41 lessons to transform your life as an artist - real life artists of all kinds share their wisdom, from the profound to the hilarious

When I first had the idea for the 21 Days In My Art World challenge, I had no clue what it would unleash. From the first day, there was a buzz and enthusiasm which made my heart expand as I watched artists share and connect with each other. There was an openness and willingness to participate that was such a pleasure to witness.

Day two’s prompt was ‘Lesson Learned’, and the responses had such an impact on me I decided to turn them into a blog post. Reading through the stories of what participants had learned during their artist journeys was heartwarming, uplifting, profound, and at times laugh out loud hilarious. 

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to share everyone’s lessons learned, but here is a {pretty large!} selection. 41 is a lot, I know, but if you let yourself sink into the responses you can’t fail to feel uplifted by the end of it – or at least I do every time I read it! May it inspire and delight, and remind you of both what you already know and how connected we all our in our similarities.

And if you’d like to share your own lessons in the comments, I’d love to hear them!

Lessons in Time and Space

“I have learned that if you don’t make time and space to create something then nothing happens. It does not really matter what you do but just do something, even if it is simply pressing a seed into a pot of earth. Making time and space to create is where it all starts and for me that means getting up and writing morning pages, or just cleaning my palette, filling a jar with water, choosing some colours and allowing myself to get lost in the moment. Music helps but so does silence.”

@artistintheshed

“I’m learning that normal life gets in the way of creating. I have 3 children, 2 dogs, a fat cat, husband, house, school runs…… all the normal stuff that have their own demands. Sometimes that takes up too much time and energy to feel like creating but that’s ok too. The everyday normal provides plenty of inspiration and one day they will have all grown up and I will miss the things that drive me mad.”

@wherethewoodpeckersits

“There is so much to learn, but the biggest lesson I am currently learning is when to stop! The perfectionist in me will keep on going if I let it and the danger is that the original freshness and flow of the painting gets lost. There’s definitely an art to finishing before it’s finished!”

@judi.rose

“I’ve learnt that if you want to be creative the right time will eventually happen. I honestly didn’t do much art for 30 years but still thought I was a creative person. I just channelled it in areas I could, like making food look and taste great, or putting interesting collections together in our home or exciting book displays as I was a school librarian.

I remember being really hard on myself when I met an artist a few years ago and she said if you want to paint you’ll just make the time, but I just couldn’t find the mental space with 3 beautiful kids and a busy life. Well fast forward 2 years ago and our move to Australia finally gave me the opportunity to live the creative life I wanted to. Everyone’s time is different. That’s all I know.”

@kbizoart

Lessons in Following Your Heart

“The lesson I have learned is – no matter what they tell you, you don’t have to stay within the lines. It has been a hard lesson for me as I only discovered it within the last year at the grand age of 51. The photo is of my granddaughter working on her masterpiece in grandma’s studio. I want her to experience life in full colour right from the beginning. I want her to be herself and if that means being rebellious in how she presents herself to the world, that’s fine with me.”

@xr21965

Follow your heart and go with whatever inspires you , you have no idea where that will lead. For me it’s been the joy of running community art projects, designing signage, ceramic murals, making flags from hot air balloon material! And my beloved seascapes – it’s all part of me.”

@charlotteturnerartist

“My biggest lesson is to stay connected to my work and not to just produce. My art is about feeding my soul while creating artwork that is made with intention.  As humans we desire/long for connection. These connections are made everyday in many different ways but for me to connect to others through my art… is everything. My art career transformed when I stopped “producing” for the sake of only a sale.  I allow myself to share my story, my passion and all the “feels” along the way.

Oh and that “Mistakes can be BEAUTIFUL!” That is a lesson I teach in my studio and need to remind both adults and children (and myself) often.”

@kateryckmanart

“The biggest lesson for me is that it has to come from inside you. When I first started painting again I did more straightforward landscapes; painting from within my own head was just too hard. But I’ve always been interested in what we need around us, how we react to our environment, what we choose to take notice of, how it can become a two way process between how we feel and the world around us.

