Monday Motivator: The Attainable in Art is Technique

“It is only the amateur who expects success. It is not possible to succeed. The mastery of one’s means is technique, and this can be attained, but the exhaustive expression of the inexhaustible suggestion of nature can never be attained.

“Yet we may form a sort of grammar of standards by which we may judge the coherency with which the language of art is spoken. I know no other way of judging a picture than by three rules or qualities–the originality of the conception based on the possibilities of that subject, the sense of beauty, the technical achievement.”

Maria Oakey Dewing, “Flower Painters and What the Flower Offers to Art” in Art and Progress Vol. 6, No. 8 (Jun., 1915), pp. 255-262

Note to self: it wasn’t a dud flower painting, it was but another step in the “exhaustive expression of the inexhaustible suggestion of nature”.

If you’re striving for the unattainable, then what you judge to be unsuccessful results aren’t failures because you weren’t supposed to be able to do it anyway.

Monday Motivator: Pick a Line, Any Line

“Thinking you have no talent can be a self-fufilling prophecy. …

A positive attitude accelerates your development as a creative artist. … Emphasize the joy of creating, rather than the achievement of results. … Skills build confidence, so work to improve your drawing and refine your painting techniques …

While you’re working, notice the good things you’ve done — don’t dwell on mistakes. Set achievable goals: a confident line, effective use of values, interesting shapes.”

Nita Leland, “The Creative Artist”, page 7

I know not to do it, yet I still do it on occasion. That back-and-forth motion with a pencil when drawing a line in the (mistaken) belief it’ll magically become a better line if I have numerous goes at it rather than putting it down in one swipe across the paper. I call it a “hedge-your-bets line”, where making a decision about what will be the “right” line feels impossible, so you create a variety of possibilities.

Saying you ought to draw a confident or decisive line when you lack confidence in your drawing doesn’t help. What if instead we go with “pick a line, any line, and draw in in one go from a starting point to an end point and then see what it turns out like”. Any line progresses a drawing. It may not end up as you’d envisaged but it may equally end up beyond what you’d thought you could do.

Drawing with pencil invites indecisiveness because you can reach for an eraser after any and every line. Drawing with pen has the advantage that you have to keep going, responding to what you’ve put down on the paper whether you like it or not. Drawing with watersoluble ink or watercolour pencils might be the comfort zone you’re looking for because you can ‘dissolve’ lines with a brush afterwards.

Monday Motivator: Landscapes We Carry

Monday Motivator quote

“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with.”

Joan Mitchell, letter written in 1958
(in John I.H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to  Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, via David Zimmer)

Remembered from a single occasion.
Remembered from multiple occasions.
Remembered from visits years apart and remembered from frequent visits.
Remembered by telling someone else.
Remembered through listening to someone else’s remembering.

The layers of memory as layers in a painting.
Each memory in a different medium? A different type of mark?

Monday Motivator: The Three P’s of Painting

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote“…there are three qualities you need to develop as a painter:  patience, persistence, and passion.

“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.”

Suzanne Brooker, “The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, page 195

The Three P’s of Painting: Patience, Persistence, Passion

Passion, enthuasiasm, desire … perhaps the easiest to have in abundance.

Persistence, endurance, determination … it’s a long-distance event not a sprint. Pace yourself.

Patience … the hardest as we expect to learn in less time than is reaistic. Think about how many years it took you to learn to read and write, how we start one letter at a time not with five-syllable words such as phthalocyanine (aka phthalo, as in the blue).

Monday Motivator: Make Some Genuinely Bad Stuff

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

Monday Motivator

“… if in the process of doing [creative exercises] you don’t make at least one thing that you’re too embarrassed to show anyone, then you’re probably doing it wrong. As hard as it can be, the goal is to let go and let things flow. You’re likely to make some genuinely bad stuff along the way, but I’d wager that the benefits will end up outweighing all that.”

Steven Belledin, ‘Exercise Those Chops‘ on Muddy Colors

Your “bad stuff” may not be someone else’s idea of “bad”.

Your “bad stuff” today may be better than your “good stuff” from a few years ago.

Don’t focus on comparison but on personal exploration, discovery, development. Focus less on and care less about outcome than process.

At worst you’ll end up with a ruin.

Monday Motivator: Find Concentration Through Dissatisfaction

Monday motivator art quotes

Monday motivator art quotes

” Concentration is so hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain for hours. The key for me is to solve one set of problems at a time. I try to maintain a constructive level of dissatisfaction, and to hang in there until I really feel it can’t be improved.”

James Gurney, Your Questions about Painting

Note his words “constructive level”. None of that sweeping “it’s all rubbish” defeatist thinking.

Flavour what you’re doing with both spice and sugar, pessimism and optimism, not-yet-achieved and achieved.

Monday Motivator: A Drawing is Fundamentally Improvisatory

…when you’re drawing, the pencil is responding to what is going on just around it. When you’re doing a drawing, at any moment the pencil is at one particular point on the paper and you’re thinking: ‘where am I going to go next?’

…A drawing is fundamentally improvisatory, in the sense that one is continually finding a way forward in response to what is going on around.

Tim Ingold, “Lines, Drawings, the Human Condition“, Drawing Matter, 13 October 2021

A drawing is a series of decisions and practice is what makes these decisions instinctive. As you learn to know what will happen when you do something, and what to do in order to get a particular result, you think less about how to do it and simply get on with the doing thereof.

