Stop Calling Me Talented

Let’s stop thinking of ‘talented’ as a rigid concept that is inherent (you are born with it), and let’s start thinking about it as something more fluid. Talent can be built on and it isn’t required in order to have fun or do something really well.

When people like my art they often tell me ‘Oh you’re so talented!’. It’s a lovely compliment to receive, but it always makes me feel a bit funny. ‘Talented’ seems such a rigid concept. You can’t become talented, you either are or you aren’t. It also doesn’t take into account the hard work that came before it. It seems the most prevalent attitude is: I am talented therefore I can paint a nice picture, not: I have practiced therefore I can paint a nice picture.

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.  Stephen King  | www.iris-impressions.com

I’ve touched upon this before in my article about Deserving to Do Art. There seems to be this notion that there are people who are already inherently good at something, and therefore they are allowed to pursue that thing. On the other side there are people who are not inherently good at something, and therefore they shouldn’t bother.

Yes, there are people who pick up a brush for the first time when they’re 20 (or 30 or 40) and create amazing paintings. There are child savants who create art beyond anything I will ever dream of achieving.

That’s not the norm!

If you’re reading this it’s likely you’re more like me: enthusiastic and passionate, but not ridiculously talented in any way. If you think my paintings have anything to do with talent, think again. Instead, it’s hours and hours of practice. It was picking up a brush and creating something that looked crap. It made me never want to paint again, but instead I said ‘never mind’ and kept creating. Until one day (honestly, this day came MUCH MUCH later than I would’ve wanted!) I painted something and thought ‘hey, I actually quite like that!’

The thing that makes me sad though is that often with the compliment from the first paragraph comes a feeling that is left unsaid: ‘you’re talented, but I’m not’. People lament and say they ‘can’t paint faces’. Back to that feeling of you can only do it if you’re already magically good at it; if you’re talented. Want to know a secret? I couldn’t paint faces either! I took some online courses and I practiced, and now I can!

Stop Calling Me Talented | comparison image before and after practisingLOOKIE!! I practised!!! I actually have a soft spot for the one on the left too, even if I can see all the flaws. It looks like she was created with a lot of freedom, even though I didn’t yet have the skill to know where to put the eyes or do the shading.

It’s so easy to get trapped in that thinking of not being able to acquire a skill (or attributing it to the magical ‘talent’, which makes it even more elusive and ‘not for us mere mortals’), especially once we leave full-time education. We’re formed, we’re done, can’t change now!

BUT WE CAN!!! We just need to want it enough!

And we need to put in the work. Don’t let that put you off though, the work can be fun. You can make it fun. Remember how kids learn? By playing! Get out your art supplies and play. Talent schmalent. Fun and fulfillment is where it’s at, and that is achieved by enjoying the process.

In the video below I embrace playfulness in art and create a journal spread based around giving myself permission to create.

Let me know in the comments what you think of the relationship between talent and doing things well!

How To Photograph/Scan Your Art And Prepare It For High Quality Art Prints

How To Photograph/Scan Your Art And Prepare It For  High Quality Art Prints. © www.iris-impressions.com @rrreow #artprints #scanningart #photographingart #photoshop

I wanted to share some tips with you all about how I create scans/pictures of my art and edit them in Photoshop. Below I walk you through the entire process I use to prepare my images to make high quality prints. Don’t forget to Share, Tweet or Pin this article if you find it helpful!

Photographing Your Art

Most of my art is too big or awkward for my A4 scanner, so I photograph it with my Nikon Coolpix P7800. Pretty much any digital camera will do as long as you make sure to set it to the highest quality & resolution. This amazing video by Tyler Stalman & Jason Eng created for Saatchi Online explains perfectly how to take good pictures of your art.

Using a tripod (or some other way to stabilise your camera) is essential. I attach my artwork to the wall with Blu Tack or picture hanging strips. I use a spirit level to ensure it is completely straight. I also make sure my tripod is leveled and the camera is straight. The more accurate you can be about this, the less you will have to ‘fix’ in Photoshop in terms of distorting the picture to make it fit.

I have a window on the left side of the wall which throws light, so I use a simple soft box light pointing at the painting from the right. You are trying to achieve equal soft lighting on the whole painting, no direct harsh light or shadows.

Using manual focus if your camera allows it is helpful. Nothing is more annoying than loading the pictures onto your computer only to find that they are not in focus or not everything is in equal focus.

