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The Artist Diaries: The Value of Learning

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

Your Ultimate Guide to Becoming the Best Artist You Can Be

Everything You Need to Know


I've been putting myself out there for a little over a year now. I feel there is a lot I can share as I learn and grow in my art career because although I am nowhere near my end goal, I have learned so many good things that need to be shared. It is called "The Artist Diaries" because I am sharing things personal to me and my journey, to better help artists, like myself, grow.


"The Girl in the White Dress; Missing Her Abstinence" On the left is my first attempt in 2019, and on the right is my last attempt in 2022.


Pursuing something in the creative field is hard. As social media grows the field becomes more saturated, and honestly, the opportunities presented are minimal. On top of that the "Artist-How-To" resources available either cost money or just share general tips. It can be discouraging to only see people at a successful point, without really having an idea of how to get there. Especially because, usually, those resources only give tips from the already successful perspective without really explaining how to get there and the trials and tribulations in the process. That's why I decided to make a blog with helpful tips, thoughts, and experiences.


I am an artist, still learning, but growing nonetheless. I hope to help other artists and creatives with their journey, by sharing mine.


Some Quick Links to Learning


 

The Value of Learning


In my experience, I didn't start making art that would make people stop and stare until I humbled myself, and began learning. I was such a know-it-all, taking so much pride in being "self-taught." No one could critique me (not even my teachers) and no one could give me criticism. I thought I knew best, because, well it's my art. The result of that was creating pieces with non-proportionate limbs and weak compositions. But I'm not here to necessarily talk about the ins and outs of technique, more so about the importance of it.


Which inspired me to really talk about why I value learning so much.


A Master is Always a Student First


I learn best from visuals, so for this portion, I am going to walk you through my growing process, through one of my first self-portraits.

First, to give you a better understanding of what I was trying to emulate, I wanted to show my references. My paintings were always pictures that popped into my mind, then I would recreate them with my body and things around my room. This was something I took pride in, which is why I didn't listen to critique. I felt my storytelling was enough.

I remember thinking my idea was amazing. It pertained to how I felt about losing my virginity, and why I did it. To feel alive, to feel wanted, to feel whole. But it left me feeling empty, dead inside, and unwanted. I was grieving the loss of my best friend, I felt alone in my friendships, and my self-image was tainted. Overall, I wanted this piece to tell the tale of how I was pretending all of that wasn't happening in my heart and mind, as I continued to smile, laugh, and act like things were good.

My first attempt took hours upon hours to finish. I remember feeling like I had made my first masterpiece, I couldn't wait to present this to my art class for critique. I really believed there was nothing wrong with it.


Let me tell you, my art teacher tore this painting up, respectfully. She told me my proportions were off, my blending felt rushed, and the piece felt "storm-like." She told me I wasn't "looking" and that I was making up details. She also asked why there weren't shadows, the figure didn't stand out amongst the background, where were the color values, and why the face looked confused... The critiques were endless.


I was so defensive. I said my inability to depict realistic proportions was on purpose and had nothing to do with my abilities (a lie). I said my blending was a little wild, on purpose (another lie). I also said that the windy storm-like vibe was intentional (again... another lie). The other things I couldn't make up defenses for.

I brought this one to class a week later, she said "Better, not perfect but better."


She asked me why the fabric between the legs was brown, and that the proportions were still off but the blending was better.


I felt like "How dare she? I'm the best in this class. How is this not perfect for her? I even fixed it! Everyone thinks this piece is amazing! She must be a hater." (She wasn't a hater she literally had my best interest).


So I said screw her opinion, and I left it untouched for a year.

With a fresh set of eyes, I added more details to the sheets, the frame, the mask, and the dress. I let what my teacher said be a frame of reference for how to improve.


Of course, coming to that took some inner work as well. Being open to critique and coming back to an old piece of work is hard to do. It almost mirrors becoming accountable, and ironically enough that's what I was beginning to do in my everyday life.


Her critiques echoed through my mind allowing me to attain a greater understanding of the importance of technical skill. Although I had a long way to go, my work was improving.

I remember I did this during the pandemic. I thought to myself, there's no way she can critique this one. There's just no way at all...


I even dug up her number in my phone to show her and "ask" her to critique. I thought she would say "Wow! I have no critiques" (she did not say that).


She told me the face was still a bit off, and the position of the frame was awkward.


The frame positioning critique was important because I remember she taught us about how tension was really important in our compositions. How there was good tension and bad tension. My subject's head and the frame was an example of bad tension.


If you can tell, I always ignored that "tension" advice she gave us. I didn't think art took all that. All the formulas, all the color theory, the compositional details. I thought art was only about what I felt like doing.


My belief in the disciplinary practices of art was limited to my strengths which were shading, storytelling, and above-average realism.


And that right there was my problem.


I did not take art seriously enough, to truly master what I was doing. I thought my passion and "talent" was enough to carry me. And that is a lot of artists' problems.


We don't take it seriously, and expect a serious career.

Now, with this one, I took heed to all her advice, past and present. I even took a step back and added/ took away things on my own.


I remember sending this one to her, kind of nervous. I remember her saying something like "Wow... That's it."


And in that moment, I truly understood why learning and taking heed to critique and suggestion, was so necessary in not just my artistic growth, but my personal growth as well.


With a compilation of my old art teacher's critiques, my ability to critique my own work, my willingness to learn, and the techniques from some YouTube videos, I made this piece that you all know as my first piece to get into a gallery.



Let Your Work Grow With You Instead of Against You


I remember hearing a pastor say "Dying in the flesh is a daily process," that we don't just get baptized and that's it.


I feel that notion can be applied to anything. That growth, learning, and unlearning is something we do every day. It doesn't just stop at a certain point.


With art and in life, our learning doesn't just stop at one YouTube video or one book. It doesn't just stop at our comfort level. It takes a level of discomfort, to hear things we don't want to hear and to exceed what we believe is our peak to truly learn.


Lastly, I hope you don't take this story too literally and think "This story doesn't apply to me." This journey I went on, of accountability and honing my skills is just meant to inspire you to do the same in your own life. Whether you are a painter, writer, filmmaker, or even financial guru. I hope that in this story, you can truly understand the value of learning.


Thank you for reading.



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