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Finding Your Inner Voice as an Artist

Nothing else really matters; you are the factor directing everything. If you want to be an original, the only differences possible in paintings are the differences among people. Paint is paint." ~ Nita Engle

I’ve learned so much this last year and had some reasonable success in watercolor. As I look back at my first attempts at watercolor and my progression, many of my followers and friends have commented on how well my paintings are evolving. I am humbled and listening!

My success and growth as an artist, particularly this year stems in three areas, 1) my participation as acting President of the Watercolor Society of South Texas (WSST), 2) spending more time drawing and sketching and 3) identifying what works so well for me in my paintings.

As acting president of the WSST, two of my goals have been realized this year. 1) I have secured a 3 year course of bringing world-class watercolor artists to the South Texas area for instruction. I have two scheduled artists per year until 2023. (See our WSST Workshop Schedule on our Website) And 2) starting a Plein Air program for the WSST.

April 2020 is rapidly approaching and will mark my third year in watercolor painting. I have written of my progress and journey in earlier entries that I list here: 1) My first attempt at watercolor, 2) My first 6 months as a watercolorist, 3) My first year of watercolor painting

This year, I began focusing more on simply painting and sketching to improve my watercolors. I wrote a small breakthrough article entitled “A Crossroad: Panting a Drawing and Drawing a Painting.” In retrospect, it opened up an understanding to where I want to progress with my work.

Since I wrote this article, I’ve experimented more in sketching and painting, primarily dogs and small scenes instead of trying to paint large works of art all the time. I feel that if I just keep drawing and keep it simple in a sketchbook, most everything else will fall into place and it will transfer over to my larger works that I want to display for the public. The process of “sketch painting” has made it much easier to take small sketchbooks and a travel palette with me so I can continue to practice my skill and not get too bogged down with travel supplies.

I have included some of my sketches and demonstration highlights from this year:

So, what will be my focus in 2020? Obviously to continue learning and practicing my art, but also to travel more.

In 2020, I plan to travel to Denver for the Plein Air Convention and also paint plein air in Croatia and France. I have been getting more comfortable with Plein Air painting, thankfully to my position as President of the WSST and connecting with other artists who want to do the same. One of my points of interest for the WSST is to paint Plein Air once a month. Plein Air painting is more challenging than studio painting, but I think is crucial to the growth of an artist.

So, as 2020 approaches, I asked myself this year, “what are people seeing in my paintings that resonates so well?” I think recognizing what people see in your work is important, but it’s even more important to recognize what works for you, best, as an artist.

This year, I have focused more on looking back and seeing what people liked and what worked best for me. I think as an artist you need 2 key ingredients to be successful: 1) Inspiration and 2) growth.

Inspiration is probably the easiest of the two ingredients to identify. Sure, sometimes the stresses of work or life gets in the way. However, deep down, I feel that a true artist never lacks inspiration to paint. We tend to see artistic opportunity in life itself. We appreciate the beauty and lines of nature. Inspiration can take many forms, but the ultimate payoff is that it leads us to create, compose and paint. I continue to find many avenues of inspiration and forces that directs me to paint.

The second ingredient , I think , is something that cannot be forced or gained by any short-cut. Growth , to me as an artist, is something that comes by doing, reading and appreciating other artists and forms of art.

In my work, my growth has been evident, even by me. What I’ve learned to do is to look at my own works that I feel resonate with me. Even ones that I have painted in my first year of creative effort. In fact, some of my early paintings now appear free because I didn’t really know that much about the medium. It’s absolutely true that the more you know or overthink it, the harder it can be.

Frank Eber, a great watercolor artist and my first class teacher in watercolor told me once, “You’re only as good as your last painting”. This can certainly be true. But for me, every painting presents another learning process. What is so alluring about watercolor is it’s unintended consequences that cannot be controlled. The way the medium flows and paints itself. I am always searching for better techniques and ways to allow watercolor to paint itself.

In 2020, I plan on concentrating more on texturing and getting more consistent with my palette and painting technique. Taking what I’ve already done and not using other artists’ work as inspiration, but rather my own art as that source. Looking at my ‘best’ paintings and learning from not only my mistakes, but my own successes. To not repeat something that doesn’t work, and reproduce only the best qualities that I’ve observed in my own paintings. This is the first step in finding my inner voice.

As the great Nita Engle so eloquently put it, ” Is it possible to find a tool no one has ever used in a million years, or a new way of applying paint, or an original way to break up space in a rectangle? I suppose it is. But the only original in this whole equation is you.”

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