As a self-taught artist, there are some online resources that are my go-to for inspiration, reference photos, and tutorials. I’d like to share them with you and I hope that you share some back. Anyone can create art, but not everyone knows where to start. The following steps will take you towards creating your own art.
“What inspires your art?” (I can’t even avoid an eye roll while typing it.) I mean, how do you answer that and sound legit and not snobby? Now, I’m not throwing shade at the artists that do happen to have a list of inspirations; they are obviously more organized than I. I try to keep lists or post-its of things that I think to paint for later. Then, I either lose the notes or get lost on a tangential path and never look back.
Honestly, to find inspiration, I simply keep my eyes open and study what catches my eye. I find inspiration in the things that are aesthetically appealing to me, economical to try, and are relevant to me. I’ve been training myself to see what I look at. I pay attention to shapes, values, contrast, and movement and it truly helps when I want to recreate a mental image later.
Outside of my environment, my number one resource to find inspiration is Pinterest. It’s so easy to get lost in the wonders of Pinterest. That “More Like This” option is a time void – I swear, every time I look up from a Pinterest binge, I’ve lost hours.
I have a board called Artsy Fartsy where I put all the beautiful works of other artists or photographs to look through when I need a little extra spark to get my creative gears turning.
From new sights, online searches and life experiences, when I sit down to paint without an idea of what I’m doing, I have something to draw on (pun intended). Once I start, the rest follows. Even if it’s a mess, I’ve still learned something.
One day, I wanted to try out some watercolors of animals. I had only done some landscapes and florals up to this point and was ready to try something new. I wanted to try doing a series of small watercolors featuring small mammals and birds and I had no idea how it would go. I’d managed to do birds well with alcohol inks, watercolors shouldn’t be too much of a leap. Let me just say, fur in watercolor is tough! My ermine was a disaster! Then I thought to try an otter. Otters have fur, but maybe I can do an underwater otter, which should translate to watercolors better.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not have the details of otter anatomy firmly lodged in my memory, ready to use at the whim of my art. I need reference photos to help me. A simple Google search won’t do because many of those pictures are copyrighted intellectual property. I went to Pixabay.com. There are tons of free-to-use pictures on there. I found this beauty:
And from that picture and others similar to it, I was able to paint this:
Isn’t he adorable? It sure surprised me. I had the least amount of
I would like to shout this loud for those that need to hear it. Using reference photos is not “cheating”
When it comes to learning how to do something, if there doesn’t exist a relevant YouTube video, I’m convinced that it is humanly impossible. How did adults function before YouTube? Seriously, as I have entered the world of adulting, I have learned everything from home repair to filing income tax returns, to hair braiding, and to creating art from YouTube. YouTube is an incredible resource to have in your artistic arsenal. You can even check out my fledgling YouTube Channel!
So, not knowing how isn’t an excuse. Use the collective brain power of the internet to guide you towards creating art. Find inspiration in everything, and then figure out how to do what you want! Everything takes practice and everyone can create art. What have you got to lose?
So, it turns out that I am the most surprised person there is when it comes to making and selling art. I’m not trying to be modest here. I know I have and can make some good stuff that appeals to the masses. However, what I do manage is more-or-less accidental. I surprise myself, more often than not, with what happens in my little studio. Still, I have built my style on the basis of experimental design – sort of. As a trained scientist and teacher, it’s my comfort zone to question, gather evidence, research, reason, and repeat. As an untrained artist, I wing it and throw protocol out the window.
By forcing each side of my brain interact harmoniously, I’ve come to some conclusions about creating artwork and putting yourself out into the ether for anonymous critique by strangers. I’ve got three simple steps that will help you to create art for you, even if you don’t think you can.
Ask yourself this one very important question. It’s the only question that matters. Do you want to create art? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then go do it. Seriously. It’s just that simple. It doesn’t necessarily take money or copious amounts of time, or even you inventing dark corners of your soul to add deep meaning to your art. Start small, find something that makes you feel good and get it done. So many people think that the question that matters is ‘are you already a professional artist that can make something out of anything using the vast instinctual knowledge that you were innately given in any artistic style and have people willingly shower you with dollars?‘ It’s exhausting just typing that…keep it simple, friends. Drop arbitrary expectations of grandeur and do the thing!
About a year ago, I got some art supplies as a gift. I set up a little space in our living room and I used what I had, with a Paint Nite painting hanging to bolster my courage. Nothing fancy at all: a tackle box of student grade acrylic paints, a wobbly, old easel gifted to me many moons ago, and a cheap, slightly broken and too short drafting table I found on Facebook Marketplace.
If sailors aren’t born knowing how to sail and gymnasts aren’t born knowing how to gym, and lawyers aren’t born knowing how to law, then what makes you think that artists are born knowing how to create art? Everyone starts somewhere, usually in the ‘this is garbage,’ ‘why does it look like a foot, when I wanted a flower?’ place. That’s okay. I won’t deny that there exist some gifts-of-nature people groomed to become master artists that emerge from the womb with a paintbrush and scary good instinct for proportional art. They are the unicorn. You are the real thing.
Here’s the secret: the value we place on our art is equal to the value we put on our own confidence and pride, not on our background knowledge. So, if you believe what you make is good, people will believe it’s good, too. At the very least, fake it til you make it.
Now, I know that sounds easier than it actually is. I practice. I practice a lot. In down times during class, I doodle, I practice calligraphy and I doodle some more. I have even started doing concept murals on the chalkboard to refine technique and build muscle memory. At home, whenever I can wrestle the remote from my daughter, I watch YouTube tutorials. As a result, I pick up little tidbits of information everywhere and store them away in my ‘Experiment With This’ list for future surprises.
I started by sharing my paintings with my sister-in-law and mother. Safe bets to start with, very low stakes for me. I mean, if your mother can’t say that your globs of paint are nice via a shoddy phone text message photo, then she should revisit her job description, right? And my sister-in-law is a lovely, kindhearted woman who is a dear friend and confidante. So again, safe bet that I would get some positive feedback about my globs.
Then, after testing safe waters, try to submerge yourself a bit more. There are some really great artist groups on social media that give you an anonymous platform for low stakes, quality feedback and constructive criticism (plus, many have links to super helpful YouTube tutorials – I’ll link my favorites below).
You are invited and encouraged to follow me here. My goal is to make art accessible for non-artists, by delivering inspiration, how-to’s and lessons learned. I also have a Pinterest, Facebook Page, Instagram
Meanwhile, I have been gradually opening myself up to the world, primarily on social media platforms, but also in craft fairs and makers’ marts. Even a year later, I have yet to break free from a primarily ‘friends and family’ circle of customers, but it’ll happen. If not, at least I’m happy creating art my way, and for my own balance and education.
It’s not easy to do; I get it. Your art isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that can be scary. You may feel vulnerable or defensive. If that bothers you, go back to Step One. Trust that you can do something that makes you happy and forget the rest. So, whether it’s sandcastles, pottery, crochet, paintings, digital works or other, don’t be shy about creating art.