a watercolor painting of a landscape showing a property line of trees

Comparing Your Art Skills to Other Artists

A direct message on Instagram from another artist about being a beginner got me thinking. Just starting out in the art world today makes it easy to compare our creative efforts to alllllll the other artists on social media, right?

Do you feel overwhelmed scrolling through other artists’ work that’s so much farther ahead of your skills? Even if you’re only using Instagram, I bet you’ve seen mind-boggling watercolor painters.

Fawning at beautiful, realized work that has been honed by years of practice can be an inspiration, or a bummer. Especially if your observations are tinted by comparisons.

A beginner looking at a seasoned painter or printmaker only sees the “now” – the highlight reel of what an advanced artist has accomplished.

Beautiful paintings don’t always reveal the time machine of years invested. It’s easier to overlook that hint, and just wish to be that talented. Every brush stroke and design accomplishment has thousands of hours of practice under it. While gazing at gorgeous printmaking, or watercolor, don’t forget to consider the pounds in the recycling bin of crumpled and tossed art failures.

A watercolor painting of the girl's school Alverno in Altadena, California
Study for Alverno 7×5 inch watercolor on paper (sold)

The Danger in Comparisons

If I start the day with email and posting imagery on social media, I get sucked into the vortex of looking at what other people are making. 

Our monkey brains are wired to be curious about our brethren. I mutter to myself while scrolling through instagram that I’m filling the kettle with inspiration. 

But really, I’m just burning through studio time by peering at other artist’s conviction to their creativity. 

Seeking inspiration can turn into comparisons, and lead to the Perfectionist Trap. Watch the video below.

Be Deliberate in Your Pursuit of Fine Art – How You’ll Get There

If looking at amazing art makes you feel discouraged – like “How am I ever going to get there?” This is for you…

  • You’re going to get there by looking at beautiful work by artists who are years ahead of you on their journey. Their vision and hard earned skills will provide the lighthouse you’ll navigate your art ship towards. Those amazing artists are your navigational beacons, not your competition.
  • Seek out and become acquainted with artists who are more advanced than you, so you have a seasoned community to ask art related questions. These friendships will also provide you with real time verification that amazing artists are human, and have moments of insecurity and doubt, just like you.
  • Make art friends who are at the same pre-entry level to the art world as you. Art peers. Exchange ideas, share artists who inspire you, discuss art supplies, exposure, pricing, Etsy Shops, etc. Gather once a month on zoom to discuss your goals. And make plans to attend art conferences, and artsy events together. Remind each other: Attitude is Free. Swap yours out frequently.


A watercolor painting of the Nass of shipyard in San Diego, California
The NASSCO Shipyard in San Diego (watercolor on paper)

Beginner Mindset Tips, continued….

  • Attend art openings and museum shows featuring creative work that moves you. Those exhibits will remind you that it’s worth taking the time to practice. Every time you see a painting or a print by an artist who’s history becomes known to you, it will confirm to your fledgling artist’s brain that they busted their butts to get good. And you’ll go home and decide to make art for 45 minutes, instead of emptying the dishwasher.
  • Prioritize friendships with people who encourage your art, because they know how important it is to you. Let them know, gently but firmly, that encouragement is the nourishment you need, rather than expectation or pressure. Because you already excel at expectation and pressure. It’s the gentle stuff you need help with.
  • When you see art that is so glorious in its execution that it makes you weep, choose to be grateful rather than sad to see it. Decide to let the beauty by someone else’s hands broadcast like an atomizer onto your dried creativity. Soak in all the hints, and tips, and brush strokes, and colors that artist left for you to absorb. Art is a gift of inspiration that perpetuates beauty to the beholder over and over again. Try hard not to use it as a battering club of comparison.
  • Other artists’ amazing work will renew your conviction to simply try harder to improve from what you did last month, rather than aiming for and crumbling under your own pressure to make a masterpiece. Baby steps will get you there. But you gotta move your feet.
Painting a portrait of my grandcat Jack, the most mischievous and willfully adorable feline I know.

Beginner Artist Mindset Round Up

Kids are better beginners than adults, hands down. In this article from Might Could Studio, you can review a few tips and tricks about being an art beginner from the experts – kids!

Anya Kuvarzina is an illustrator who also teaches illustration. In this article, she encourages you to trick your mind into drawing better with a few simple parameters.

Over at Most Craft, Camille Severino has assembled a list of tips to help you improve your art with some daily prompts and an infographic. Check it out here.

Peruse this list of nine different creativity and art-making mindset books to help you up your game. Everyone should have a solid art library of reference books to lead you up and out of a slump, right?

Just because we’re still hunkering down, that doesn’t mean you can’t get your art out there, my friend. Here are five alternatives to getting your art exhibited – in front of people – during a pandemic.

An artist painting in the San Juan Capistrano mission
Painting the Garden in the Mission at San Juan Capistrano (colored pencil)

Making Art Plans

As the seasons change, and the calendar fills with obligations, I’m blocking out time when I’m *not* available for anything other than art. I recently spent an entire day pulling a linocut edition, and it was glorious. I even forgot to eat! It was that fun. When is the last time you reserved an hour to draw or sketch or paint?

I hope you’ll consider being the good steward of your art-making time, and reserve a little space on the calendar for just that. Make art with a friend via Zoom if it helps you stay accountable to that hour. Even if all you do is watercolor swatches, to play with your pigments, it will have been time well spent.

Happy painting to you, and I’ll see you in the next post!

Belinda

P.S. One more goodie: a video survey of the types and styles of watercolor paint brushes. Watch it here.

A watercolor painting of pears lined up on a windowsill, with a bird figurine standing at the end of the row
The New Kid – Watercolor on paper

Art Quote

The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.

