August 18, 2019
My Top 10 Tips for Self-Taught Artists: How to Grow and Succeed
We live in a world full of rich virtual education opportunities, a traditional art school experience isn’t the only way. For those fortunate enough to have known their path, have it validated as children, or have the time and resources to go through a formal art education program, that’s great! But just like everything else in life, that may not work out for everyone. And that’s 100% ok. In fact, it means you can tailor your art education to suit your needs. While it is more difficult to get a robust education that covers every single topic, simply because you won’t know exactly what to search out, that’s ok. With time, you will naturally touch on different topics and continue learning. To help you along the way, I’ve put together my top 10 tips for self-taught artists.
Some of history’s most famous and incredible artists were self-taught, including Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Henri Rouseseau and more. The stigma that being a self-taught artist is something to be ashamed of is ridiculosu, so don’t buy into it!
Inspired by self-taught artists (and being one myself!) I pieced together 10 of my top tips for self-taught artists to help you on your way.
It may not feel like you’re making progress, but commit to your practice, no matter how small. Even if its just fifteen or twenty minutes, every little bit helps. But you have to commit to the process, even when it starts to feel overwhelming. Everyone faces that feeling, but not everyone will push through it.
2. Silence self-doubt
Inevitably, that voice that says “you can’t do it” will creep up. Don’t believe it. It’s completely normal to feel frustrated or like you’ll never get better. But that’s just psychology – our egos try to protect us from failure when things get tough. Push through it and know that you are capable!
3. Keep the rejects.
In the beginning, I would keep my “rejects” for a few days or weeks, but eventually toss them. I wish I hadn’t! By holding onto those pieces, you’re able to go back and evaluate your work and make better artistic decisions moving forward. You can look back with fresh eyes and better evaluate what went wrong, or what you can improve. You can make notes on them, too. Let it be a really great way to track your progress and improvement.
4. Seek feedback and community.
Having a mentor, or a group, that you can share your work with is so important. I’m part of a few artistic and creative groups on Facebook that I’m especially thankful for when I hit a roadblock. Be sure to join us in my exclusive Facebook Group where you can gain encouragement as you grow, get feedback, and have some one-on-one time with yours truly. I’ll meet you there!
And don’t be afraid to start an Instagram account to get your work out in the world! Whether you assign your name to it, or make it anonymous, Instagram is a great way to share your work and get feedback, too.
5. The internet is your friend! Especially Google Search!
Not sure what an analogous color scheme is? Confused about what brands of watercolor paint are best? Looking to understand the difference between hot and cold press watercolor paper? All of those things were foreign to me at one point, but thanks to Google, I was able to learn so much. There is a ton of content out there, and while it can be overwhelming
6. Be consistent.
The “actionable” item from my list of tips for self-taught artists – this one has your printable planner and tracker!
Consistency really is key! So much so, that I created a weekly printable planner that you can use to track your progress and projects. It even has a section each day to reflect and evaluate your process, leading to quicker growth. Grab your copy at the bottom of this page!
7. Don’t play the comparison game.
I wrote an entire blog post about creating your work with more confidence, and the number one tip I had? Stop the scroll. While you can get a lot of inspiration from other artists, when you start comparing your work and getting down on yourself, you’re hurting your creativity and your progress. Just don’t do it!
8. Pay attention.
What do you love in your everyday life? Maybe it’s cooking, or decorating your home. Maybe it’s that amazing fresh-dew scent in the morning when you go on a walk, and the way the rising sun’s light makes everything glow. Pay attention to what makes your heart flutter. Keeping a pocket journal to track these moments can be a great way to keep an inspirational “database”. You can even just jot them down in the Notes section of your phone. However you do it, pay attention to the world around you and be on the look out for creative inspiration.
9. Museums are your friend
Your local art museum should be your go-to resource. There’s so much to be gained from regularly drinking in inspiration there and even sitting down to sketch out the great works by the masters. Nope, yours probably won’t look much like theirs. But you can break apart the process they took and think through their techniques, thus improving your own.
10. Look for a step-by-step program you can follow.
There are tons of tutorials out there to improve your skills, advice for sharing your work, and maybe even profiting from it down the road. But after spending years myself piecing those things together, I think it’s helpful if you have an actual program, or at least outline of “where to go next” in terms of what you’re practicing.
For instance, do you think you should be able to start out creating floral masterpieces right off the bat? Well if it’s a masterpiece you’re after, you’ll first need to know the foundations of color theory and composition, the proper brush techniques to get the look you’re going for, and how to use your tools to their full potential.
For this, I recommend taking some time to look through Skillshare – an amazing online learning platform I’m both a member of, and a teacher on! You can use my link to get two free months of membership and see if it’s something you like. Be sure to create a list of classes that seem to progress from easy to difficult and move through them methodically. [Note, this is an affiliate link which means I may earn a small commission for signups through it, which allows me to create more free content like this for you!]
Free Printable Planner to Track Your Progress & Creativity!
PS – Remember the Weekly Creativity printable planner I mentioned in Tip #6? Here you go! Each day has an engaging section to help you make the most of your creative time and grow as an artist. Grab yours here! I’d love to see how you’re using yours, so share on Instagram with the hashtag #nextlevelwatercolor