Scanning Your Art

If your art is relatively flat and fits on your scanner it is preferable to use this method. You won’t be at the mercy of varying lighting conditions and a scanner will get great detail and every bit will be in focus.

Before scanning ensure the resolution is set to 300ppi. Depending on your scanner you may need to adjust the brightness and contrast. From the point of view of being able to adjust later in Photoshop, I prefer a scan that is slightly on the dark side over one that is too light. Adjust the brightness & contrast sliders and keep previewing until the preview matches the colours, detail & contrast of the original artwork. If you can, save these settings as a new profile so you can quickly access them next time.

Default Scan Settings & Adjusted Scan Settings. © www.iris-impressions.com @rrreow #scanningart #scanningartwork
On the left the default scanner settings, on the right with brightness & contrast adjusted. The adjusted scan is much more true to the original artwork. The default loses a lot of detail by being too bright and the colours are washed out.

Adjusting Your Art In Photoshop

I use Photoshop CS2, but any programme that allows you to adjust these settings will do. Editing in Photoshop is especially good for when you’ve photographed your art.

First I want to straighten up my art piece and make sure it fills up the whole canvas. I use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select as close around the artwork as I can, without cutting any of it off. Then I crop the image (Image > Crop). This may mean that on some sides the background still shows. To fix that, I use the Transform tool (Ctrl+T), and right click on the image and select Skew. I then drag the corners out where necessary. If you need to rotate your canvas with the transform tool (you shouldn’t have to if you followed the steps for straightening the artwork on the wall and leveling your tripod – it’s really worth doing!) do that before skewing.

Now we make the magic happen. First go to Image > Adjustments > Auto Levels. If it looks good, keep it. If it looks “WHOA TOO MUCH!” you can fade the effect by going to Edit > Fade Auto Levels and select a percentage. Then go to Image > Adjustments > Auto Contrast. Fade again if needed. Finally we use Image > Adjustments > Auto Color (and Fade).

Photo of Painting & Adjusted in Photoshop. © www.iris-impressions.com @rrreow #editingart #photoshop

How much you use these three tools depends on how true to life the pictures/scans you took are. Sometimes I hardly need to change anything, other times it makes a huge difference.

Save your picture at a high setting. I tend to go for File > Save As and then select jpg at Quality 12. There are other file types with less compression, but I’ve found there is no visually noticeable data loss with this setting and it keeps file sizes manageable.

Voila!

Now you’ve got your hi-res digital master to make prints of forevermore, even if you sell the original!

If you follow this tutorial please let me know in the comments, I’d love to know how you got on. If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them!

Am I An Artist?

am-i-an-artist

Am I an artist just by virtue of calling myself one? When I create art, does that automatically make me an artist? Can I even call what I create ‘art’? Why is this word ‘artist’ so important, and what power does it hold over me? These are questions that occupy my mind often and I think are important to pay some attention to in order for them not to become obstacles on my journey of creating art and being an artist.

am-i-an-artist-detailHas anyone ever given you a compliment on your art, only for you to quickly dismiss it or downplay it? For example I often find myself saying “Oh it’s only a hobby”. As if my art is not as arty as someone else’s, simply because it’s not my day job. If I accept that compliment, truly, it becomes a scary tentacle monster with lots of expectations. It becomes a gateway for judgement, because WHOA if I call myself an artist then I must tick the boxes of what other people think an artist is or should be.

I don’t know what other people think, but I know they’re out there, ready to judge, ready to trample my fragile budding artist soul. Better to not call myself an artist at all actually and crawl back in my cocoon of safety where I never risk anything or put myself OUT THERE. Isn’t it funny though, because I have no such problems with calling myself a mother. I became a mother automatically when I gave birth to my first son. I might be concerned sometimes with being a good mother, whatever the hell that means, but a mother I am, for sure, no question. So why is art so special that I feel creating it doesn’t automatically make me an artist? Whose permission am I waiting for to call myself an artist?

Face it, in order to reach our potential and be fulfilled we need to take risks. It’s the easy option to let your fear of what other people think inhibit you being yourself. That way you never have to face your fear, you never have to own up to it, and you never have to truly admit that it is PART OF YOU. The roots of your fear may lie in other people in the past (don’t we all have those childhood scars?), but the change lies with you right here, right now. Stop externalising your fear, OWN IT!

am-i-an-artist-quoteHave you ever noticed that people tend to treat you in accordance with how you present yourself? A confident person gets treated with respect. A shy person gets ignored. If you meet someone new and you ask what they do and they say “I’m an artist”, are you going to ask for their qualifications to make sure they’re really an artist? No, you’re going to accept it just as you would have if they’d said they’re a teacher or an architect or a mother.

