself sit there all day continually pumping out brilliance like some sort of tireless art robot? My main interest in this stems from the fact that I spend an embarrassing amount of time scratching myself and wondering where all the time went.

So, I’ve decided to create a series of extremely wise wisdom for any artist or creative looking to improve at being an artist in a more general way. I shall add new tips over time as they occur to me.

1. Put your glass of water where you can’t see it.

No really. You may be surprised at just how suggestible you are, but if you’re anything like me (I’ve been told I’m suggestible, so I must be.) you may feel the need to compulsively sip any refreshment or beverage within visual range simply because it’s there. Also, if you’re anything like me you’ll always have a glass of water on hand to sip incessantly.

Being adequately hydrated is of course highly important for optimal brain functionality, but constantly needing a wazz will only ruin your concentration and increase the chances that you’ll wander away from your work and completely forget about it. It essentially comes down to limiting distractions but it’s not quite as obvious as “turn off your email” and “close facebook” though it always helps to do those things too.

Tip No.2 coming soon.

Also, observe this thing I painted recently:

I think it needs no explanation.