Finding Discipline as an Artist

Letting your computer nag you and finding allies

I last talked about the benefits of copying the work of others, trying out different styles and methods, when developing a style of your own. With summer and more activities away from home, I noticed how easily I can be sidetracked by anything and everything when it comes to challenging myself to become a better artist. I always have an excuse ready. Part of being human, its very definition, includes the drive to make art, but we don’t always like doing it, especially when we’re comparing ourselves to the genius of others and feeling vulnerable.

So I can become terribly inventive in the excuses I make for not working at the very thing I want to accomplish. I easily dismiss the importance of what I’m trying to do, saying artists are born, not made (ignoring that famous artists studied and practiced);  I’m really only playing at this; what I do has little value, so something more productive is a better use of my time. Yet artistic endeavor makes us pay so much attention to our world that it doesn’t really matter if what we produce has little value on its own; it’s what it does for us that makes being alive feel better—like getting moderate exercise, eating nutritious food, or taking short breaks from work.

Image of a minimalist painterly style
Working on mastering the painterly minimalism for scrap pages popular with designers such as Anna Aspnes and Jen Maddox. I’m used to the idea that you can never have too much bling, and now I’m trying to learn when to stop.

Even when I’m not negating the value of my efforts, I’m negotiating with myself:  “After I finish this project, I’ll take some time to try this style, that technique.”  What I’m really saying is “I can’t fail with this project. It’s well within my comfort zone.”  I’m substituting being more productive for an endeavor to become more creative, and it all feels so right—we’ve been trained to value productivity since we were children. We like to measure things, and it’s a whole lot easier to measure how many vacation pictures we’ve scrapped than it is to measure how far we’ve come in developing our own style.

Altered Art on an Art Journal Page
One of my first Altered Art images using kits from Deviant Scrap (now Mischief Circus). Beginning with nothing is always difficult. Choosing a scene paper provides a guide that helps start a composition.

Of course there are plenty of times when something else does have to take priority, even if I don’t want to mow the lawn or pay the bills. But once I realized that I was making excuses to avoid getting out of my comfort zone, I came up with a couple of ideas to help shove me past my stopping points. Number one is letting my computer nag me. It loves nothing more than to set repeat calendar events and spread the nag along to all my connected devices—phone, tablet, other computer. . .  So I decided to let it. I picked the time I’m often free to choose what I do, and I scheduled different hurdles on different days—one day for creating altered art, another to try art journaling or digital painting, and so on. I don’t make these activities chores, but the nags remind me that these are the things I want to work on. If I choose instead to scrap a Christmas photo with all the bling I can pile on—a favorite technique—that’s okay. The nag just tells me to keep striving for what I’m not (yet) any good at.  I don’t like to fail—and I always believe no one else ever fails—but nagging reminds me that I can’t succeed if I never try, and settling for not failing by not doing isn’t quite good enough.

Art Journal paper made with brushes and blend modes
Starting with a completely blank canvas to create a background paper is a challenge­, but I learn a lot from working with brushes, blending modes, adjustment layers, and even filters. I only attempt papers once a month or so because it takes me forever to get one done, but it’s always special when I later use it in a project.

The other choice I made to help me get past some of the hurdles was to find challenges created by artists. I took the Photoshop Artistry course not because I needed to learn how to use Photoshop, but because it came with a lot of guided challenges for trying new styles. I then looked around on the scrap art forums and found many of them also create challenges. I keep a folder of challenges I can turn to when my nagging calendar says I need to work on something, but I don’t have a clue where to start. Between the calendar and the challenges, I’m not as plagued by a blank canvas, or by avoiding doing the hard thing just because it’s too difficult to get started. I’m so far from where I want to be, I need fifty more years to get close, but I’m also closer than I was last week.

A Photoshop Artistry course challenge.
I tried a look new to me using a Photoshop Artistry course challenge. There are a remarkable number of ways to turn a photo into photo art, and manipulated photos are perfect to use in an “artsy” scrap page.

To be honest, I don’t always respond to being nagged. On average, two or three times a week I give in, pull out an art journal kit, make an “artsy” element or paper, or try a bit of photo art. I may not be prolific in any of this, or develop creative skills very rapidly, but I have a start on it. After all, I began with nothing, so I can only get better.

This week's art journal challenge.
My response to a nag this week using a kit from Rebecca McMeen & Tangie Baxter. When I’m far out of my comfort zone, I rely upon a kit coordinated by designers to help me compose an image. A little “can’t fail” assistance helps me get over some of the hurdles to mastering a new style, and the close attention I pay to each element helps me understand how the style works to express a feeling or concept.
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