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Printmaker Adjusting the Press 5 x 6.8 Watercolor (sold)

Impressionable Beginner Artists

Some of us like Rules. I’ve mentioned in previous posts (read this one), I suspect my love for printmaking and clanking metal presses originated in my family’s tool and die machine shop.

I think we are drawn to things that imprinted on us before we had comprehension that we were so malleable. It’s good to think about what sort of experiences or inherited beliefs we have absorbed, because they can limit our tastes, tools, and choices in art. Do you know who and what inspired you in your creative endeavors?

Master Printmaker – woodcut

Learning How to Make Art

If you’re the type of beginner who likes clear, sequential instructions, lists of exactly the right supplies, and the comforting scaffolding of Do-and-Don’t rules, art is going to trip you once in awhile. The Mechanical Engineer DNA transferred to me from my father and grandfather loves precision, rules and structure.

The experimental, handful-of-this, and a-pinch-of-that from both of my grandmothers emboldens me to try again when my art misses the mark. I compulsively crave attempts at repairs with other media. And that is where the tripping occurs. There are rules…

My paternal grandfather (on the left) with a friend in a Connecticut machine shop (circa 1917)

Fearless Art

I bet you know some art purests out there; folks who insist on following the Rules. For example, printmaking definitions and labels must be adhered to if a print is going to be included in a exhibition. Have you heard commands about avoiding pencil or white pigment if you want to submit art to a transparent watercolor show?

Has anyone admonished that it would be cheating if you trace (gasp!) the drawing under your watercolor painting? I heard about a prestigious watercolor group denying submissions by the inventively amazing artist, George James, because he paints on Yupo – a synthetic, instead of a cotton rag paper. Oh, the horror!

I inadvertently triggered a thread of name-calling in a heated debate by submitting a painting with a pencil drawing under the pigments to a watercolor group. It’s not a watercolor if there’s pencil underneath…. Really? Who makes all these rules?

Like many volunteer organizations – rules are created by the members in charge. And many of them contradict each other. Does that mean YOU have to abide by those rules when you make your art? Nope.

Lucy mumbling to herself that the artist in charge of this space left no cat-friendly table-top for a sunny nap.

A Rule for the Rules

I’m not bashing all rules here. Most of them are given in an attempt to be helpful. Some of them exist for a reason. Examples? Your exhibition work on paper should always be under glass or plexi, in a real frame, labeled on the verso, with hanging wire, and no saw tooth hangers. This makes for a beautifully cohesive show, with art protected from grubby hands and snotty sneezes. It expedites the hard work of the exhibition volunteers when they hang the art.

And yes, you *should* photograph or scan your artwork *before* it’s framed under glass, for your own records of inventory. You’ll also need those jpegs when the show promoters request images to feature in the exhibition catalogue. And you’ll need them again for your promotional materials, and web site/blog/social posts. And again when your printables from that art are listed for sale after the original is sold.

There’s a place for rules. They are handy. They keep us squirrely artists in line when we have to clean up, nice-nice, and emerge from the studio for an exhibition. I’m okay with that.

Let’s raise our glasses and have a toast!

When to Ditch the Rules

Ultimately, rules for shows that affect delivery, sorting, cohesion, storage, shipping and things of a practical nature should be followed – IF you’re applying to get your art in a show.

But, if you’re just starting out in your artistic journey, and you’re trying to pack All-The-Rules from All-the-Different-Groups into your already-stuffed brain as you learn to paint, draw or print, stoppitt. Please, for the love of art supplies! Close the rule book.

Pilot your creativity plane light and airy towards art-making… be unburdened. We bog ourselves down with enough doubt and rule-detritus to ground our wings for months. Give yourself permission to glide often through a wide swath of joyful experimentation.

Pretend you’re seven, and PLAY with Your Paints! Add media to your printmaking. Trace your under-drawing. Paint on Yupo. Do a complete pencil sketch under a watercolor. Go ahead, be an art rebel. You’ll learn so much more by using the art supplies than you will be reading about what you should or shouldn’t do with them.

Go For Launch, Artists!

There are no rules for learning about your art-making materials. Experiments teach you who you are as an artist, and goofing off informs your hands about what feels right coming from your brush, pencil or gouges. You’ll lean naturally towards whatever resonates with you, but only if you bump into those mediums in your experiments.

For beginners, exploration takes precedence over a list of someone else’s rules. You’ll have plenty of time to angle your work into a sliver-category later. Right now, you just need to make a lot of art. No one else is watching but you, so take off your clothes and run naked through the sprinklers. Okay, maybe not that, but make some unencumbered art. Grab your art supplies and lift-off.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. My granddaughter joined me for her very first art opening Saturday night at the Santa Paula Art Museum. This painting was accepted into the exhibition Face of California. It’ll be up till September 15th.

P.P.S. You can subscribe to get these posts via email as soon as they’re published here.

P.P.P.S. Speaking of rules for artists, read this thought provoking post by figurative painter Ryan S. Brown.

The Santa Paula Art Museum
Glittery, pink, rainbow unicorn stuffies enjoying the opening night at the Santa Paula Art Museum show Face of California

Art Quote

One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts – just mere thoughts – are as powerful as electric batteries – as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in, you may never get over it as long as you live… surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

Frances Hodgson Burnett
make art more often
Click the clouds to take a free mini-course that will get you back to art-making….

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4 thoughts on “Don’t Take Bad Artist Advise”

  1. Hi Marie! I can just imagine all the rules you heard regarding drawing and image transfer under watercolors. We can be such a fussy bunch! I understand that rules are sort of like a recipe card, and knowing what goes where and which is next helps bolster confidence towards the end result. But sometimes, folks should just ease up, and have some fun. I’m so glad you agree. Thanks for the compliments! XO

  2. What a wonderful post, Belinda! I was recently with a group of watercolor artists who began talking about how to draw or transfer their drawing to their watercolor paper. It was interesting how many ‘rules’ were thrown into the conversation. I’m with you–have fun with it, make art, and worry less about the rules! Love reading your posts!!

  3. I too am a product of Italian immigrants, both sets of grandparents. Your post made me think back to my relationship with them; was there something that influenced my love to make art or I sometimes I related to some famous 15th century artist.. oh if my DNA could tell me that!
    You know what I really remember about my grandparents and parents, their hands never stopped moving be it cooking, cleaning, sewing, knitting, gardening and tending animals all creative, all necessary to survive, all to make a better life for their future generations, how fortunate I am.
    On a less sentimental note I remember the smell of my uncle’s car repair garage, that smell of oil mixed into the dirt floor humm.
    Thanks for taking me down memory lane. Phyllis

    1. Hi Phyllis, Our grandparents (all of them) probably modeled good behavior to us, without even knowing it. Hands working on something creative – whether it was cooking, or gardening or gadgetry or repairs… what a good thing we witnessed. We didn’t know we were absorbing that, and they didn’t know they were teaching us something valuable about making good use of time. And I hope we -in turn – model the same behavior to the next generation. Here’s to making a better life, deliberately for ourselves, and as an influence to younger generations. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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