What It Means to Be an Artist

14 Aug 2014

Seeing John Phillip Osborne at his canvas reminds me of all the things I think of and value as an artist.
Seeing John Phillip Osborne at his canvas reminds me
of all the things I think of and value as an artist.

I know I don't have to explain it to all of you, but when I am in situations with people who aren't as passionate about art I find myself trying to explain and justify my commitment—to painting, drawing, sculpture, all of it. I mean, I relate to everything—history, pop culture, and even my own emotions and relationships—through art. It just feels like a natural part of me, and is the language that I want to speak in and communicate with.

That's why when I think of what it means to be a painter this picture comes to my mind. An artist, surrounded by his or her painting studies and oil painting sketches, seemingly lost in the work that is springing up before your very eyes.

I love the fact that the oil painting in the photo, a work by John Phillip Osborne, is so large; truly dominant. I think to myself that if I was sitting where the artist is, the painting on the easel would be all I could see, all I could think about. That is how consuming and intense the artistic process can be.

There is also a calmness and matter-of-factness to the feel of the photo. The artist isn't puffed up and putting on airs. He doesn't even look like he's aware his photo is being taken. He's lost in the work, and just in the moment, content to work and continue the conversation that is going on between him and his painting.

That kind of devotion and focus is truly what makes an artist. That's what I remind myself when I'm sitting with friends or family trying to figure out how to convey my passion for to painting and art in general to others.

But no matter how much I might struggle with how to tell other people about my love for art, my devotion to it has never waned. And I can say the same of many of the resources you'll find through the North Light Shop. You'll find instructors who have stayed committed to the artists and work that have enriched our history, allowed us to grow as artists ourselves, and given us the opportunity to share that love of art with each other. Enjoy!

P.S. What comes to mind when you think of an artist or your art practice. I'd love to hear, so leave a comment and let me know!

Related Posts
+ Add a comment


SimonneRoy wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 5:26 AM

I really like this article and will forward it to non-artist friends.  The other day I wanted to leave a comment to your post about female artists (but had technical difficulties).  You asked us to let you know our favorite female artists - one of my favorites is Camille Claudet, sculptor, worked with Rodin.

-Simonne Roy

MelvinToledo wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 5:45 AM

What a great post Courtney, I love the 4th paragraph, you said it all right there!

Karen Weihs wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 5:47 AM

The book I wrote called "Out of My Mind, life lessons as an oil painter" was inspired by John and others who are my colleagues. For those who don't know what it is like to be lost in time with creativity, the actual doing of something from nothing and making it possible, I feel a sense of loss for them. The creative mind needs nurturing of course, the book tells how so, but the self starter can maintain the highest level  of  a creative contributor.

Karen Weihs, www.karenweihs.com

on 22 Aug 2011 5:57 AM

I believe that artists are people who have the courage to express what is in their soul. We all see the world through a different lens and this creates the diversity of opinion, skill, medium and expression that we continually observe. Artists of all types embrace the freedom to experiment, interpret and lay bare the feelings and observations of life that exists around and inside them. Through out history their view has not always been encouraged or accepted but their expression has defined and recorded the culture of the period in which they lived. For this the world should be grateful as it has left a trail of beauty and wonderment for us to chat about for centuries to come.

Jim C wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 6:18 AM

Courtney: I loved how you expressed your feelings about art and what it means to be an artist.

Jim Calpin

Midlothian, VA

Pam Scarboro wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 7:29 AM

to me it is losing myself to the work, being there in the moment and sometimes the moment grows as I am there in it.

joyful4 wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 7:35 AM

To me, being an artist is really "seeing" ALL things, people, places around you, from the most simple as a blade of grass with beautiful purple wheat colors blended with browns, or  a magnificent scene, which I just painted:  A woman in a victorian white dress, holding a lace parasol, standing on a terrace in the rose colored early evening sky ---- alone with her thoughts, from a high place above the lake..... I love it...... and can't keep up with the ideas and beauty that keeps hitting me in the face!  Sometimes surprisingly, and other times so softly and gently.....  to capture these on paper is divine....but never as perfect as the Creator of all things..... Joy from Sweden

gran4 wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 7:37 AM

The only odd thing about the picture you post : where are the paints?

Don't feel you have to justify your passion to anyone--if it's true and important, that's enough.  If you're comfortable with your choice(s)--that's what counts.

