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Question Sticker Series: My Thoughts on Accuracy

Question: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"

Reply: "That my sketch and pencil work don't look good and aren't accurate"

Let's Talk About Accuracy

Reading this reply, I feel like there are two separate items that need to be addressed. The first is concern about whether or not something is "good" which denotes some level of judgment or evaluation. The second is more about a technical skill relative to an expected outcome. While I will touch on what is "good" in terms of art and also on comparison, I think that these subjects are worthy of an entire blog post by themselves, so this discussion will focus mainly on accuracy.

The Importance of Accuracy

I think accuracy is something that most artists consider in their work. I would even go so far as to say that it is a skill where most artists show room for improvement, myself included. My sketches are never 100% accurate (and my paintings are never perfect, ever! Regardless of how you may interpret them, I promise they are full of mistakes). If I really wanted a sketch or drawing to be very precise I would have to devote considerably more time to it. So instead of 15-20 minutes, it would take me more like 5-10 hours (I don't know about you, but I do not have the time or the patience for that lol).

Not Always Necessary

In most cases, particularly with organic subjects (like trees or fruit), I find that a general approximation works just fine (no one knows the difference unless you show your reference right next to your sketch). So in this way, accuracy is of relative importance. You need to determine what level of accuracy is needed for the type of artwork you want to make. I think a high level of precision is only necessary when photo-realism is your goal or with things like recognizable portraits and scientific/botanical type drawings.

Approximate

When sketching, I just approximate things based on relative scale and placement within the composition. I am as they say, "eyeballing it". When painting landscapes, no one knows if I moved the tree a bit to the right and if they do notice, they don't know whether or not this was intentional. I will often shift things slightly or remove objects to suit my purpose and aesthetic. Staying 100% true to your reference is not always necessary or, depending on the circumstance, even desirable.

Practice

Everything else aside, accuracy comes down to practice and understanding the basic underlying principles of drawing. Things like relative proportions, perspective, scale, measuring angles, composition, and other rules of thumb. Another big part of drawing is just teaching the eye to see and observe rather than following what your brain thinks something looks like. The more you practice the more these things will develop. However, the most important takeaway from all of this is that accuracy is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.

Master the Basics

Drawing is the foundation for painting (even for the cartoonist or abstract painter). If this skill is underdeveloped, it will show in your work. Be patient. Be dedicated. Practice... Everyday. It is well worth the effort. It doesn't matter how well you can render shadows and match colors if your underdrawing is super wonky it will be noticeable. You have to develop the whole artist package and that means developing proficiency in multiple skill areas. Being an artist is a highly multi-faceted thing.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. There is a big difference between self-criticism and self-evaluation just as there is a big difference between constructive criticism and harsh judgementalism. It is good to evaluate your work and see where you have done well and where you can improve. It is not helpful to always focus on the negative aspects of your artwork and ignore the positive ones (or to never stop and see how far you have come). There is something to be learned from every painting or piece of art you make.
  2. Let go of perfectionism. Perfect is a word we use for an idealized thing or situation which quite frankly, most often does not exist in reality. Making art (and life for that matter) is not about being perfect.
  3. Have realistic expectations for your work. No one becomes a master overnight. Art is a life long journey, enjoy the process.
  4. Do your best to avoid comparing your art to other people's work. This is a mistake that will only create jealousy or feelings of discouragement. Everyone has to start somewhere. You don't know how much practice and time another artist has put in to get where they are. We all have to work with what we have in this moment.
  5. Art is not some unspoken competition. The purpose of making art is not to be the best, it is for the joy of creating and self-expression. Do it for the process, not the end result.
  6. Remember that what is "good" when it comes to art is completely subjective. What I think is good, another person may think is crap and vice versa. The phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" really rings true when it comes to art. "Good" is a matter of opinion. Everyone has an opinion, but you don't have to listen to it or take it to heart.
  7. There are numerous drawing techniques to help with accuracy, such as using your pencil to measure angles or creating grids. Learning a few of these simple tricks can make a big difference in your work.
  8. Develop a sketching practice. Try to sketch for 15 minutes everyday. It doesn't have to be good and you don't have to show anyone your work. But consistently putting in the time will make a difference. I have seen this in my own art practice over the course of the past several years.

