Who doesn’t want to “make it,” to be discovered, to ARRIVE in all caps? Our culture LOVES celebrity, especially if it comes with the tang of a rags to riches Cinderella story.

We look at successful artists and imagine their lives as a fairytale of continuous creative flow and effortless showers of cash. As far as I can tell, it isn’t like that. For anyone. At all.

“The process of being an artist is not necessarily as easy as Am I there yet?” says full-time painter Richard Alan Nichols. “I don’t know of anyone who is “there” yet. Society has taught us that reaching specific pragmatic goals is success. But is that really true? Success is choice. Success depends on the choices you make, and you decide what success means to you.”

Richard Alan Nichols, Winters Light, oil on canvas

Choosing success inevitably means working – hard – to create it and continuing to work just as hard to sustain it once it appears that you have it (though it rarely looks like what you imagined). A better approach is to look hard at what “success” really means to you. “I ask myself, Does this make me happy, is this something I want to enjoy, and where is my art spirit?” Nichols said.  “There” is a finality, “now” is not.”

One piece of advice one hears from many artists is “you do you.” Be yourself in your art – your art has to be uniquely yours to stand out from the crowd. But then the question becomes how do you do that? How do you find a balance between originality and authenticity on the one hand and the tried and true principles of sound painting on the other?

“The highest element of a painting is the personal artistic expression of the artist, more so than any other technique,” Nichols says. “Yet we come to the realization that certain developments need to take place before we can really take flight.”

“Perhaps many of us have spent so much time developing the fundamentals that we think if we break from them, we have nothing. This is not true. Your true voice has always been with you. It is our job as artists to discover it”.

Phillip Harris, Winter Thaw #6, oil, 35 x 40 inches. This painting by Harris won second place in the April Salon, an open, monthly competition by Plein Air Magazine that culminates in annual cash awards given at a lavish celebration ceremony.

But forget “being discovered.” It takes work. All artists are self-made. And there’s no good advice for how to “get there” because every artist finds their own way. There’s no formula to follow, no tried-and-true route. It’s a path one has to bushwhack by trying everything, failing, and trying new things.

James Kroner, Intangibility Beyond the Expressway, oil

So how do you not sacrifice your personal expression when learning the principles of design, values, edges, drawing, color, and all the rest?

Professional artist James Kroner gives this advice: “Through trial and error, through many variations to your approach, you will discover things that work for you. It will be yours, not someone else’s. Be guided by the principles and not ruled by them. You will find the freedom you need.”

The process of creating your success never ends. Nor does the process of learning and perfecting your art. Consider Hokusai, one of the greatest Japanese painters. Constantly seeking to produce better work, he apparently exclaimed on his deathbed at the age of 89, “If only Heaven would give me just 10 more years …  then I could become a real painter.”

A haiku he composed shortly before his death reads:

Though as a ghost

I shall lightly tread –

the summer fields.

Watercolor Works for Plein Air! (And so does acrylic)

Oil painters working in the landscape are following the tradition of the French Barbizon and Impressionist painters – but what about watercolor and acrylic?

Painters have been painting outdoors with watercolor since the medium was invented. The notebooks of star landscapists like Turner and Constable overflow with studies, sketches, and careful renderings of their visual worlds.

Here’s a shot of a painting that took shape outdoors at the 2022 Publisher’s Invitational painting retreat in the Adirondacks that wrapped up last week.

Water-medium magic at the 2022 Publishers Invitational in the Adirondacks.

The next Publisher’s Invitational is September 15-25 in New Zealand, and there are only a few seats left. After that, it’s October’s Fall Color Week in Acadia, Maine.