Beginner Artist Mindset Tips

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)

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
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8 thoughts on “Beginner Artist Mindset Tips”

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

Write something.... pretend we're neighbors, and we’re painting watercolors together in the garden....