If it doesn’t sound too cultish (lol), then please join me in saying that: From this day forward I will call myself an artist and not apologise for it.

Top 5 Tips For Doing It – Motivation and Art

top-5-tips-for-doing-art

After my post the other day about having found motivation for doing art I thought I’d share these tips for getting down to business and doing it. Just in time for the weekend to put them into practice!!

There are many reasons why we might not do something we want to do. I wrote the tips below with art in mind, but with some modification they can apply to pretty much anything. The important thing is to find something that works to enable you, to do what you want.

1. Take A Course

Willowing Online CoursesCourses give you an external motivation to do art. They will give you more practical skills, which in turn will increase your confidence. There might be assignments or exercises which walk you through new techniques. This is a much safer way to start something, because there is already a blueprint for doing it: you don’t have to make it up all by yourself.

It can also be motivating to be in a group of like-minded people and to share the results of the lessons and discuss them. By the end of the course you will have completed work you can look back on, feel proud of and see your own progress in. It will be a jumping off point to keep creating.

Places you can find courses: local college (in London you can try City Lit or Morley College), art/craft shop or online. I’ve taken online courses from Tam @ Willowing, Suzi Blu and Adriana Almanza.

2. Distract Yourself

Occupy your conscious mind to access your subconscious mind. I overthink what I do ALL.THE.TIME. My inner critic works overtime when I’m creating a painting. It’s hard to be free and create art from the heart when my mind is so present all the time. Something that can really help is to distract your thinking mind so you free your creative mind to do what it does best. I do this by watching TV while painting (or you could listen to an audiobook, music or have a conversation with someone etc). Following the storyline and dialogue distracts me just enough to let my hand move freely and helps me make organic choices rather than getting stuck on things like which colour to use.

3. Copy Your Favorite Artists

OK this might sound controversial but bear with me. Ask yourself what you like. Whose art makes you happy or evokes strong feelings in you? Create a folder on your computer (or a board on Pinterest) with art that makes your heart sing. Then copy the hell out of it. When you copy something another artist has done it is called a study. Obviously you don’t sell these works or pass them off as your own, but what you are doing is slipping on someone else’s shoes for a bit and in so doing it will help you develop. You are practicing, you are learning your own likes and dislikes and it will spark your own original creative side and eventually develop your own style.

4. Limit Your Options

This world of ours has limitless choices and if you’re anything like me you’ll have an abundance of art supplies. I get almost as excited about buying new art supplies as I do about creating art. I find myself getting overwhelmed and scared when I think about all the supplies I have sitting around waiting to be used. So much potential but how best to use them, in what combination and what to use in this particular painting?

So strip it right down, reduce! Don’t leave the choice open to all your art supplies available. Pick a limited number of supplies you will use. For example I would choose: 4 colours, 2 patterned papers, 1 stamp, gesso & brayer. Then as you gain confidence creating paintings with limited options, you will find you automatically know what other supplies to reach for because you know what your painting needs.

I give a bunch of limited supply suggestions in my art & inspiration guide, so go and download that if you haven’t already. You can also check out some art journaling videos where I created journal spreads with limited supplies.

5. Acknowledge Your Fear

I left this one to last as it’s the most important one and the crux of a lot of motivational problems.

You have finally carved out some you-time to do art and you find yourself with a compelling urge to tidy your desk, or alphabetise your DVD collection, or clean the kitchen or [fill in the blank with your particular distraction]. You don’t actually need to do any of those things, and they certainly have nothing to do with creating art. This is your fear in the driving seat. Your fear is there to protect you, perhaps you’re trying to avoid disappointment or you don’t want to fail or you’re afraid of what other people will think. But for all its noble intentions, your fear holds you back and stops you doing what you actually set aside time to do. Tell yourself ‘thank you very much fear for trying to protect me, but I’d like to do some art now please, so piss off’.

