Lessons I’ve Learned as a Self-Taught Artist

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When you’re learning something new, there are always a few things you learn down the track that make you think, “I wish somebody told me that at the beginning”. I’m still very much learning myself, but I have gotten to the stage where I’ve accumulated some of those “nice to know at the beginning” things. Here’s a list of the things that have rocked my world to date, and I’ll be sure to update you with more epiphanies as they come.

  • It’s all about layers — if in doubt, add another layer
  • Learn the basics — after I bought a couple of intro to acrylics books, I began enjoying painting so much more because some problems I was having that were threatening my sanity were solved. Such as:
    • Paint drying too quickly? Add a smidge of clear glaze medium or use a wet palette. A wet palette is a tray with a wet sponge in it. On top of the sponge sits a piece of palette paper. A godsend, this one!
    • Getting a streaky look with visible brush marks when you’re aiming for smooth and “brushless”? Use several layers of thin paint with a watercolour brush
  • You can make paint thinner, thicker, transparent or opaque — there’s no need to buy another tube of paint in a shade you already have because you’re after one of these attributes. Buy heavy bodied acrylics, which you can easily thin, and learn a couple of techniques for making opaque paint transparent and transparent paint opaque. “Acrylic Revolution” by Nancy Reyner is an excellent resource for this and many other things.
  • You know how sometimes nothing’s going right and you think to yourself, “if I was actually any good at this, this wouldn’t be so hard”? Artists you admire go through this too! On the same day, I read this blog post and this tweet:

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That was a good, good day. These days, I’m much kinder to myself.

I’d love to hear your “nice to know at the beginning things”. We could make a community resource that will save beginner artists everywhere from maddening frustration and self-doubt!

2 Comments Lessons I’ve Learned as a Self-Taught Artist

  1. monica devine

    Oh, I am so grateful for your musings. I’m a self-taught amateur. I have worked in oil and watercolor, but this acrylic is really throwing me for a loop. Thank you…I love your posts!

  2. Katherine

    Thanks Monica. I wasn’t a fan of acrylics at all when I first started with them, because they were thick, drying too fast, and looked “plasticy”. Once I learned that all of those traits can be manipulated — which in itself is the appeal of acrylics — my art-life became a lot happier!


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