Now, the paintings I make may be inspired by the feeling I have of being outside on a windy day, or travelling on a busy London Underground journey… or somehow both combined. They are the sum of my experiences. It’s individual and personal and when it resonates with other people that’s magical, but really it’s just a challenge for me. Making art is the biggest headf*c€ challenge I’ve ever done and I hope never to get to a final answer and feel I’ve learned the answer.”

@alicesheridanstudio

The more I try a variety of styles on and see what fits and what doesn’t, the closer I get to an authentic offering. As I change, grow and develop, so does the kind of art I appreciate and make.”

@janeinbloom

Lessons in Taking Action

Collecting masses of good material doesn’t make good pictures. Only DOING, PRACTICING and even FAILING does. I have to produce more “bad” art in order to get better. Someone told me “Buy the best material you can afford, and give yourself the allowance to use it wastefully.” I’m good at No. 1, but still have to learn No. 2.”

@meinkathelier

You don’t need to confine yourself to only one form of creative expression. My background is sculpture, but I’ve spent 12 years also making books, printmaking, illustrating and shooting film and alternative photography. I’ve never painted. When people asked me what sort of art I make I would say “anything but paint.”

These past few years I’ve mostly stuck to photography but I was feeling burnout. Lately life has been all about what I can manage, simple and easy, a little daily watercolour sketch and the growth of my #prussianblueproject which I’m completely in love with! Whodathunk?”

@suziechaney

“Put pen/pencil/brush to paper every day. Words, brain dump, to do list, ideas, a quick doodle, anything to keep the creative process flowing. The days or weeks that I did not, [I had] frustration and artists block and wondered why! So now I keep a journal.”

@seawytchery

Lessons in Practical Tools and Techniques

“Abstract is so challenging, especially for a Virgo who craves the detail.😉 I reused the tape from the last painting and matched the colours to where they appeared on the tape, then worked into the centre. This allowed me to think less about the detail and just get the colour down. Once the paper was completely covered I looked to see what it wanted to be?

I have painted a few, using my new method, “from the outside in”. When finished, they definitely feel as though they came from the inside… out.😊”

@tracywaitecreative

“When making ginger tea, don’t forget to set a timer before going into the studio. . . Totally forgot about it until my husband asked what that smell was. Just for your information, burnt ginger root smells a lot like roasted rosemary. Who knew?!”

@wabisabimami

“1. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone. I find that when I’m trying hard to prove something , it’s because I’m not doing the right thing for me.

2. Airbrush medium is genius when you want to give a watery feel to acrylics on canvas. It is almost as fluid as water and makes the paint stick to the canvas so you can paint over it without difficulties. Since I heard about this trick I want to tell everyone in the world, I guess this is my chance!”

@demerssarah

“I’ve learned that going to retrospectives lets you see how artists work things out, over time, just like we all do.”

@thedailytourist

I have learned to put my excess paint in a sketchbook. Then when I have a few swipes of paint I try to figure out a composition and “finish” it. This challenges me to paint my way out of the corner!”

@leemclart

There’s no one ‘right’ way to paint with watercolours! A number of years ago I attended a watercolour workshop with a prominent Australian watercolour painter. Early on in the workshop he walked past me, looked at my supplies and scowled “How can you paint! Those brushes are too small! And that’s too small. You can’t mix colours in that.” He said pointing to my messy palette. I left the workshop early, feeling embarrassed, angry and humiliated.

I didn’t paint for 6 months and questioned my ability to paint and my skill as a watercolour painter and instead focused on pen and ink drawings. But, I missed colour. Screw him, I thought, there’s lots of different ways to work with watercolours. I loved my little brushes, I’m good at painting detail (even though sometimes it drives me crazy!) and people liked (and bought) my paintings. Though I still strive to improve, I paint the way that works for me and I love what I do.

@dschess_art

Never wait until you’ve finished your chores before you start work/play in the studio. Why? Because housework is never finished – I’d rather make art!”

@juleshorn101

“Sometimes when a canvas is not cooperating it feels very liberating to just paint over everything and get a fresh start.”

@karincutlerart

Lessons from the Little Ones

“I’ve learned a lot of things in my art journey over the years, the most recent is from my granddaughter who has had a lot of stuff happen in her little life. She is always smiling, doing art in one form or another. She knows she’s an artist and she shares her creativity with everyone. She sees things she wants to learn and she does it. She doesn’t let things stop her from expressing herself.