CMHdesign wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 7:50 AM

As illustrated in the picture, I become completely enthralled in my work. To me, being a passionate artist is having no sense of time. When I begin a painting or drawing, I completely lose track of time. I love the feeling that at that very moment, nothing else matters.



anantio wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 8:15 AM

Courtney your article expressed the wonderful experience of how an artist sees the world he is surrounded with and how he can express his feeling for it and life itself through the medium he uses. I think that this creative talent is a very special gift one can possess and able to share his creations with others. Creating a painting is like starting on a journey with colors till, when you can stand back, look at the painting and you'll  know that you finished the journey.

on 22 Aug 2011 8:31 AM

I love this photo of John Phillip Osbourne...it shows that one can paint a good painting while sitting!  I have read so many comments by "big name artists", that say,

"No one ever painted a good painting sitting down".  That is so hurtful to those of us who have painted all our lives standing but now have arthritis (or some other physical problems) and have to sit while painting.  I often wonder if those people have ever had to endure the paint that others of us experience and still paint and work hard through the pain.  Interesting.

on 22 Aug 2011 9:08 AM


This article is exactly who I am. All my world is my pastel painging, the process, the pictures and the people I talk to must understand I communicate through my art. My students know well how we talk and it's all about them and their art also. Life is great isn't it?

Tour faithful reader,


judborst wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 9:08 AM

Courtney...Thank you for putting your feelings down so elequently. There are many time when I find myself trying to tell people how I feel about art, the process of creating art and sometimes it can be difficult. I was recently interviewed for an article to be in a local newpaper in conjunction with a show I was doing. It is quite easy to talk about what you love, but sometimes hard to answer questions. sometimes words just don't seem enough.

I will pass this article on.


Alton wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 9:23 AM

"He doesn't even look like he's aware his photo is being taken. He's lost in the work, and just in the moment, content to work and continue the conversation that is going on between him and his painting."

Query: Is that in fact a photo, or a photo-realistic painting within a painting:)

on 22 Aug 2011 10:27 AM


Imagine my delight to come across this article and to see John seated at his easel.  Your words are spot on about the photograph.  Having known John for many years and seeing him work at his easel, what is seen in the photo above is exactly how John works.  He becomes enveloped in his painting and his focus is extraordinary.  He is humble, sincere and truthful before his canvas and has no pretenses or false airs.  His dedication to his work and his artistic vision is unwavering.  

Someone in the comments thread had asked where John's paints were.  They are in fact located at the bottom of the painting.  If you look between the legs of the stool where John is seated you can catch a glimpse of his palette.

Thank you so much Courtney for this wonderful post!!  I always enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to reading your future posts.  

Best wishes to you!  

on 22 Aug 2011 11:51 AM

I absolutely love this.  This is passion and concentration at its highest.  I find that when I paint I am so overwhelmed that I feel like I'm having a love affair with my creativity.  The color of the paints, the odor of the paints, the sensuality of the texture, the sound of the brush lapping the canvas, the results that come out of what is being painted.  I also find that I lose track of time.  I could paint for six hours or more and find that it's not enough time.  I also know that when I paint, it is therapy for me and I don't feel any aches or pains in my body!

on 22 Aug 2011 2:25 PM

I totally agree with what you wrote about what it is to be a artist, i totaly feel it when i really get into it when i can leave all els behind,

doesn't always happen but it's good when it does sometimes it's with music other times just the sounds of birds outside, (i am lucky to live in a place where it feels like iam in a tree house as we are surrounded by trees) i prefer animals and space around me oppose to lots of houses and people even though our house can be a very busy one but art has always been with me, and i have come to a time in my life i can throw myself into it deeper than before,the word itself to me as short as it is has always been a big word as i feel it would be a privilege to be called a artist and don't feel ive earned the title so will push on to justify it, i love art, colour,and the texture of paint and the look of a art work space truely a treasure trove for me Carla

on 22 Aug 2011 3:11 PM

When I think of an artist I think of someone with a vision for a painting or sculpture or song ar what ever their art may be and then to have the talent and skill and passion for that vision to make it happen. To build it or paint it or write it or perform it.

Fahmikhan wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 4:33 PM

PASSION... thats what I think of and thats what I feel.. a passion for lines, colors - a drunkeness of creativity splurging out from every pore and suddenly I sometimes loose it all, and it becomes a dark hole. I go through a roller coaster ride of emotions and feelings while trying to create, and it takes up all my energy and I must keep working almost non stop till its finished. .. and then I breathe again till my next inspiration.

on 22 Aug 2011 4:59 PM

Hello madam,

For almost year I ve had your emails daily !