Stephen McCranie
a greyhound dog resting on a carpet with a leopard skin collar and a speech bubble asking if you wish you had more time for art
Visit BelindaTips.com to sign up for a free video course….
a monotype ghost print with colored pencil added to enhance details of a woman floating in water with her eyes closed

Seven Questions to Help You Roll Past Creative Block

Yield: Progress
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Stagnant creativity feels like a heavy fog pill slipped into your coffee when you weren’t looking. How do you get past Creative Block?

You want to make things. But there’s an invisible sludge haze blocking creative idea generation, inspiration and motivation to get something started. <---Started is the key word.

If you feel like your creativity is blocked, and inspiration eludes you, try this exercise. Sometimes, you just need a hand to hold on the Start part of making art....

Instructions

  1. Secure 30 minutes, a pen, a note pad, and some quiet time. Sit in a favorite chair, in a sunny spot in a quiet corner. If home is too chaotic, go to a coffee shop and sit in a sunshiny spot. In either case, if it helps, use earbuds or headphones, and listen to instrumental (no words) music. Fill in the blanks below…
  2. If I were the King/Queen of the world, and I could sweep a magic wand to clear time and space to create a beautiful piece of art, I’d work in (fill in your medium: oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, graphite)._____________________________.tin watercolor palette
  3. I could make something abstract, or impressionistic, or representational – and since I have a magic skill wand, I think I’ll choose _________________________________.watercolor-sketching-landscape
  4. Since I’m in charge, when I think about size and format, I’d like to make something (small, medium large, huge)__________________________, and in a (horizontal, vertical, square)___________________________ format.using a magnifier light to paint tiny details of a face in profile
  5. I’ve got a hankering to work on (paper, yupo, aquabord, canvas, panel, gesso’d paper)_____________________________________.three hahnemuhle paper blocks
  6. I’m imagining colors that appeal to me right now, in this season of my life, so I’ll focus on a prominence of these three colors, with supporting hues around them: ______________________________________________________.watercolor test swatches for wet in wet painting experiments
  7. I know I can choose any subject that appeals to me, like figurative, portrait, still life, landscape, city scene, interiors, sky/cloudscapes, animals, ocean/shorelines and genre scenes. So, right this second, I feel like painting a __________________________________, with elements of __________________ and ____________________ included.shading a graphite drawing of roses and a bowl of apples
  8. Now, flip open to a fresh page on your notepad, and stomp on that creative block by doodling some layouts, angles, and compositions (no details, see below) that might fill the format of your paper or canvas.9 tiny pencil sketches of still life flowers and fruit arranged in different compositions

Notes

Feel free to print this, and alter the questions or add new ones that fit your style. Think about times when your art-making was more active, and jot down elements from that time (positive, encouraging) that you can visualize and pre-plan to help you get past the hump of stuckness.

You aren't alone in this. Every artist in history has felt creative block at one time or another, so we are all rooting for you. Set some time aside, and slay it. You've got this.

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10 thoughts on “Beginner Artist Mindset Tips”

  1. Dear Belinda, Thank you for this beautiful, inspiring blogpost. It is so true. Can’t say I am a beginner anymore. But in a way. Aren’t all those who create aon a never ending trip to…I don’t know..the promissed land. Forever learning, forever yearning, forever humbled by our own limites of this moment. But still eager to press on? I would advice everybody to take pleasure in the work you make right now, not what you see in your mind’s eye and doesn’t come out the way you plan. As someone once said…the painting will tell you what it wants. Let your brain take a backseat and just play. Everything is just a sketch after all…. Or so I try to trick my brain and my heart into believing…:) Thank you for your clear teachings in art and in (art)life. You are one of my beacons.

    1. Dear Bojoura, Thank you very much for your visit, and your lovely note. I agree with your advice to ride the process, and try to ignore the outcome. Difficult to re-map that focus, but worthy of the effort. I clink my coffee cup to yours, with wishes for a splendidly creative day. All the best to you!

  2. My motto; Just don’t show people the awful stuff! Also, tried again twice tonight. Might have gotten somewhere.

    1. I applaud you, Kirsten – keeping at it is super challenging for some artists, but you’re right in there, trying again, and I hope the reward is that you really are making art you imagined you could create. Bravo!

  3. Thank you for this. Painting has become my pandemic project, so I’m still a relative beginner and inclined to judge myself harshly. I particularly liked the suggestion to enjoy and appreciate beautiful art rather than to look at it and think, “Oh, I could never do that” and feel discouraged at my own level of ability.

    1. Hi Kim, Welcome back to your art and creativity! I hope your deep dive into creative expression has provided a place of respite in these chaotic times. We all get discouraged, but I think we have more control over our thoughts than we give ourselves credit for. Here’s to us, and to turning the cart around to more encouraging prospects in our art adventures.

  4. Great post! I love the McCranie quote! It is so true. I hope others think well and take your words to heart.
    At my age, I no longer feel intimidated by the talent of other artists. Instead, I feel sad I don’t paint more using the talent I have.

  5. It’s so funny that you posted this today! I just made yet another painting that could have been done by a talented kindergarten student – and I’m okay with that because I looked at the problems; filling the page, rushing for fat shapes without creating subtleties, using totally inappropriate paper. But I did a couple things right (for a change). I used pen and ink on a tree, and experimented with going in after with a wet brush to create shadows. And the linear thing I did for the leaves was actually good.
    I was angry with inktober and the prompts, but it got me playing with the nib pen, which I am really enjoying. So there!

    1. Attagirl! Good job, Kirsten! Here’s the best part of that description: you were working! Whether it met your expectation or not, you had your hands on your art supplies, so you were walking-the-walk. That’s an enviable position for lots of folks who are still either thinking about it, or talking about it, but haven’t reached for a pen yet. So there, indeed! Cheering for you, with bells and glitter!

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