Final Thoughts

Don't give up!!! Believe it or not, I gave up on art for a while because at a certain point I realized my art would never be as accurate (or as instantaneous) as a photograph. I thought that I could never compete with a camera, so why bother? It took me years, but I finally realized that the point of creating art is much deeper and more profound than just attempting to be a human camera. You are not a machine and no one but you can make your art.

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I Gave Up on Art

Never Good Enough:

I don’t remember exactly how old I was, probably around 13 or so, when I realized my art was never going to be as “good” as a photograph. I became disheartened with my work, thinking why bother toiling away for hours over a piece when a photo taken in an instant would always be more accurate. (Prior to this point, I was prolific in my creative endeavors, always drawing or making something, sewing, etc.) All of a sudden making art seemed so pointless. So I stopped drawing.

Now I think it is important to note that at this time in my life, I was looking at the world from a perspective where I thought "good art" meant photorealistic. It was because I believed this one idea to be true that I also thought my work was subpar. However, the more we expand our knowledge and understanding of what Art really is, it becomes obvious that "Art" is a massive grey area with lots of leeway in every direction. Most importantly, it does NOT have to be photorealistic in any way to be considered "good".

Back to my story. There were periods here and there where I would make art and then stop again. Sometimes I would make art as gifts for people. I took art classes sporadically but they didn't stick.  It wasn't until I decided to go back to college for the second time to pursue graphic design that art became a big part of my life again. By this point, I was 28. My appreciation for and perspective of art had changed dramatically. Attending class, I found myself surrounded by so many creative people taking their art in so many different directions. The spark of inspiration was relit and I discovered the joy and practice of making art again.

While I have not been creating art continuously since then, my most recent hiatus was not because I gave up, but simply because I did not have any creative energy left over from my design job to work on my own projects. I have learned many life lessons in those years when I wasn't creating as much, that my younger self simply didn't see. One of the most important lessons I have learned is about perfection.

Fear of Failure

I have seen perfection tear people apart inside because even one tiny misstep meant utter failure. Or perhaps they are emotionally shattered from having experienced the bitterness of failure already. Either way, these poor tortured souls are forced to walk a tightrope through life, constantly dreading the inevitable fall from grace. The resulting pressure from this perspective is immense and many are frozen by it, unable to try because their fear of failure is too great. They are trapped by their belief in perfection, just as I was trapped by my belief in photorealism. However, this can be overcome and people CAN change their perspective.

For starters, it is important to realize that perfection, like beauty and art and so many things, is subjective. Personally, I prefer to view perfection as a philosophical ideal rather than something we can actually manifest. When you really boil it down, perfection is an idea. An idea that humans created and it does not exist outside of our minds. I find that human beings, myself included, have a tendency to get caught up on ideas. We hold on to our idealistic perspectives for dear life, even when those perspectives are getting in the way of the very thing we want most.

There is far too much pressure tied to being or creating something perfect. As soon as you let go of perfection you will be free to create whatever your heart desires without restrictions or judgment. Making art will no longer be like walking a tightrope. Take it from me, being an artist (amateur or professional) can be quite challenging. Let me rephrase, being an artist is hard AF! I think we all go through that “perfection” phase as we grow and develop. But don't let your mind trick you out of doing something you love. Stay the course. Know that your hard work is worth it!

Secondly, I think there is a huge misconception surrounding art and artists. The idea that somehow a master artist can make every brushstroke with absolute perfection, and while this may be true for a very few remarkable individuals, I would say it is grossly incorrect for the vast majority of artists out there. Art (and life for that matter) is not about attaining perfection. It’s about enjoying the creative process and expressing yourself without words. It is about sharing something that has meaning to you with others.

Mistakes Are Necessary

Thirdly, know that every artist makes mistakes. I have NEVER, in my entire life, made a piece of art that had no mistakes. You may not notice them but I know they are there. Every artist makes bad art, it is just a necessary part of the creative process that shows us where we have room to grow. It’s not a negative thing. It is guiding you, telling you which part of your toolkit you need to develop next. Every piece of art you create is a reflection of where you are in your art journey. Embrace the now, whether it be the beginning or the middle, because there is no final destination. We are all somewhere along the way looking to take that next step. Lastly, recognize that what you or I can create with our hands is something no machine or camera can ever replicate. No, not even fancy programs like Photoshop! There are roughly 7 billion people on this planet and we all have something different to bring to the table. We are not machines, we are not cameras, so why do we compare ourselves to such things? Your art is like your fingerprint on the world. It is unique to you. No one else can make your art. So stop expecting perfection and follow that creative spark!

