Be Yourself…Be Authentic

"Jake" watercolor, about 5x5 in.

A little sketch of my cat, “Jake” watercolor, about 5×5 in.

There is always a lot of talk between artists about subject matter and sales. What sells? Or, more specifically, what should I paint to increase my sales? Some will even go to the lengths of studying what subjects and styles other artists are working in and then doing something similar, but with a slight twist. I’ve seen and heard all types of stories about artist’s having their work copied without permission (it’s happened to me) for other than learning purposes. When caught, some claim ignorance of wrong doing, that’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen this topic to write about.

So, let me be clear:  It’s highly unethical to purposely copy another person’s ideas and style and present them as your own.

While it has always seemed very straight forward to me, here are some ways to ensure that you never find yourself accused of copying another artist’s work:

  • Only paint that which you truly want to paint! It’s simple, if it interests you, paint it, if it doesn’t don’t. By painting subjects that you are truly motivated to paint, you will ensure that you do your best work. If you are focused on painting only subjects that will sell, there is a whole wealth of subject matter you will likely ignore. Good art always transcends the subject, which is purely a departure point. Paint your best work and it will sell (if you want it to).
  • Don’t try to learn how to emulate another artist’s style. Instead, focus on developing your own hand–your style will materialize on its own and when it does it will become uniquely apparent in all your work. Experiment with a variety of media on those subjects you find really interesting. Before you know it, you will have a body of work that is consistent and most importantly, AUTHENTIC!
  • Work from direct observation (from life) whenever possible. You will see your drawing skills improve rapidly as you build confidence. Save the photos only for those instances where painting from life is logistically impossible–and make sure you take your own reference shots, copying another person’s photos without their permission is as bad as copying another artist’s painting.
  • Experiment! There is always a lot of talk about being self-taught vs. academic instruction. Academic instruction is valuable and I recommend it to anyone who has the time and resources to study. However, once you have the basics down, it’s time to start the process of learning who YOU are as an artist. The process of self discovery is something no one can give you but yourself, so practice and experiment whenever you can.

Look at the process of painting as exploration rather than production, every painting that you do should not be for sale. You should be doing a lot more sketching and practice rather than trying to produce a master piece every time you hit the easel. Each time I pick up a brush, I have no idea what I’m going to get in the end–and I don’t worry about it. I have fun with it, if it fails it truly doesn’t matter because it’s just a piece of paper or canvas, no harm was done and I’ve likely learned a lot along the way. Also, the more you paint without pressure, the quicker your painting skills will develop and you’ll get to a stage where everything you do is consistent in quality. You’ll always have favorites that fly off the brush, but overall, your work should attain a consistent tone that resonates with confidence and skill.

The little sketch above is of one of my cats, Jake, who is probably one the most affectionate and lovable cats around. He has a distinct personality and a sassy attitude. Jake (the cat or the painting) is not for sale. 🙂

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