Strategies for Finding “That Thing That is Your Own” Part 1

Sometimes we paint the way we do simply because that’s the way we were taught. We take classes and workshops and often we’re so busy learning other artists’ rules, techniques, color and composition tastes, etc. that we miss the whole point. It’s not about finding techniques, rules, and formulas. It’s about using your chosen medium, your skills, and the elements and principles of design to express what Georgia O’Keeffe called “that thing that is my own’.

Finding “that thing that is your own” involves making conscious choices about what to pursue and what to eliminate, both in your thinking and in your work.

Here are 9 Things to Eliminate:

1. Listening to everybody else.

Become internally rather than externally motivated by choosing to be the central creative force in your life. Make a decision to stop looking to everyone else for answers to what your art is or should be. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to become the artist you want to be.

2. Subjects you don’t love.

Paint only those subjects that attract you or call to you in some way. You don’t need to know or explain why they attract or call to you. What matters is simply that they matter to you. Period.

3. Mediums and techniques you don’t love or that don’t work with your personality and what you want to say with your work.

Don’t choose a medium simply because it’s popular or because all of your art buddies use it. And, don’t choose a medium or techniques just because your first art instructors happened to teach that medium or those techniques. 

4. All critical and judgmental thinking.

Work hard at leaving your VOJ (voice of judgment – see my previous posts on the VOJ) behind when you walk into your studio. Paint without judging. Stop painting often, put your work up, stand a distance away from it and simply ask yourself, “How can I improve it?”

5. Searching for “the right way” to paint.

There’s only one “right” way to paint, your way.

6. The fear of the unknown.

Encounters with the unknown are what creative painting is all about. Therefore, they are a necessary part of the creative process. Rather than avoid the unknown, find fun ways to break out of the box and face the unknown. In order to grow as an artist it’s necessary to take risks and get out of your comfort zone.

7. The fear of failure.

Remind the part of you that fears failure that Thomas Alva Edison perceived failure in this way: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” As it is with the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure is a necessary part of the creative process. Embrace it. Work with it.

8. Abandoning works in progress.

Commit to finishing all your paintings. Stopping when things go awry is stopping in the wrong place. When things go awry, that means that you have created problems in your painting that need to be solved. This is not the time to abandon ship and start another painting. Stay the course and solve the problems. Solving the problems that you’ve created in your painting means that you will have to engage your creativity to come up with the solutions. Often, that’s when the process of putting together a painting really begins.

9. Settling.
Never settle for anything less than a painting that you love.
Happy Painting!

4 thoughts on “Strategies for Finding “That Thing That is Your Own” Part 1

  1. Terri Rea

    As always, beautifully written and inspiring. Thanks, Donna! this one especially spoke to me!!!

  2. Barb Bausch

    Donna, I needed this! I’m running it off and hanging it in my art studio. I’ll try to stop in and see you during your week in Maine. Many hugs! Barb

  3. Melissa

    My friend passed along your recent posts… I’m glad she did! This post in particular is helpful to so many creative pursuits. Thank you for taking the time to think through and articulate these strategies.

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