Don't Wait & Please Share!

If you found my words helpful or you know someone who would benefit from reading this, please share! It breaks my heart to think so many people walk away from art or other things that they love out of fear. Believe in yourself. Dig deep. Find the strength to persevere. Don't wait until tomorrow or next week. Do it now. Don't be the person who looks back 10 years from now, 30 years from now, and says, "I wish I had...."

Inspired by a conversation with Angela Baker Art who I connected with via Instagram. You can find her website HERE.
All of the artwork shown in this post dates back to my late teens and ranges from somewhere around the time I graduated high school to my first year in college (2001 to 2003).
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In Search of Inspiration: Thunder Storms

Finding That Creative Spark

I often describe myself as being inspired by nature, but that on its own is a very broad statement. So today, I would like to share a bit more about exactly what I mean. Generally speaking, I find inspiration in small moments from my daily life. It could be a plant in my neighborhood that has come into bloom or my neighbor’s cat that likes to follow me down the street. There is always something intangible in these seemingly insignificant events, a spark of positive energy, that makes me want to capture that instant in time so that it may be experienced anew as art, as well as something that can be experienced by others. Below I have captured a moment, this time in writing, that inspired me to put brush to paper. I am attempting to share a few of my thoughts and my perspective in hopes that at least some part of my method for finding inspiration in the everyday will be useful to others.

Innocent Fluffy Clouds

The clouds this morning were really quite lovely. They even inspired me to step out onto the balcony and take a photograph or two as reference material for a potential watercolor painting (see the image above, panoramic view from my balcony). Yet as the day passed they became an increasingly darker shade of grey. By 3:30 pm it was quite apparent that rain was coming. Distant rumblings of thunder brought me to the window and I could see tiny spatterings on the glass from the approaching storm. Delicate spring leaves were showing their tender undersides as they flailed about in the wind. Interesting shapes and shades of low dense clouds hung ominously on the horizon. As if a dark curtain had been drawn across the western sky and the rim of the bowl that held the old part of the city.

As the thunder grew louder, Daisy who had been sleeping on the couch was stirred, an intense look of concern and fear on her sweet doggie face. Poor old girl was terrified of thunderstorms. I moved to help her off the couch and then ran upstairs to check the windows and make sure they were all closed. Just in the nick of time too!

Fast Moving Storm

When I returned to my vantage point of the balcony glass door, the farthest parts of the city had been hidden from view by a dense grey wall. Wind whipped my little potted plants sitting against the railing as well as the trees down on the street below. The dryer vent rattled with a furious intensity.

I decided to make myself a cup of tea. Chai, my favorite, with an extra dash of cinnamon to go with the delicious homemade curry I had eaten for lunch. This time when I peered out, half of the city had vanished, even the tall graceful facade of Music Hall and a nearby clock tower were gone. The storm raced towards me, bringing with it a torrent of rain blowing at a steep 45 degree angle.

Standing there in awe, I was distracted by the feeling of moisture on my feet. Searching for the source, I realized that rainwater was being blown under the door! It trickled out by the door hinge and across the tile floor. I bent down and mopped it up with a towel. A few moments later when I looked up, everything but the nearby trees, which swayed violently, had been completely blotted out by impenetrable grey clouds. Sheets of rain were hurled down from the sky. The wind rose to an even higher intensity and large droplets pelted the glass. My set of wicker chairs skidded across the balcony and banged into a large flower pot, carelessly tossed by the storm.

A World Apart

Without the familiar view out of my window, I felt a strange sensation of isolation. Almost as if I had been swept away to an island, lost in a bank of angry clouds. I let my imagination wander a little bit. Amusing myself with the idea that perhaps it was possible for your whole house to be teleported to another world, just as Dorothy and Todo had been. Or perhaps the clouds would part and I would find the city truly had disappeared, a gaping hole left in the place of streets, buildings and foundations, much like the NeverEnding Story. Then a more realistic fear entered my mind. Living up on a ridge, on the third and fourth floors of a historic row house, I wondered if the old building could withstand another beating from Mother Nature. Would the bricks crumble and fall, taking me tumbling down the hillside with them? While my rational mind knew this to be utter nonsense, it was still a somewhat disconcerting thought.

