Something a bit different this week! This post is the first in a series of five, focused on helping you become ever clearer about what’s unique to you, even while being inspired by other artists. {Which might be handy as we’re all being inspired all the time!}

In each ‘episode’ we’ll look at a single aspect of painting and how to tease out the nugget of what’s inspiring us so we can be sure we’re making our own work and not a heavily influenced hybrid or attempted copy of someone else’s. I’m keeping them quite short and sweet, {after today anyway!}, and action oriented, so you can take the ideas and try them out for yourself right away.

As always, I recommend an experimental and open mindset, and a willingness to not do what doesn’t sing to, to adapt it in a way that does, or to go off on another tangent altogether!

Have any of the following ever happened to you?

  • You find an artist whose work you love so much you practically go into convulsions and wish you could make art like that, or wish you’d thought of that way of doing things, and then gradually {or not} your work starts to take on a suspiciously similar appearance.
  • Or you start following an artist on Instagram or reading their blog, and the more their art inhabits your mental space the more your own work starts to take on attributes of theirs.
  • Or you take an art class with a teacher whose work you love and your art comes out looking like theirs; maybe you still love what you’ve made, but you know it’s not completely yours, and you don’t really know how to go beyond it.

Most of us have some experience with at least one of these situations. I definitely have! And in my day-to-day romps around the internet I see a lot of people who I don’t think actually realise they’re doing it.

It can be a sly little bugger, influence.

So how do you take the inspiration without also taking on the style and look of the work you love so much?

It can be a tricky balance, especially since most of us want to be always developing our skills and abilities, as artists we are basically sensitive sponges, and we constantly have our art antennae up.

If this sounds familiar, there are ways to be inspired without resorting to copying. And let’s not forget, there’s nothing wrong with copying as a means to learning; it’s when we don’t move beyond that that we’re not being true to ourselves, or fair to those who inspire us.

Even when we don’t believe we could make something ‘as good’, or doubt our own ability to make unique-to-us art, there is always more room to develop and transform.

I have no doubt there are infinite ways to do this, and in part it will just happen the more you paint, but the ways I find most helpful include a bit of left brain analysis and a breaking down into parts. The right brain can then rebuild into new things with the new ideas – and a large amount of this will be happening subconsciously, so no need to try and force anything!

So here is the first of five ways we’ll look at to take inspiration from artists whose work you love while still putting your individual stamp on your own.

Look at how they make marks

One very obvious and distinctive way that an artist’s work becomes recognisable as theirs is by the marks they use. This is in large part instinctive and natural, and evolves into something cohesive and more fully developed over time; you actually can’t fail to develop your own marks if you keep going!

It’s like handwriting; no one has the exact same handwriting as you, with its tiny nuances and curly bits, and when you were learning how to write, it evolved as you grew more comfortable doing it. Now you don’t think about it, you just write. Same with painting {mostly}.

Below are some sections of works by famous artists who have distinctive marks. Can you guess whose paintings they are just from the marks? I’m guessing you probably can, which illustrates my point nicely. :) {And don’t forget they were at it for years, every day!}

*Answers at the bottom of the post!

Examples of mark making by famous artists

Of course you can’t ever really isolate marks from colour palette, composition and all the other aspects of painting, as well as that ineffable essence we each have that combine to make a painting recognisable.

However, I find that breaking it down a bit and looking a little more closely, and then doing some pondering and experimenting, goes a long way to learning ourselves and our ways as artists more deeply and with greater clarity and confidence.

A suggestion to make it yours:

Love a certain type of line or mark? Try using it in as many ways as you can come up with:

  • make it with your non-dominant hand
  • make it with a stick instead of a brush
  • use a huge brush and then a tiny one
  • make it with charcoal, pencil, ink, pastel {oil and/or soft}, and paint
  • make one huge version of it or hundreds of tiny ones in a pattern or block
  • make it with collage
  • challenge yourself to come up with three further ways to make the mark

Related post: 36 ways to draw a tree

Try this

One easy way to do this, if you like a bit of guidance and structure, is to divide a piece of paper into segments, as many as you like. In each segment, aim to make a different mark. Challenge yourself to go beyond the obvious and easy, {and by all means get them out of the way right off the bat}, and prepare to be joyfully surprised by what you discover!

If you need less structure, do the whole lot on a single large sheet of paper and really go to town layering and mixing them up!

Some marks will feel boring, some will spark a little something but not feel quite ‘it’, some will feel zingy, some just ok. Stay alert to how your body and feelings respond to each thing you try – this is the single most useful way to discover what’s really yours, in my experience.

Your body knows, so let it tell you. It will also give you an opportunity to develop a clearer channel to your intuition, which is useful for all areas of life! Wins all round.

 

If you’d like to play further with other artists’ work in a way that can teach you about your own, then you might like Artist Inspired. There are eight lessons that will come to you via email, with a lovely 30 page pdf ebook containing the complete course at the end. It’s packed with videos, prompts, ideas, resources and of course plenty of images to make art inspired by those who have gone before us. There’s an optional invitation to join my private Facebook group, and best of all it’s Pay What You Like! Click the image or link above to find out more and start making more art today. :)

 

In Part Two, we’ll be looking at colour palettes. Stay tuned!

 

*Artists left to right: Van Gogh, Turner, Pollock, Miro, Seurat, Matisse

Hello artist friend!

 

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