Here I'll be sharing some of my experiences teaching myself to paint, and some of the best lessons I've learned along the way.
I’d like to just preface this by saying I did study art in high school, and even went on to do a year of visual arts at university before I became frustrated at the spoon-feeding and fearful of not having a financially stable career.
So I do have a teensy bit of formal training.
After being disenchanted by the experience of studying art at uni, I still drew casually and infrequently for years, while working in the banking industry.
Then in 2019, everything changed for me. Looking back, I was definitely depressed and overly anxious, working my butt off to climb the ranks in the pursuit of…. what exactly? Money? I was spending more than I ever had on frivolous things to make myself feel better. What I really wanted was to have the financial stability to do what I really enjoyed - creating art, being with nature, and spending time with the people I love.
I felt the call of creativity more strongly than I ever had, and I realised that I had to make a change, for my own mental health, and to spend my life doing something meaningful.
But, while I loved it, my art was just…. not great.
At this point, I couldn’t afford to go back to university, and I didn’t particularly want to (teachers and I have never really meshed very well, mostly because I like to question everything). So I decided that I would teach myself, and make this art dream happen.
So, how did I improve my painting so much in two years?
The simple answer is practice. The more complex answer is mindful, critical and constant practice, and having faith that I can create the life that I choose if I work for it hard enough.
With the exception of 4 months in 2020, at the start of the pandemic when my mental health took a turn for the worse, I have been creating art in some form almost every day since May of 2019.
This has taken a lot of self-discipline, a lot of rewiring of my lifestyle and habits (I do miss you, Netflix. It’s not you, it’s me) and fundamental changes in the way that I think.
But above all, it has been a constant exercise in facing and overcoming my fears.
So if you want to improve your creations, here's my advice:
- Believe in yourself.
No matter how long it takes and how many times you fail, it is better to pursue your dream than to ignore it because it feels unattainable. Nothing is truly unattainable unless you don't try.
- Share it with others.
Whether you feel that your creation is worthy of attention or not, share it. It will make the world a better place and if it can create a positive impact on even one person, its worth it.
- When you get feedback, think about it carefully.
Everyone has an opinion, sometimes its valuable, and sometimes it's not. When you get feedback, really think about whether it's going to help you to create something that's more authentically you. If not, then move on from it. You can't be everyone's cup of tea.
- Don't let fear get in your way.
When you're afraid of something, it's often because you're at the border of a breakthrough. Sometimes you need to dance with fear to overcome it. Recognise that its a sign that you're pushing yourself to be better, and that everything worthwhile comes with a risk.
- Learn from your mistakes
There's a term I heard called "Failing forwards". When something doesn't work out, you've learned something new. Failure is valuable because you gain experience from it and you will keep growing, so long as you are trying new things.
The only way to truly fail is to keep making the same mistakes again and again. So if you feel stuck, try something new.
For every painting that I deem worthy of making it onto the internet, just know that I have created 5-10 failed paintings beforehand.
I learned something new from each one about what works and what doesn't, and my final painting is better because of it.