A while ago I put a call out for your creative questions and today I thought I would tackle one that I know a lot of creatives struggle with...
"Did you have any fear/anxiety about making art? If so, how did you get over that obstacle?"
The answer is… Absolutely. I have fear and anxiety about making art, running a business, sharing my thoughts on this blog... I've actually had this post written for a while now but haven't shared it out of fear, What if someone judges me?! I'm not a professional councillor, who am I to talk about this? Clearly, I haven’t gotten over fear, I'm not sure that's something anyone can do, but I am slowly learning to embrace the uncomfortableness as a normal part of the process of growth and creation.
I’ve avoided doing so many things in my life that I wanted to do because they made me uncomfortable. I told myself, that’s just not my thing. If it was my thing it would come naturally, it would make me happy. The problem with that is that a happy life is not necessarily a fulfilled life and I spent a long time coasting along, looking for fulfilment in all of my comfortable places and not coming up with much. I was recently listening to an episode of the Life Coach School podcast with Brooke Castillo called Aliveness (Episode 363). In it, she suggests that the point of being human is not to be happy, but to learn, grow and evolve. What a concept! Progress requires action and true happiness will come through the willingness and determination to push through uncomfortable moments in order to chase after your dreams.
It’s okay and totally normal to be fearful of the unknown. It’s how we protect ourselves from danger. There was a time when those unknown things might literally jump out and eat us. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to worry so much about wild animals lurking about our creative work spaces but our fear is still on full attention. It’s there, ready to warn us of the next thing that might take us down, like showing our face in Instagram stories, or doing a Facebook live, Gah! Or…dare I say…sharing our work online for the first time. Unfortunately for us it’s often not the big scary things like lions, tigers and social media that end up taking us down. It’s fear. It has taken me down many times and although it’s easy to hide away with fear. It isn’t fun and it isn’t fulfilling.
When faced with fear it can be helpful to break down exactly what’s going on and tackle each of those things head on. For example, I’ve thought about teaching online for a few years now but kept brushing it off. When I took the time to think about it, I realized that I was actually terrified of filming myself. So I took an online video challenge and learned to get comfortable on camera in a safe and encouraging environment. I’m still not totally confident with being on video but I did make enough progress that I now feel comfortable enough to film a course. That was huge progress for me and I was able to get there by taking small, approachable steps.
I think, as creatives, a lot of us also fear judgement of our work. We put so much of ourselves into our work that it can become difficult to separate where we end and it begins. Yes, there might be the occasional troll, but in general it’s important to remember, that a critique on your work is not a critique on you as a person. It’s an opportunity for clarity and can help you get closer to your desired outcome. When it comes to art, having an open mind to critical thinking is a huge part of being able to grow and develop our skills. It’s a cornerstone of success in my opinion. Yes it can be scary to put ourselves and our work out into the world but showing vulnerability is incredibly resonating, it forms the biggest connections, and has the biggest impact on others as well as ourselves.
In order to grow we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. If we’re not feeling at least a bit of fear or discomfort, we’re probably not doing it right. When our bodies are preparing themselves to take on a challenge our hearts start pumping faster, our palms get sweaty, and we fill with adrenaline. Is it fear? Is it excitement? Maybe, it’s both. Either way we can channel the anxious energy, built up by fear, as excitement and motivation to help us do the work. We just need to decide if our dream or desired outcome is more important to us than our fear. If it is then it’s time to put fear in the back seat.
*I'm sharing these thoughts from my own experience in dealing with manageable levels of fear and anxiety. Anxiety comes in all forms and I am by no means a professional in that regard. If you are really struggling and find it difficult to move through day to day activities, asking for help from someone who can offer professionally trained guidance may just be one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Some of you might know that after finishing art school I worked at a local art supply store for several years. While there I learned A LOT about all of the various supplies out there. I still love talking about art supplies and will take every opportunity to do so. So in my attempt at a holiday gift guide of sorts I’ve compiled this list of supplies that I love and use most often. It's certainly not a comprehensive list (although I did get a bit carried away with the descriptions!) but hope you enjoy reading through and maybe you'll find something fun for your wishlist! Keep in mind that these are the tools that I’ve found work best for me. There are countless other tools out there that are just as wonderful and if you have anything you’d like to add to this list please share in the comments!
I’m linking to my favourite local art store where possible and I would encourage you to shop small and look for these products at your own favourite locally owned business.
Gouache is basically an opaque watercolour paint. I love working with it because it has a beautiful silky matte finish and it’s much more forgiving and easier to control than regular watercolour. Traditional gouache is water-soluble and you can re-wet it after it dries. So if you’re used to using watercolour and want to give gouache a try, a traditional water soluble gouache like Winsor & Newton would be a great way to dip your toe (or brush!) in. You can also use traditional gouache in combination with your existing watercolour paints which is handy, especially if you just want to start by incorporating a few colours here and there.