I admit I wrote that last line for comic effect, but the point I’m trying to make is that by acknowledging your fear you bring it into the open. If you see your avoidance behaviour for what it really is – fear – then you can try and move past it or work with it and turn it into creative opportunity. It is also helpful if you can try and identify exactly what is it you are afraid of. Personally I fear creating something ugly and ‘failing’ at being an artist (I hardly feel I’m even allowed to apply that word to myself, a topic for another blog post!). I fear other people’s criticism or lack of interest. I feel I have to be perfect and create perfect art. So for me it helps to acknowledge these issues. I try to give myself permission to practice, see what I’m working on as a process to getting better and try to create things for myself in the first instance.

The fear is always there and sometimes it is louder than other times. It is likely that it will never go away, but you have to arm yourself with techniques that will help you do art despite your fear.

Finally, just try and get on a roll. Start so you may continue. I find that ideas breed ideas and creativity breeds creativity. The more you are doing it, the more you will feel like doing it.

I would love it if you shared in the comments what your top tips are for doing art or any other activity you feel passionate about.

It’s Not Automatic – Deserving To Do Art

deserving-to-do-art

From a young age I feel I have always been given the message that if you’re not good at something, you shouldn’t do it.You are only ‘allowed’ to pursue something if you’re already magically good at it. Kids who are good at drawing should keep drawing. Kids who are not good at drawing shouldn’t bother.

We say things like: “Oh I can’t draw” or “I will never be good at painting” or “So and so is much better than me”. You didn’t wake up one day speaking your native language the way you do today. You learned over time. It was most likely an automatic process that you didn’t notice, but it took TIME and you were LEARNING. However, when it comes to anything creative, it’s as if we feel that the ‘talented’ are deserving of pursuing their art, but the ‘untalented’ are not.

deserving-to-do-art-quoteA friend of mine in primary school loved drawing. She was ‘good at drawing’. I put that in inverted commas, not because she wasn’t, but because it’s a problematic label. She drew a lot and consequently was ‘better at drawing’ than many of the other kids. She got a lot of praise for being good at drawing and I compared my drawings to hers and felt disappointed and why should I bother as I wasn’t as ‘good’ as her.

As an adult she’s a rather accomplished artist now. I love her art. It is very rich and technically detailed. She didn’t wake up as a 28-year-old who could suddenly create amazing art. If she had stopped doing art as a little girl and picked up a pencil now, she wouldn’t be creating what she is right now. She’s had a lifetime of practice.

The above example shows how incredibly logical it is that you need practice to get better, and yet we tell ourselves we are not talented enough or not good enough as a reason not to do it!!

On the parenting forums/blogs I read there definitely seems to be a trend towards praising the effort rather than the result. It’s the approach I cognitively believe in and is how I’m raising my kids. And yet… that message from my childhood runs deep. It runs deep in my thinking, and I can see it runs deep in a lot of other people’s thinking as well. These wounds created in childhood are hard to heal!!

When I think back to my childhood I can think of a handful of things that happened that stopped the creative soul inside me in its tracks. My teacher laughing at a drawing I did. My mother telling me I needed more practice when I showed her a painting I’d done (not a horrible thing to say in itself, but that was the only comment). I think every child encounters these types of moments but the importance lies in how these moments are handled. How can a child be encouraged to move past these painful roadblocks? Hopefully not like me, with the decision that I shouldn’t bother drawing or painting.

I feel resentment because of these things that happened to me as a child. As a child you don’t have the life experience or emotional maturity to put things in perspective, ignore the haters or question the validity of a statement/opinion. Especially when the voices are those we trust (parents, teachers) to tell us ‘the truth’. I feel sadness for my child self and what I went through and the consequences that spill over into my adult life. It is very very hard to unlearn the patterns of thinking we learned as a child.

However, and this is the big turning point, as an adult I now do have the benefit of life experience and emotional maturity (ish *grin*) to start doing something about this. I can’t turn back the clock and undo the scars, but I can think to myself ‘Hey, those people so long ago, they don’t need to dictate my thinking in the present’. I can tell myself this every day, and believe me, I need to, in order to quieten those voices in my head that tell me I don’t deserve to do art because it’s not inherently ‘good enough’ or I’m not inherently ‘talented enough’.

I have the power to choose to do this and I empower myself by deciding to create art despite the emotional obstacles and negative voices in my head. Every time I decide to do something creative I am not just ‘getting better’ in a technical sense (i.e. by practicing), I am also growing as a person. I am recognising that I myself hold the power to start to heal my own wounds.