Every drawing starts with deciding what pencil to use. The choice of how soft or hard the lead in that pencil is, which in turn in a decision made when you acquired it. Sometimes it seems the decision is made for you in that you can find only one pencil, but this is based in the decision about where you keep your pencils.

Will you sharpen the point or use it as it is? How are you holding the pencil? As you would for writing or gripping it like a DIY brush for painting a wall. Right at the point or a bit further back? How hard will you press the pencil against the paper?

Things you are consciously thinking about in your drawing at the moment can become as instinctive as these fundamental choices. There is no short cut, just practice, over time, until the decision making becomes so fast you don’t truly realise you are making decisions.

Monsieur P big pencil

Monday Motivator: Heading into Murky Territory When Colour Mixing

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“By adding two primaries together we end up with the secondary colours: red and blue make purple, blue and yellow make green, yellow and red create orange. The addition of more colours creates tertiary colours, but every time more colours are added, the purity of colour drops until eventually we end up with browns and greys.

David Coles, “Chromatopia”, page 1

I added the bold to the quote. Purity isn’t a word I use when thinking about colour mixing, but it is key.

Keeping the number of pigments in a mixed colour to the minimum. keeps the result further away from an unintentional murky mess. This includes ‘hidden’ pigments in tube colours that are a mixture, such as an orange that is a red and yellow mix rather than a single orange pigment. The name won’t tell you; it’s in the small print on the side of the tube label or a manufacturer’s colour chart (and on the product info of some art materials shop websites).

For instance, looking at Golden Heavy Body Acrylics, the Cobalt Teal might be the colour you’re after but when you look at the price you realise it’s a Series 7 colour, gulp, so you might decide to go with the Teal instead or perhaps the Light Turquoise (Phthalo), because they’re fairly close in colour . But whereas Cobalt Teal contains contains only PG50 (a green pigment), these contain PW6, PB15:4, PG7 (white, blue and green) and PB15:4, PW6, PG7 respectively (blue, white, green).

Mixed tube colours aren’t inferior, they’re just mixtures. This becomes relevant when you’re then mixing colours using these as you’re mixing with mixtures and so have more ingredients (pigments) than you might realise. Knowing what’s in the tube when you’re colour mixing is one of the keys to not inadvertently end up at greys and browns.

Exploring Colour Mixing

Monday Motivator: Our Sense of Curiosity

In teaching creativity, I often have to remind students to play, or at least give them the permission to do so. This is why I ask students to make 100 sketches on one idea. This process forces them to plow through all of the logical, usual answers to get to the good stuff. It frees them up to make mistakes … helps students become adept at generating ideas faster and unlocks a wealth of possibilities. … New and innovative work comes from the unexpected places, not the “right” answer, and it’s our childlike sense of wonder, curiosity, and play that makes it possible.

James Victore, “Feck Perfuction”, Chapter One:07

Stop worrying about ‘wasting’ your art supplies by doing lots of painting without intending for it to be a perfect piece, doing it merely to see where it takes you. Art supplies are not helping your painting develop if they’re sitting on the shelf being saved for a special painting. Be generous towards yourself. Those paints we bought two, three, five, 10 years ago? Time we used them. Sure, replacing them will be more expensive than when you bought them, but hoarding them doesn’t benefit your creativity. Paint with them, play with them, mix and explore to see which colours you enjoy the most. Replace your favourites.

Got a colour you no longer use? It might be a friend’s favourite. Swap it for something. The colours no-one wants, mix them all together and spend some time playing in the colour world of browns and greys.

Painting of a paint tube by Marion Boddy-Evans

Monday Motivator: The Creative Process is Not Linear

“When teaching the creative process, it’s important to stress that the process is ongoing … Students often think once they have completed … it’s time to toss it to the side and move on to the next.

“Instead … the process is cyclical as it continues by thinking about how we will apply what we have learned from the previous artwork to the planning and creating of our next artwork. … the steps are not linear

“… sketching is only one way to plan. Artists plan by sketching, documenting, collecting, researching, thinking, journaling, listening, experimenting, and so on.”

Janet Taylor, “How to Use the Creative Process to Support Online Learning


I don’t sit in front of my paintings and write notes about every millimetre, every brushstroke, every hard or soft edge, every colour mixture. I think about what works for me and what doesn’t, what I’d like to do again, what I might change, what I could have still done, and what annoys me.

I like to stick a newly finished painting or plein-air piece up somewhere and let it live there for a while so I see it in various lights and moods. I’ve learnt that what I like/dislike doesn’t always remain the same. Some paintings grow on me, and sometimes I fall out of love with a painting.

Below is a pleinair seascape painting that has grown on me over the past few weeks, as I’ve forgotten the irritation of leaving my brushes behind and really wanting a rigger brush to add some white to the edge of the sea. I had a one-inch silicone paint spreader and a plastic pipette.

Mixed media (coloured pencil and acrylics) on A3-size sheet of 360gsm watercolour paper

I got a surprisingly decent result with the white acrylic ink using a grassy seadhead, but it wasn’t as I’d envisaged (i.e. a technique I’ve used before with pleasing results).

Rather than fuss and struggle with it, I stopped painting after this layer of acrylic white ink, and sat in the sunshine watching the waves.

Looking at it now, I like the composition with rocks on one side only, which isn’t something I’ve done before though I’ve admired in other people’s paintings. And the white on the sea is okay really.