You became an artist when you experienced the thrill of creating and made a commitment to develop your talent and skills. You made that commitment to one person, you–yourself.

To develop as an artist you need instruction, inspiration and guidance along the way. However, skills like drawing and painting are learned through hard work–trial and error. No one can do it for you. In that sense, all artists are self-taught. Yet, there is so much more to being an artist than simply well developed skills. You must have something to say. No matter what the subject matter or media happens to be, your work has to have something of yourself embedded within it. This personal touch has to come from within. It has to come from you–yourself.

End of Winter by Andrew Wyeth, 1946.
End of Winter by Andrew Wyeth, 1946.

The stark, haunting qualities Andrew Wyeth's work have their origins
deep within his inner self—who he was as an individual.

To have original ideas, you must be sensitive to your surroundings. You are unique. There is no one else in the world who is exactly like you. No one else has exactly the same likes and dislikes–the same hopes and fears. These things are important because they are the things that make you who you are. They are the source of your most original thoughts and ideas. You may not know why cobalt blue is your favorite color or why you enjoy thinking about autumn. But a multitude of things, just as incidental as these, are important because they are part of you. They form your inner self. It is your inner self that can offer you something to say that is completely original, something that is from no one else but you–yourself.

Smart phones, laptops, texting and Twitter can leave us little time to stay in touch with our inner selves. Yet, all it takes is a few random moments of solitude to tap into your inner strengths. You could call it meditation or introspection but those words are much too formal. What we are referring to here is something more spontaneous. In fact, it is closer to daydreaming. However, let's just call it thought-time. For creative people, thought-time can be a powerful investment. This is the time when your inner self can be put to work reviewing your thoughts and problems. This is the time when ideas and solutions take shape.

Each of us has the power to communicate something of ourselves in our work. As we do, each of us reflects a different, unique view of the world.

Blue Dancers by Edgar Degas, detail, 1899, pastel painting.

The work of Degas speaks of elegance and grace with powerful compositions
and color that reveal his individual vision of the world.

Consider the work of Andrew Wyeth and Edgar Degas. They are an example of two realistic artists whose work is very distinctive but looks nothing alike. You can recognize a Wyeth or a Degas from 15 or 20 feet away. Even with all the imitators, only Wyeth could paint even the simplest subjects in such a profound, haunting way. On the other hand, the work of Degas speaks of elegance and grace with powerful compositions and color. However, the thing they have in common is that their work communicates so much of who they were as individuals. Their work reveals each of them in everything from their subject matter to their picture design.

The more you know your inner self the more you can believe in yourself and your ideas. That belief can translate into self confidence. And, that is the kind of confidence that will show in every phase of your work. You can put something of yourself in every work you create. You can make your work distinctive, from no one else but you–yourself.



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Paul Sullivan

About Paul Sullivan

After a long career in advertising art, Paul Sullivan is now a full-time watercolor artist. A graduate of the University of Toledo and the Toledo Museum School of Design, Paul has a BA in Fine Art. He is a Silver Signature Member of the Arizona Watercolor Association and a Signature Member of both the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Watercolor Society of Alabama. Paul's work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the U.S. and in China. Visit his website → View all posts by Paul Sullivan →