When I first started using gouache I was more comfortable with acrylic paint which remains solid once dry, allowing for layering without affecting the paint underneath, so I opted for acrylic gouache which has those same features. If you go this route, I’d recommend getting a Stay-Wet Palette as well. They’ll help prevent your paint from drying out in-between uses. I'll talk more about them below. Whichever your preference, I definitely recommending giving gouache a try. It may take a bit but once you get the hang of it I know you will love it!
For those who've been wondering how to pronounce this funny looking word, I've heard it said a few different ways, but the way I learned and have always known it to be is "Gwash", as in the word "wash" with a G sound in front.
Liquitex Acrylic Gouache
Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache (Water soluble)
I don’t use a ton of watercolour but I do have a few go-to favourites which I’ll share here. As with most paint, watercolour is available in both student and artist quality. The difference being the amount of extra “filler” to pigment ratio. The pigment being the expensive part . Student quality paint has a much higher amount of filler which makes it less expensive. It also means that the colours are less vibrant both on their own and even more so when mixed, so the end result is often not great. Many beginners give up after their first few attempts, mistakenly thinking that they just aren’t good at painting, when in fact it’s the low quality paint that is making things difficult. So, If you can, I would always recommend investing in artist quality paint when possible.
If you want to save some money with student quality paints there are a few things you can do. Winsor & Newton’s Cotman watercolours are a higher end student quality paint that is a great option. You can also mix things up by purchasing your whites, browns and other neutrals in student quality and splurge when you can on the more expensive bright colours which have a much higher pigment load and will go a lot further in use as well as more vibrant mixing.
Winsor & Newton Watercolour (Artist Quality)
Daniel Smith (Artist Quality) - Offers a huge variety of really interesting colours unique to this brand.
Holbein Watercolour (Artist Quality)
Cotman Watercolour (Student Quality)
While I’m pretty particular about paint, I’m not nearly as particular about brushes. Even old splayed brushes have their uses in creating beautiful texture. For Gouache I prefer using inexpensive mixed media brushes like Robert Simmons or synthetic watercolour brushes like W&N Cotman brushes because I find the gouache tends to be a bit harder on the brush and the sturdy synthetic fibre holds up better, I also don’t feel as bad about replacing them more often. For watercolour I’d recommend using a natural bristle brush because all of the little micro imperfections in the fibre allow the brush to hold much more water and release it slowly over time, meaning you’ll have better control without the constant re-dipping. The natural curve of the fibre also makes a point that’s perfect for fine details, even with a large brush.
Cotman Watercolour Brushes (Gouache or Watercolour)
Simply Simmons Mixed Media Brushes (Gouache)
H.J 170 Kolinsky Sable Brushes (Gouache or Watercolour) - Fine detailing
W&N Professional Watercolour Sable Brushes (Artist Quality, Watercolour)
Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolour Brushes (Artist Quality, Watercolour) - A major splurge but these brushes have been known to last a lifetime and beyond. They are the best of the best.
While the hot commodity in pencils these days is Blackwing, I’m not totally sold. They look great, but in my humble opinion they are basically just a regular 6B pencil in a nice outfit. I prefer my old Staedtler Pencils for sketching. That being said, I do like to throw a Blackwing into my photo’s every now and then for the pretty factor. I hope you have yourself a little laugh whenever you spot one in my photos from now on!
Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils
Staedtler Mars Micro Mechanical pencils
I also love using a dip pen for hand lettering. I have this set from Speedball
Speedball Sketching Project Set
Palettes and Accessories
Remember a bit ago when I said I love Acrylic gouache? The biggest complaint I hear from people against using it is that it dries too fast and therefore is a waste of paint. To that I say…Nonsense! You need a Stay-Wet Palette. I was first introduced to Say-Wet palettes when I used to take art lessons after school as a child. They would keep my precious acrylic paints dry all week long until my next lesson and I’ve been using them ever since. If you’re looking for something a little prettier, and dare I say Instagram worthy, then a beautiful ceramic plate is always great or if you want to splurge, Sugarhouse Ceramic Co. makes some very beautiful ceramic palettes and other studio supplies like painter’s pots and brush rests.
Masterson’s Sta-Wet Palette
Sugarhouse Ceramics Co
Paper and Sketchbooks
When choosing a paper for illustration I’m always thinking about what is going to scan well. I look for smooth bright white paper that is thick enough to hold up to wet media and isn’t too absorbent, which causes the paint to bleed into the fibres rather than sit nicely on top of the paper. Arches Hot press is beautiful to work with but I also really like using Strathmore Mixed media pads or Canson XL Watercolour Pads because they’re a bit more economical for the way that I work. For sketchbooks I love using Moleskin as well as Global Art Hand Book Artist Journals which are very similar but have thicker paper and are slightly less expensive than Moleskin.