It makes me want ro paint more, looking forward to your nice and inspiring emails each day.

I'm from the Philippines, where we have a lot of homegrown talents like Fernando amorsolo, malang, Ben cabrera, Federico Alcuaz, Anita  magsaysay ho, and a lot . They have incomparable works.

I just want to thank you ms Courtney for sharing your blessings thru your talent.. I guess you got have not only a heart , but a

soul to really be passionate about painting!

Always with a gratefulheart,

Mila dela fuente

on 22 Aug 2011 5:03 PM

Hello madam,

For almost year I ve had your emails daily !

It makes me want ro paint more, looking forward to your nice and inspiring emails each day.

I'm from the Philippines, where we have a lot of homegrown talents like Fernando amorsolo, malang, Ben cabrera, Federico Alcuaz, Anita  magsaysay ho, and a lot . They have incomparable works.

I just want to thank you ms Courtney for sharing your blessings thru your talent.. I guess you got have not only a heart , but a

soul to really be passionate about painting!

Always with a gratefulheart,

Mila dela fuente

Shirl35 wrote
on 22 Aug 2011 8:48 PM

Whether the rest of mankind ever sees any value in my work, I will always know that my time was well spent when I think of the little moments when I amazed myself.  Somehow in spite of busy or difficult times in my life I've been able to see some small degree of progress.  The artist's picture above makes me think of  times when I have worked with other artists and the interlude starts with much chatter and activity and soon you could hear a pin drop as each artist communicates only with their own creation.  Haven't we been blessed to have enjoyed this inner calm.  Sometimes you get lucky and the painting paints itself!  If you,ve never seen a painting in a museum that wowed you so much that it nearly brings tears to your eyes, then you've missed a lot!!

Thaloblue wrote
on 23 Aug 2011 1:30 AM

Just  love this photo- so peacefull .Creating a world ,in his own world , out of this world.

Yakime wrote
on 23 Aug 2011 6:47 AM

I really enjoyed this article, as it brought to the fore how intimate the creative process is.  The protograph, in my opinion, is akin to two oblivious lovers caught up in each other's embrace without a care in the world.  All the while some curious onlooker stealthily snaps a shot of the moment as a keepsake.  The two unwitting amorists continue unaware as they gaze at each other longingly. I know, I know...it's a little syrupy, but I'm a hopeless romantic and art always takes me there.    

on 23 Aug 2011 12:24 PM

Please help us to educate the public. We came across unmarked oil painting copies which were embellished to look like it is an original and may be being sold as originals or so.... Can you please send me a paragraph that I can put onto our website to help to educate the public?   thank you. R

Larry Russo wrote
on 24 Aug 2011 8:50 PM

This is something we, as artists, can relate to. Being surrounded by art in all its forms is both inspiring and reassuring that we are in the right place - doing what we love to do. I see my workshop ( studio ) as my sanctuary. It is my home base from which I tap into energy that recharges my power. There is a sense of connection with the masters and a driving forward into the future when I am into the groove in my work - I know most of you can understand this feeling, alone in tune, working.... you are transported out or off this world but still connected to it all.....

Great article Courtney- I digg it.

mattias wrote
on 8 Jul 2014 6:13 PM

I would like that some day ,in the future, I could read Artists Magazine in spanish .

I usually read  it in the  the web-  , and I like it very much.

I don't speak  English very well , and I'm allways afraid, sometiĆ³ es, I'm loosing the real meaning of some word ,or article in your magazine. I allways make a real effort to read and understand the texts in each  articles, and e-free magazines.

Sorry for my mistases , is a little dificult expressing myself , yet.

Please, try to introduce translating-Way in the web magazine !!!

Thank you , a lot

on 15 Aug 2014 7:12 AM

Beautifully said Courtney!

on 15 Aug 2014 7:13 AM

Beautifully said Courtney!

upintheair wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 7:25 AM

What do i tell friends and relatives?   To those who aren't my adult  children or other artist friends......almost nothing.    Especially relatives...they don't get it, have an interest in, or understanding. There seems to be those who absorb art/art related topics (museum, artwork, art history, going to galleries) and there are those who don't.   How you present yourself is one of two people because we seem to live in two different worlds.

John N Blank wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 7:52 AM

Being a artist means wondering how I would paint everything I see. Out for a walk, riding in the car, sitting at a car show. How would I paint that? Wow look at those clouds, could I paint them that way. That is how I look at things now that I am a artist. John

Ralph3146 wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 8:36 AM

The picture is a fake promotional shot. There's no paints, palette, brushes, mediums or rags near him.

