3 Ways to Assure You Are Always Growing as an Artist

Ellen Cooper oil painting, Defiance of Erebus, oil on canvas, 62 x 36
Ellen Cooper’s In Defiance of Erebus won
the People’s Choice and First Place Award.


After participating in a panel discussion about career goals for artists at this year’s Portrait Society of America Conference I wanted to share a few more tips that I use to keep my art growing and evolving every day. Or at least, that’s what I’m striving for.

Believe: You’ve got to have faith in something bigger than what is on your canvas. Art is how you express it, but the idea has to be bigger than yourself. One of my favorite spiritual quotes is, “I know not where He leadeth, but I know who is my guide.” You cannot make good oil painting art for the long term without a constantly renewable source of inspiration and support. So believe in something that will give you a foundation no matter what successes and failures, triumph and heartache land at your door.

Eyes on the horizon: Don’t chase previous moments of inspiration—Go to the Source. Great art happens when inspiration meets effort. And inspiration has to come from the source and not by trying to repeat previous conditions of inspiration. So, this also requires continued growth and development and forward thinking. Inspiration is the opposite of doing something by rote. It is by nature original every time. Inspiration happens most readily when you are working at the edge of your comfort level, at the moment between competence and risk. Now, art galleries always want you to do the same thing, and to give them consistently marketable material. However, the best art gallery dealers also know that genuine feeling cannot be faked. So, try to find a balance between consistency, integrity and growth.

Always improving: Never stop trying to improve your work through study. My friend John Morra, a well-known still life painter, recently spent a few months working on Bargue plates because he wanted to sharpen his drawing skills. The best artists are never too proud to go back to square one. Take a year and copy old masters, brush up on your oil painting techniques, draw the figure from life, learn cast drawing. It’s never too late. Long term career planning includes taking stock of your abilities, and taking time for acquiring the skills you need to succeed.


For more painting instruction from Patricia, check out her latest DVD, Figure Painting: Realistic Skin Tone.

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Oil Painting Blog
Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.

7 thoughts on “3 Ways to Assure You Are Always Growing as an Artist

  1. Very nice article. I like the fact that you placed faith at the top of the list and I was thrilled to know that your favorite quote came from one of my very favorite songs and ” my soul is satisfied to know that His love will never fail”. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Patricia-
    This is a fabulous and insightful post. I try to remember the adage
    “I dont think that I am great, I think that what I am trying to achieve is great”. You have to believe in what you are striving for. And never stop striving. This is different than believing in yourself. Mark.


  3. Thanks for sharing these great insights, Patricia. It reminds me of an experience I had many years ago, when I had the incredible opportunity to interview legendary artist Will Barnet. He was about 90 years old at the time, but I went ahead and asked him my standard final interview question: What’s ahead? Without a moment’s hesitation, he listed off at least a dozen goals he was working toward, first among them–and this still blows my mind, considering the source–to improve his drawing skills. I was so moved and inspired by his attitude. I always think to myself that I hope I always have the same drive to reach higher in my art… even when I’m 90. PS: Mr. Barnet turned 100 this spring. He still works in his studio daily. What an inspiration!