10 Things I’ve Discovered as an Artist


The past several days I’ve been reflecting on my journey as an artist.  Here are 10 things I’ve discovered along the way:


10.  Art!  I’ve discovered so much amazing art since I’ve become an artist.  I’ve been to gallery openings and shows and museums.  I’ve developed friendships with artists who are creating beautiful work.  I’ve discovered new artists on the internet.  I’ve taken classes and workshops with amazing and talented people.   My world has just opened up to the arts in amazing ways!

9.  “SEEING”  When I began photography, I started seeing the world in a whole new way.  I was always looking for my next photo, and so I began to see what I had been missing.  Things like sunrises (I always slept through those) and the way the world turns golden in the hour after the sun rises and the hour before it sets.  Wow!  It always amazes me.  I’d never really paid attention to that before I picked up my camera.  I began to notice the way the light hit an object and made it beautiful.  I saw the extraordinary lines in architecture, the details of a flower, the joy and sorrow in a face.  Everything came alive for me because for the first time, in a long time, I began to see.

8.  My inner child.  Creativity is so natural for a child.  They pick up a crayon and start to draw, never worried or anxious about whether or not it’s drawn well.  They just play.

When I moved to Denver, I was invited to join a group of oil painters at a local park.  One of the painters had given me a painter box, a small wooden box that attaches to a tripod and contains a small pallet and holds a small canvas.  I couldn’t afford paint or brushes, but I did bring the box.

There were two models there for the painters, and we had photographed them earlier in the day. Then the painters grabbed their paint boxes and began to paint.  I sat on a blanket to watch.  The woman who had given me the box said, “Are you going to paint?”, I said, “No, I don’t have any paints or brushes.”  She told me to walk around the group and that each artist would give me a little paint.  I was so embarrassed, I didn’t know any of the people in the group and I felt like a little beggar.  But I had always had a deep desire to be a painter and I didn’t want to miss and opportunity, so I swallowed my pride and walked around the group and each person generously gave me a little dab of paint, some brushes and some turpentine.  They I sat down with my brush not knowing what to do next.  I looked at my artist friend and said, “Now what?”  She said something that has stuck with me ever since: “Play!”.  And that’s what I did.  I played!  And it was one of the best days ever!!!

As I’ve progressed in my journey, painting hasn’t always felt like play, so I have to remind myself to become a child again and again, and find the freedom to create without stress and anxiety, and just let go! Which brings me to the next discovery.

7. Perfection kills creativity.  I’m a perfectionist, and it often torments me.  I’ve gotten silly notions in my head that I have to be perfect and my work has to be perfect.  Of course, I’m not going to obtain “perfection” and so I disqualify every thing I do and call it rubbish.  Then I get discouraged and want to quit.  It’s an endless and quite destructive cycle… but, I’m working on it.

On a recent trip to the museum, I was looking at the work of my heroes:  Van Gogh, Diebenkorn, Pollock, De Kooning (both), and as stood there admiring the work, I didn’t see perfection.  What I saw was passion, freedom, and expression.  It was like a revelation to me.  I’m seeking the wrong thing.  Perfection kills creativity, but passion gives birth to it.  This leads to my next discovery.

6.  Patience.  It’s difficult to find adult ballet classes or adult music classes.  Why?  Because adults don’t have the patience to learn.  We start out with great enthusiasm, but when we discover that it’s going to take more time than we had anticipated, we give up.  We want to play the cello beautifully the first week of lessons–not going to happen!

When I first started painting, it was fun and exciting just to be able to put paint on the canvas. (I stopped playing and got serious).  Then the realization of how much effort, frustration, and time it was going to take hit me.  I began to feel discouraged when I couldn’t put what I envisioned on the canvas.  I struggled, I cried, I worked, but it still wasn’t happening.  I was so dissatisfied with my art after a couple of years that I was ready to give up.  (And I had been painting almost every day during that time).

I was ready to give up when an artist friend of mine encouraged me to hang in there, and I’m so glad I did.