As quickly as the storm had come, it passed. Everything outside had been thoroughly drenched by the deluge. The westerly facing windows were foggy and scattered with clinging droplets. Daisy was thankful to be tucked back in her bed. Excluding the occasional distant thunder, a peaceful quiet ensued. The far horizon lightened, yet the sky was still quite dark for the middle of the afternoon. The powerful storm had left an eerie half-light in its wake. Perhaps there would be more thunder and lightning to come….
In the distance, a crack of thunder rolls.

Now that I've given you a peek inside my mind, I hope you can see why something as commonplace as a thunderstorm would inspire me to create. The strength and speed of the storm were like nothing I had experienced before and I wanted to capture just a fraction of that on paper. I must admit that I really struggled to get the kind of results that I was looking for with this project. I'm almost embarrassed to share it. Unfortunately, I was using an inexpensive paper and I think that was working against me. The cloud formations and colors from the reference photo were far more complicated than I initially thought. However, I did learn a bit more about clouds and layering colors for sky paintings.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At the end of the day, it's only paper after all.

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Cleaning Your Brushes

A How-To Guide for Cleaning Your Brushes:

One of my goals as an artist has been to improve and learn new skills through online tutorials, classes, blogs, etc., so I have watched hours of video! While there are a ton of “how-to” or “best” art supply videos, none of them really go in depth about caring for those art supplies, specifically brushes. A good brush can be a bit of an investment. However, with proper use and care they can last a long time. Please note that some styles of painting and techniques are harder on your brushes and will cause them to wear out faster. The material the brush is made of will also impact how fast or slow it wears (synthetic vs. natural fibers).

A component of taking good care of your brushes is cleaning them. Now I will be the first one to admit, I don’t do this as often as I should (which is every time you paint!). The frequency of cleaning will be up to you and largely depends on how often you are using your brushes. Cleaning your brush will lengthen the life of your brush and will eliminate any chance of leaving old paint on the bristles.

What you will need:

  1. A paper towel (or something to dry your brush on)
  2. Clean water
  3. Brush Cleaner
  4. Your brush(es)

A Note About Soap: I would recommend using a brush cleaner for this purpose. I am currently using “The Masters” Brush Cleaner. It was only a couple of dollars at my local art store. You can also order it off Amazon.com, see link below. This cleaner is specifically meant for artist brushes and won’t cause any damage. In a pinch, I have also used a liquid soap like Dr. Bronners Castille Soap. As a general rule of thumb, anything safe for human hair, like shampoo without conditioner, is safe for your brushes. For my masking fluid brushes, I use a local handmade laundry bar stain removing soap, and it is the only thing I’ve found that will remove all of the masking fluid from my brushes. For you local Ohio artists, the laundry bar is made by The Tree Hugger Company.
Amazon Link: General Pencil Company The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver 2.5 0z.

Step-by-step method:

Step 1: Wet the brush thoroughly.

Step 2: Load the brush with clean water and apply the water to the brush cleaner.

Step 3: Gently lather the soap onto the brush, taking care to keep the bristles working in the proper direction. Be patient, it may take a moment to activate the cleaner. Also, you do not what to gouge the cleaner with the base of the ferrule. You may see some pigment leaving the brush, this means the soap is doing its job!

Step 4: Carefully work the soap through the brush with your fingertips. Very little pressure is needed. DO NOT pull on the bristles.

Step 5: Rinse your brush in clean water. This may be at the faucet or in a water container.

Step 6: Repeat until there is no more pigment leaving the brush head. For me, this generally isn’t more than twice per brush.

Step 7: Pat your brush on the paper towel and leave it to dry laying flat.

Now your brush is clean and ready for the next time you paint!