…She loves coming to my Art room and she loves creating with me. I’ve also discovered that art is not limited to just painting, and I’ve tried to teach her that. Art is gardening, taking care of animals, dance, music, home arts, and the list goes on and on…”

@mycraftingroom

“I’m a step mom and when my kiddo was a bit younger he often drew these wonderful characters. He gives them so much life. Back then I didn’t paint nearly as often or freely as I do now. One of the major things that got me to loosen up was painting my kiddo’s drawings. It was a great way for us to connect. I translated them to canvas and worked with him to choose colors. He taught me to let go and see painting with a childlike wonder again.”

@jessicawynne.art

Lessons in Experimenting

“I suppose my most recent lesson is that I won’t know unless I try. For a long while I had the desire to take my work to another place, a different type of experience. A few attempts at abstraction in watercolor mostly left me dissatisfied.

Then late last fall, feeling things get a bit stale with my process and tired of making pretty pictures, I got out some old acrylics and some cheap paper for what was to be a few quick experimental paintings. I had no idea I’d still be traveling this path over 30 paintings later if I hadn’t taken those first attempts.”

@nemcoskyart

“One fun lesson I’ve learned lately (besides “Keep Learning“) is to not be afraid to try new things…like challenges, or even competitions. When you jump in without any pressure or expectation, you usually end up having a lot of fun, and learning more about yourself.

This was one of my entries in the annual #rijksstudioaward this year. While I didn’t even get in the top 100, I had a great time creating something I wouldn’t have otherwise, I got to know more of this wonderful museum’s collection, and learning more about my process, and my limitations.”

@buttonlove.ca

Lessons in Play

“I have learned that I need the word play in my life. It reminds me to have fun with what I’m doing. If it isn’t fun then I move on and do​ my best to explore to find what is.

@cfcallier

“I try to listen to what my heart wants to do and explore questions that come to mind.

I’ve learned there is an interplay that crosses among different interests I explore. Things I learn doing photography, drawing, pastel, ink art, and painting all help teach me something and keep me from getting blocked or burned out.

Don’t be afraid to let yourself “play”…try new mediums, new sizes, new tools, and new techniques! 😜”

@portlandtheresa

“My favorite lesson learned is definitely the realization that no one is making me do art, it’s only me holding myself accountable to make this stuff so why wouldn’t I make it the most enjoyable process? Why would I make it a struggle when there’s already so much that’s difficult?

For me so much of my practice is making sure I’m enjoying the things I make, and if I find that I’m not I figure out how to shift it to make it more exciting and f u n; it’s important for art to be fun and for me to be excited about it because no one is making me do this!!

It’s not a problem that has to be solved in a specific way following this specific formula, it’s anything you want it to be, so why not make it the thing that makes your heart race and your eyes light up?”

@linedwithsilver

“This seems so obvious – the idea that not everything I create has to be a masterpiece, and for me all that really means is warranting a photo. But when I FELT this lesson finally, it changed things for me. Only very recently.

Play, doodle, experiment, try different mediums, take things too far on purpose, scribble, make marks. This is where the freedom is and where I am finding the ‘happy accidents’. More play on the agenda as a result.”

@tara.friesen

Lessons in Process

“Always make many to give room to have a conversation with the work and allow for something to rise up.”

@ab.fetzer

“1. Practice practice practice.
2. Share what you know.
3. Learn from others.
4. Always carry a sketchbook.
5. Take a break and go for a walk without your device. You will notice more things!
6. Be curious.
7. Experiment always.
8. When you keep working, the negative chatter loses its power.
9. Not everyone needs to like what you do (seems simple to me!)
10. Enjoy making!”

@mariongriese

“My most recent lesson was that there are going to be some layers that I just absolutely hate. BUT, it’s always worth it to take the time and work through it–it all works out eventually! (Some pieces might just have a thicker layer of paint on them than others.)

Oh, and bonus “lesson”/discovery: the messier/”uglier” the painting, the more I like it. I’m sure that says something about me, but let’s not examine what that something is.”

