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.