 

General Brush Care & Tips:

  1. Allow your brushes to dry flat so that there is no water trapped in the base of the brush, or ferrule, where the bristles attach to the handle.
  2. Make sure to store your brushes in a way that the bristles will not be misshapen (I keep mine upright in a stoneware mug). If a brush is left in a bent or crimped position it may retain this shape and never return to it’s original form. This will more than likely leave the brush unusable for normal brushwork.
  3. If you are traveling with your brushes, I would strongly recommend using a case designed specifically for protecting the bristles. A normal style pencil case is not adequate.
  4. When rinsing your brush, do not smash it down on the bottom of the water container. It is okay to gently touch the brush to the bottom, but scrubbing the brush hard can bend the hairs, which causes damage or can break them.
  5. The same goes for when you’re painting. If your style involves placing a lot of pressure on the brush, and rough strokes, that is up to you, but be aware that you are going to need to replace your brushes more often.
  6. You will know a brush is worn out when it will no longer take a crisp shape when wet. If you wet a brush and then firmly tap the handle against your finger, it should form a sharp point or edge. If it does not, then it is showing some degree of wear. This is also a technique for selecting a good brush before you purchase it.
  7. Old worn out brushes often make great textures, so it may be worthwhile to hold on to a few just for this purpose. Splayed bristles make great grass and fur details, to name a few.
  8. If you know you are going to be packing your brushes away for an extended period of time, it is best to make sure they are clean beforehand.

There is a lot to know about brushes, so I may write more about them at a later date. Please let me know if this was helpful to you!

Happy Painting!

amy

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Finding Your Purpose

My Two Cents on Finding Your Purpose:

First of all, let's take a look at this phrase, “finding your purpose”. Wow! Talk about a loaded sentence. There is so much pressure when we start thinking about finding the one true thing you are destined to do with your life. As if in one “eureka” moment it will all come to you in a flash. It’s like chasing a unicorn for goodness sake! It just doesn’t work like that. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed as a teenager attempting to tackle this question. I think there is also a misconception here, there are many things a person can accomplish over a lifetime, we need not feel like we have to stick with one single thing. Plenty of successful people change careers or direction.

So now that we have pumped the brakes, let's take a step back. My first word of advice on this one is,"keep it simple". Often your “purpose” is the very thing that has been there from the start, it's sitting right in front of you, but because of various obstacles and/or social expectations to get it right, you end up looking everywhere else. You find yourself trying to do what worked for someone else, or what someone else thinks is best for you, or to do what is “practical” and “secure”. This is how our culture trains us to think. Follow the status quo, become a good little worker, “live the American dream.” Don’t fall into this trap, it is not how you find true happiness.

Instead, do some soul searching. The first step towards finding what happiness means to you (this is different for each person) is knowing yourself. Ask yourself some hard questions. Dig deep. The answers are all there, no one else can find them for you. Ask yourself, “what really makes me happy?”, “what inspires me?”, “what leaves me with a feeling of fulfillment at the end of the day?” For me, it was more like remembering something I used to know, rather than some new, profound, or earth-shattering discovery. Like, “Oh yeah, I really love making art, why isn’t it part of my life anymore?” I had decided to scratch art off the list of viable careers as a young teenager and never questioned it again! The result? I’ve been fighting with myself for over a decade, trying to make myself be happy with a “regular” job. That is a long while to only take a couple of steps forward and a lot of steps back. If I had spent all that time working on developing an art career imagine where I could be now?

Back to keeping it simple, I like a LOT of the same things now that I liked as a kid; art, horses, and nature. These things are part of who I am, at my core, and they make me happy. Simple as that. Now maybe the things you like don’t fall neatly into an existing profession, but don’t let that stop you. Be different, be unique, STAND OUT. That alone is a tremendous thing to offer the world. Don’t know how to make it work? Don’t worry, I didn’t either (and I am still figuring it out), and don’t give up. Start by researching. You can find out pretty much anything you want to know on the internet. Get good at finding the information you need and there will never be another problem you can’t solve.

This brings me to another piece of advice; never stop learning. Read books, listen to TEDx talks, take an online class, watch tutorials; learn from other people’s mistakes. Be inspired. Knowledge really is power. Better knowledge leads to better decisions, which in turn is more likely to take you where you want to go. Knowledge can open doors you didn’t even know were there.

Long story short, life’s purpose doesn’t have to be this huge daunting thing, as if everyone needs to make history or they have failed. Not everyone can be (nor should be) the next Steve Jobs and there is nothing wrong with that. To put it as simply as I can, your “purpose” in life is to be YOU! Strive to be the very best version of yourself that you can, for the sake of finding happiness and fulfillment. Not for money. Not to satisfy social expectations. Be strong and stay true to yourself! Don’t compare yourself to other people, no one else can be YOU. Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to forge your own path. TRUST in something bigger than yourself, you are not the only one looking for a more meaningful existence.

“Get good enough at anything and someone will pay you to do it.” – Unknown


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