@artistshope

“…I have come to a point many times where I just don’t know what to do next. When this stage comes,I’ve learned that rather than berating my artistic self or getting frustrated, I take a break. I go have a coffee, read a magazine or talk to a friend then when I come back to the painting I will know what to add in or take away next. My lesson to share – always take a break.”

@bouchebabe

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned about making art is to have patience with the process. When I first started painting again after college I’d work a piece to death when it stopped making sense and end the day in a terrible mood. It can be tempting to become frustrated when the practice isn’t going as planned, but I’ve realized that taking breaks are way more productive. Not every day is a dream though. But, having an awareness has changed the way I approach and react to the work.

Other things I’ve learned about making art:
1. Too much tv or lack of movement kills my motivation
2. Painting in a bad mood will make for a bad painting experience
3. Music, good information, large concepts, the macro – all elevate my emotional state. I feel connected and grateful.
4. Art is not precious. It can always change form.”

@emilymwatts

“At the beginning of this year I joined a weekly art studio morning run by an amazing artist whom I admire and respect. In a few short months I have learned so much from her both in terms of technicalities and also how I approach my art and my creative process. A few of the lessons I have learned are:

1. Practice!
2. Be patient!
3. Be kind to yourself!
4. Experiment!
5. Make marks!
6. Never throw anything away!
7. Don’t be in a rush to finish a painting!
8. Keep standing back from your work.
9. Talk to other artists and learn from their processes.
10. Study the work of other artists – really look at the marks they make, their brush strokes. Visit art galleries and exhibitions.
I’m working on all of the above!”

@kiwiblue.sydney

“It’s the journey that matters, not how good you are.”

@genieartyology

“If there is something that I learned in the past few years it is that I should trust the process (still more often). Not thinking about the outcome. Just painting. Art is not about results (for me) but about making it. If I just start my painting without much planning, there will always be a state of flow – at some point where the painting just shows itself to my brushes and paints. And this applies to so many more situations in life.
So lesson learned: Trust. Let go. Enjoy the process.

@diana_linsse

“I think the best lesson I’ve learned is to ‘work through the ugly’. Lots of pieces have an ‘ugly’ stage and I’ve learned to put it away for a while – days; weeks; months! The break gives you new eyes to look at it. I work a lot in art journals and using a bound one enforces this. It’s easy to tear a page out of a spiral bound journal and bin it, but in a bound one you have to keep at it. Having said that, a few remain ugly, but you have to live with that!”

@sujorg

“I used to create hyper realistic art. Portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, where I would agonize over every eyelash and leaf. It was a fantastic escape and I’d lose myself into whatever I was creating for hours… BUT, I learned a while back that it no longer served me and fed the wrong side of me. I would literally hold my breath while creating these pieces because absolute perfection was the goal and breathing could make my arm move. So I vowed about 5 years ago to never make hold-your-breath-art again. Now I strive for loose art. Both are hard in their own unique ways.”

@jennpotterart

Lessons in Kindness

“I could take this one of several ways but I’m feeling that one of the great lessons is there will be bad days.
Days you’re not feeling it, you don’t like anything you do, you tear up your canvas, overpaint it to it’s death, think you are the worst of the worst, wonder why you are doing this, be too tired, uninspired and rethink the whole thing!”

@xoj9creative

Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to start something a bunch of times, it’s okay to not finish something you aren’t feeling, it’s okay to put it all away until tomorrow, and it’s okay to enjoy it when it turns out like you hoped.”

@acrylicsandink

“I felt very frustrated and stressed out when I started working with acrylics again a few days ago – and with the added pressure of a show coming very soon! I had to figure out how the paint behaved and, more importantly, what I wanted it to say; whereas with watercolors, I really don’t even have to think about it anymore!

The stress and frustration really came from my fear that I wouldn’t be able to create anything good or that no one would like my work. However, I told myself to take a deep breath; that really, all that ever matters is that you give it your best and that you listen to what’s within you. Stress hurts you as an artist and as a person. If you’re happy with the work you’ve put in, nothing anyone else thinks can add to or subtract from its intrinsic merit.”

@gracerajendran

If you’d like to see some of the fantastic shares for the challenge, you can check out the posts here.

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