Self-Portrait, ca. 1630
Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641)
The other day I received an email from someone asking me what were the practices that made me a better artist. I thought it was a great question. My answer may not have been exactly what the writer was looking for, but I was grateful for the opportunity to think about what it was that really helped me in my artistic journey. Most people write to ask about skin tones, or materials, or how to sell paintings, or the like. Knowing those things is all well and good, but they are not key to getting you anywhere in the long run if you want to master your craft. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to know those things (and I hope you are asking more artists than just me). They are all pieces to a huge puzzle. But what I hope to offer here is what I think are some really important things to consider if you want to maximize your potential.
1. Get some good formal training if possible. I think it’s a mistake to try to teach yourself everything. Even a workshop now and then is better than nothing.
2. Try to strike a path with your approach. What I mean is, if you are really serious about painting you can’t do a little of this and a little of that (a little impressionism, a little watercolor, a little photorealism, etc.). If you still need to explore before you define your path, that’s fine. Don’t rush it. But do make a decision. May I submit to you that once you get a good handle on one type of expression your other experiments will be much more meaningful.
3. Related to point #2 — Identify for yourself what you want to paint, why you want to paint it, how you want to paint it. Describe to yourself what you hope to communicate in your artistic expression. (if you can do this you are well on your way)
4. Also related to point #2 — Pick three artists (minimum) that you want to emulate in your work. Study everything you can about them. Try to identify what it is about their work that you like. Do some master copies of their work.
5. Get serious and schedule regular time in your week to paint.
6. Have a methodical approach to your work. Formulate a step by step method. Take into account both your strengths and your weaknesses.
7. Teach, or at least be able to articulate your approach as if you were going to teach it.