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Charting Your Artistic Growth

Most artists tend to think their latest painting is their best ever. I know I certainly do! This is where other artists can be crucial to our growth.

"Summer Heat" Pastel 18x24 Ampersand Pastelbord available at Woodfield Fine Art, St. Pete, FL

When you take a class, or paint with a group, you influence each other. New artists learn from more experienced ones, without even saying a word to each other. Just seeing how another artist approaches the same subject has a big impact on how we paint.

It's easier to see where someone else was successful in their work, or see their growth. Much harder to notice your own growth. We are used to comparing ourselves to others (and usually unfavorably!) This is very harmful and unfair. Instead, always compare yourself to yourself, as each artist grows at different rates.

"Summer Heat II" Study 2020 Private Collection of Andrea Harms

I have a few colleagues out there that I consider my "benchmarks" which means I feel we are at similar levels in our careers and artistic development. I watch them (surreptitiously mostly) and keep an eye on their progress. I applaud every little gain, win, or award they receive as their success is my success, because it shows me its possible. Some of them return the favor.

Having benchmarks is a way of charting my growth. I watch other artist's prices (keeping mine in the middle range), I watch other artist's framing choices, events they enter (and hopefully win) and they give me hope, as I witness their growth, and mine at the same time. Some of these artists are friends, and are aware of me, others have no idea that I think so highly of them.

Some of my friends have achieved great success, above and beyond anything I have, and I watched this happen. I do not begrudge them their success in anyway as I know they have worked hard to get to where they are, just as I have (and anyone else who is successful!) so try not to be envious, but instead be inquisitive. What are they doing differently? Where can I improve my game? How can I be better at ______?

I meet monthly with an informal "masterminds" group to answer some of those questions. We are all professionals, and give each other high-level feedback and encouragement on our work and career choices. This kind of peer review is crucial to an artist because success happens in clusters. This is a very small "inner circle" of high-achieving artists that I feel fortunate to be included in.

Then there is my best (female) friend who is my staunchest supporter. She picks me up and dusts me off when life knocks me down. Its good to have a "believing mirror" or person who truly understands and believes in your dream, and will help you along through it.

I also chart my growth by repeating the same motif or painting periodically. I love the image of these colorful palms. I painted the one on top several years ago, the one in the middle was 2020 during quarantine, then this one is from my Painting Palm Trees class this week.

"Summer Heat III" 2021 Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord 12x16 available

When I compare my three works, there's strengths and weaknesses in each. I love the looseness I see in the last version and think my color choice is more mature and natural. I'm usually like a kid in a candy store when it comes to color.

Sometimes, I try the same image in a different medium. I do this quite often, usually in acrylic or oil. This helps me to look at the same image a different way. It makes me think differently about it and explore other techniques. When you open new neural pathways, it expands your mind in more ways than just painting. It helps you think outside the box.

"Summer Heat 4" Acrylic on canvas 12x16 study (available)

When possible, take these repeat works and lay them out together, side-by-side. Compare where you have improved your skills over time and the direction you are going...where you can improve more. This is an honest self-appraisal not flagellation.

If you have a different set of benchmarks I'd love to hear about them. Please post to this blog any benchmarks you have come up with.

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2 comentarios

Thank you so much for sharing this blog, Shawn. I am a novice pastelist and have recently begun to chart my growth by comparing photos of my painting.

The sandpipers "before" were painted in October 2020 in your Abstracting from a Photo Class. The sandpipers "after" were painted this past March 2021 in the Color Theory Class!

In 5 months of classes and practice, I think I see some important changes.

  • More finesse with the pastel chalk itself

  • A little more attention to detail

  • A better eye for values

  • Better use of colors

  • The selection of the right side (tooth) of the paper for the subject I'm painting

  • Better perspective in the surf and sand

Doing this has helped me…

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Thanks for sharing this Vivian...luv your display and comparison of your two paintings! I too can see more details in the 2nd painting but I think I like your waves more in the 1st painting! Awesome work! 😃

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