JPVisser wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 8:36 AM

Thank you for a great article. I can relate to this working in my studio on large paintings time flys by.  Art transcends one into a higher plane of meditation.  

Penelope1 wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 8:40 AM

The path to achieve the results that please an artist is complex and full of contradictions and that is  the beauty of it!

Penelope1 wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 8:40 AM

The path to achieve the results that please an artist is complex and full of contradictions and that is  the beauty of it!

on 15 Aug 2014 8:47 AM

It's like being in a flow of peacefulness where there is no sense of time.

chinaweaver wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 9:45 AM

So many projects, so little time, and total immersion when I am able to get to it!

John_Edwards wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 10:12 AM

Courtney, I have always liked the term or expression, "of the painter's hand." It (for me) expresses creation. Looking at Mr. Osborne, in the photo above, imagin the world as a blank canvas, without out form until an artist frames his thoughts seen expressed through his or her brush.

The clouds form, drop rain then are blown away by an unseen force. The waves move, abuntant with life; all the while we see a still painting.

For me as an artist, I create life. Some people see it right away, others? Not, if ever.

on 15 Aug 2014 11:07 AM

Yes. I totally agree and loved reading this article.

Art4Kelly wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 11:08 AM

Thank you so much for validating my feelings. I recently had someone (who is hired to help me find employment) refer to my art as a hobby. It was very hurtful, I am an educated artist who has been praised by college instructors and the public. Sadly have been unable to complete my degree because of family care-giving. I am going to share this on my Facebook page.


Kelly West

teachmemore wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 11:10 AM

Courtney, thank you for helping me to validate my artistic temperament.  The fiber that runs through us is what we  share - a passion, a desire/need to make it tangible.  Our talents vary, but we all possess a deeper sensibility, a connection to things around us.

What is not fair is being introduced to my inner artist at 62.  I'm sad to think how late I came to it, and how little time I have to develop.  When I work (clay) I feel like a child in discovery.  

Personally, I think God is "choosing to share with us" a tiny bit of His awesomeness.  If WE can love our creations (extension of ourselves), how can God feel any different?

Anil Mahajan wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 11:35 AM

When you are painting, you are in the state of meditation. Your mind gets completely detached from the daily humdrum. You are in the different time & space zone.  

knightphire wrote
on 15 Aug 2014 3:54 PM

I've been going through a rough patch lately and painting/drawing etc have been a

struggle.  I need to do it though, so, as small, or poorly done, i try to do something

evert day....even if it's just tweaking an old one.

My biggest inspiration is a woman named Laurie Lipton. How much time she puts

into her work....she doesn't even know.  She does very large pencil/charcoal on

paper. They are out of this world....

want2paint wrote
on 16 Aug 2014 10:30 AM

For those with a short attention span . . . the palette is on a small table directly in

front of Mr. Osborne .

Loved the post as well as the heartfelt comments .

carlholst wrote
on 18 Aug 2014 11:53 AM

Hi Courtney,

I just wanted to agree with everything that Diana Gibson wrote. I also wanted to add that the photo was taken at Ridgewood Art Institute where John does his teaching and paints many of his larger works. The photo was taken by Murray Smith while John was at work. Murray is an excellent painter and has done allot

to promote Ridgewood Art Institute. The two artist came together at a perfect

moment to create the picture.

I always enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work for artist everywhere.

Carl Holst

LucyMTyson wrote
on 18 Aug 2014 1:13 PM

  Hi Courtney,

        Reading your article gives me goosebumps because this is how I feel about my love for art exactly, the more I do and learn the stronger this "bond" is as if it was an entity, itself.  I really get this photo of the painter engrossed in his work, when you are in the zone there is nothing but a canvas, paint and your next brush stroke on your mind.

    Some family members and friends may understand the devotion and focus we feel as artists, but more often they won't and thats OK. It doesn't change what we do, and how we feel about doing what we love. Thank you for such a well written article,

Lucy Tyson

moomic wrote
on 3 Mar 2015 9:28 AM

It's hard to tell people of what it really means to be an artist. Artists have this extraordinary kind of commitment when it comes to creating art, where some people don't understand why we spend time drawing for hours instead of doing something more productive. Being an artist doesn't mean being weird, they just look at things in a very different angle. Moreover, art is a matter of appreciation of life.

Great article though.

Kwiz Era wrote
on 3 Mar 2015 9:43 AM

I think of a Mother an Child, My Works are My Babies