Arches Hot Pressed Watercolour Paper
Strathmore 300 Series Mixed Media Pad
Canson XL watercolour pad
Global Art Hand Book Artist Journals
You made it to the end! Thank you for hanging in there. That is my list so far but it's just the tip of the Iceberg! In future posts I’ll be sharing more of my artsy favourites like all of my favourite digital supplies, books and online courses.
And be sure to comment below with you’re favourite supplies!
I’m so excited to share with you a sneak peak into my creative workflow. I’ll be sharing everything from how I come up with ideas to planning, sketching and creating a finished piece. Starting is the hardest part for me, but when I break my process down into steps it really helps to remove the overwhelm, and lets me get to the fun part, painting!
Firstly, I should say that this is the method that I’ve found works best for me. There are infinite ways to create artwork and this is only one. I work mainly with traditional media in an illustrative style so that’s what this process is geared towards. If you prefer to paint intuitively or work purely digitally then some of these methods might not be a perfect fit but you can always adjust them to suit your unique process. Take what works for you and leave the rest! So with that said let’s get to the nerdy good stuff…
Research involves, gathering ideas and inspiration. Taking inspiration from your daily life is an easy place to start. You never know when a great idea will pop into your head so be ready to write it down so you can reference it later. A little notebook works great for this but my favourite tool is the Notes app on my phone. I keep a running list of anything and everything. These don’t have to be flushed out ideas, just a word or two, and not everything will pan out but you might be surprised by what does make it into a finished piece!
Creating a mood board of colour and reference images can also help you create a beautiful finished product. You can create a physical inspiration board with magazine clippings, colour chips and and other objects or you can create a virtual board using Pinterest. Reference things like home decor, photography, vintage patterns or anything else that you find interesting, but try not to include artwork in a similar vein as your own. You want to come up with your own, original work and not be overly inspired by someone else's.
Planning ahead will help remove the overwhelm when starting a new piece of art. Once I’ve done my research and I know what my subject matter is, I like to spend a little bit of time experimenting in my sketchbook to get warmed up. You can play with sketching or painting some individual elements or jot down a few quick layout ideas that you have floating around in your head. Look for interesting shapes and details that you might want to feature or embellish later. Don’t think too hard just play and discover. No one is going to see this so just try anything and everything you can think of.
Next I usually move on to figuring out a basic layout by drawing some simple thumbnail sketches. I find it easier to do this ahead of time partially out of personal preference but also because, depending on what I’m working on I may have to send sketches to a client for approval before moving forward. They don’t have to be complicated, these are just rough layout suggestions to act as a guide or jumping off point. These are meant to be quick and rough so take the preciousness out of it by giving yourself a time limit of 4 thumbnails in 20 minutes. Make it 10 minutes if you’re up for a challenge! If you’re comfortable painting loosely, without a lot of structure then you can choose your favourite thumbnail and move on to paint from here but if you’re like me you might want to refine your chosen thumbnails into a slightly more flushed out sketch. Either method is just fine so do what feels best for you.
You can also plan out your colours in advance which is what I do. Check out my Free Guide to Creating Stand Out Colour Palettes, to learn all about how I choose my colours.
Now for the really fun part…
Of course you can tackle this step any way you’d like and if you have a way that works for you then go for it! There is no right or wrong way to create your final image, be it paint, collage, digital, etc., but here’s what I do because it works for me…
I like to build up my artwork in layers. This allows me to see and adjust the entire piece as I go and that helps with getting a well balanced look to the final artwork. I start by either lightly sketching or using a light table and then blocking in the basic shapes of my composition first. The idea is not to focus on just one area at a time and make it perfect, but to instead focus on the overall shapes you are creating and build up the detail evenly around the piece. Think of it in terms of writing an essay, you need to create your outline first and then refine and refine from there in order to end up with a cohesive finished product.
Side note - If I’m creating something that I know is going to end up as a digital file for licensing then I will usually break my composition up into icons so that it’s easier to edit and assemble on the computer, however I’ll still use this method of working in layers within each icon. Again, not necessary, just what works for me.
Finally, take your time. Give yourself a break. If you find yourself struggling, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away and come back with fresh eyes, and if after that you still feel the need to stop and and start again, that’s okay too. What might look effortless on Pinterest or Instagram probably had a lot of hard work and a good dose of frustration put into it. It’s totally normal and all part of the process.
Thank you so much for following along! I hope that you’re able to implement some of these strategies into your own workflow and I’d love to see what you create! Feel free to leave a comment below, tag me on Instagram or send me a message letting me know what you want to learn about next!
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