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5 things I've learned from Painting Intuitively

5 things I've learned from Painting Intuitively


I was talking with someone recently and she kept asking me a lot of questions about my studio practice and philosophies so I decided to write about what we talked about. Maybe it will strike a chord with fellow artists, or just let people into the mind of one artist I know, me.


Painting intuitively is the process of allowing each layer of paint to inform what comes next. It's about being present in the moment of creation in order to tap into a higher form of creativity that is not hindered by the restrictions of the mind. 

Here are five things I have learned over the years of painting intuitively and taking chances.

1.The bigger the risk, the bigger the payoff. The more I can push myself to try to do something I am not confident in, the more likely it is to be one of my breakthrough moments. You really have to be willing to make bad art. Maybe it’s just a run of a few bad pieces, and then one good one. But if you stick with the idea long enough, it will bite you and bite you and then one day turn around and kiss you and you’ll be in love! This has happened to me so many times.

It has also happened that I gave up early on an idea, and then it was just biting biting biting, and then...well, and then that was it. The end. Opportunity missed. But none of it is wasted time.  If you're truly following the muse you have to be willing to be taken down the rabbit hole. You have to be willing to get lost. You never know where the knowledge gained by experimentation will reappear in your work. It could become the secret sauce you mix into your paints.

2. Never try to do something you don’t feel. It won’t work. It will be a royal waste of time. Not just your time, everybody’s time. If you’re not 1000% invested in it, why should any viewer be? Art can really carry the intention of the artist more than most things. People can feel the intention centuries later. Just go to any museum and see what has stood the test of time. There is some kind of mojo to it, no matter what time period, no matter what medium, subject, etc. It is there because it has stood the test of time. Why? Because the artists intention was communicated. Be sure to spend time cultivating a strong intention either beforehand or during your creative time. I try to carry that hidden goal with me so far deep inside that I forget its there. The goal that I want my art to stand the test of time.  

Usually if you find yourself half hearted about what you're in the middle of making it is because you have mentally talked yourself into it. Don't do that. Abandon ship! Just bounce over to a project that you're excited about. Or just take a break to play with paint. Do whatever it takes to keep inspired about what you're doing.  Even if it's a struggle, it can be labeled as a struggle that you're inspired about!

3. If people don’t get it, who cares? Let it go. It is not your job to hold people by the chin to look at your art while you mansplain it. Or artistsplain it. Or whatever.  And anyway if you have to explain the art, then the art is not doing it’s job. Art’s job is to communicate something without words. So do that instead. Work on that. There is nothing worse than an insecure artist going around, seeking approval. Ew. Icky. (By the way, that was totally me early on, and probably still is, I don’t know you tell me, what do you think?) Ahahaha. 

I vacillate between wanting to communicate to the masses and wanting to be authentic and just do what I see, not worrying about the communicating part.  There is a fine line between the two, and that is where I've decided to put my energy these days. I stand up close to the canvas, being as free and authentic as my mind lets me, then I walk backwards and look at the painting, imagining how others would see it, or how it communicates something. Actual proximity to the image being created is as powerful as fluctuations in mindset. 

4. It’s fine to sit at the easel, blank canvas in front of you and just start in with whatever color speaks to you, see where it leads you, start with no idea at all, experiment, just go with the flow all hippy like. It’s ALSO fine to plan ahead and make a lovely strategy to get the end result. Both ways are fine. It's called the artist's prerogative!

Did you know that I once made a painting that never dried? Turns out if you’re going to use complicated mediums and oil paint, you actually do need to know what you’re scientifically doing. There are good things about jumping right in, rushing to the gushing paint... but there are also good things about slowly and methodically working. I used to pride myself in not planning ahead. I was highly influenced by a book I read in high school about the creative process called "Life, Paint and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression" by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley. I was convinced that process was more important than product. I still hold a lot of value in that, but I also counter that philosophy with wanting to create something that I will value as an end result. 

5. Painting intuitively is vulnerable and that can be scary. That just goes with the turf. Just get used to it and move on. Don't let it stink with an overthink. It's like an inexperienced babysitter changing a dirty diaper.  If you're not used to it, you will resist and cringe and it will take 3 times as long and you will take an hour to get over what just happened. Then you will tell people what you did and expect them to sympathize but they don't care. You're boring.

So you want to paint intuitively? Then do it. Be vulnerable and make some bad art, spend some time messing around, getting to know your strengths and weaknesses. The only thing that is interesting about it is what you learned, how you developed and maybe, just maybe, something visually interesting will come about from the whole thing.



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  • Rose

    This blog really spoke to me. I have a hard time trusting myself as an artist and letting the art come through me. It’s funny; I do many things that classify as artistic, dance, paint, quilt, but I never let go in any of them. Your blog was inspirational.

  • Todd Clemmer

    Wow! What a great read. Really enjoyed it. I was able to apply it to my life as a musician. I think everyone can apply it to their life as a human being which is why this was such a great share. Thank you. Miss you

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