We have to be patient with the learning process.  We have to allow ourselves to make mistakes, to be frustrated, to struggle.  We can’t be in hurry to become, we have to gradually allow ourselves to be shaped and molded by the process.

5.  Art is a business.  I just want to paint!  When I began this process I knew I wanted to be a professional artist.  I knew someday I wanted to show my work and be in galleries and even make a living doing what I loved.  For some reason, I thought all of that would just magically happen.  I guess I thought I would be “discovered” and people would just love my work and start buying it.  

What I didn’t know is that art is a business, and artists who sell their work have to be “business people” whether we want to or not.  We have to show, we have to speak to galleries and potential buyers.  We have to sell ourselves, not just our work.

Learning to paint isn’t the only skill I’ve had to acquire.  I’ve spent hours learning about social media, Internet sales and marketing, and how to host a blog.  (I’m still learning.)  I spend hours photographing my painting, writing descriptions, keywords, and blog posts.  I upload the work to various online galleries, writing sizes, descriptions, and more keywords. I shop for boxes and packing supplies and try to figure out the most cost efficient and safe way to ship my work.

In other words, there’s a lot more to this than standing in front of the canvas expressing myself.

4.  Joy. Through all of the struggles, learning process, business work, etc… I’ve found an incredible amount of joy in what I’m doing.  I’ve always been an artist, from the day I was born.  Not knowing or understanding my DNA, I was lost and miserable.  I tried one thing after another to find fulfillment and joy, but I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do.  Years of depression, I believe was a result of not doing what I was created to do.  

Once, I realized I was an artist, a creative being, and I began to be that, the joy came and the depression left.

3.  What art really means to me.  When I first began this journey, I was so focused on the “technical” and the “how to” that all I really thought about when I was painting was, “Does it look like the person?”, “Is it drawn correctly?”  This is a natural part of the learning process, but I didn’t think a lot about what I wanted to say, or what it meant to be an artist.  I just did what I was told and tried to get it right.

Now, I’ve began to ask myself questions like, “Why am I doing this?”,  “What does it mean to create art?” “How can I express my feelings about this?”.

I’m discovering what really matters to me as an artist.  I’m not concerned with someone being “amazed” at my talent or drawing skills. What I want is to tell a story, to touch the heart, to make someone think, to create a sense of mystery.

2.  Life.  I began my journey pretty lifeless.  I was existing but not living.  I was going through the motions, but not living in the moment.  Now, my priority is to live life.  To see, experience, and touch this amazing world.

1. Me. The most important thing I’ve discovered during my journey, was me.  I’ve discovered how I see the world and that my view is unique.

I’ve found that I’m not a “bad” person just because I function on the right side of my brain.  I’m scattered, intuitive, passionate, messy, because I’m made that way, not because I’m not “doing it right”.

I found out that I love color, I’m a little abstract, and I’m crazy about texture.  I love peeling paint and distressed objects.  I see the beauty in the simple everyday things.

I have an ability to express myself and my emotions visually through photography and painting.

The most important thing I found out about me is that I can.  I can do this!  I am doing this.  At times I had pretty much convinced myself that I couldn’t do it, that I would never be what I envisioned myself being.  But now I know I can.


So, that’s my list, some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.  What have you discovered in your journey?  Add to the list in the comments below.  I would love to hear from you!



5 thoughts on “10 Things I’ve Discovered as an Artist

  1. How incredibly timely your post is for me, Shelby. I just sat down and wrote a blog post in a similar vein – well, not 10 things I learned but focusing what I am learning right now – the tension between the business and the creative process and the turmoil it has set in motion in me. It is heartening to know that similar threads run through the lives of those who create – similar struggles, and lessons, and feelings of gratitude.

    • I’m going to have to read that blog post! I know, the business thing is a huge difficulty for me as well. So often, it feels like the people around us have it all together and while we’re off to the side shaking in our boots. Truth is, even the most successful ones have their now issues and struggles. As artists, we should encourage each other more often as you have encouraged me! Thank you!

Leave a Reply