Have you taken a lot of paint-like-me classes? I’ve coined this term to describe classes created by artist teachers who demonstrate how to make art in their style.

This can be a fabulous introduction to the world of art. As a newbie this is an amazing way to learn new techniques, master any medium you wish to explore (such as acrylic or watercolor painting), and begin to develop confidence in your ability as an artist.

As a seasoned artist, this can be a means of exploring new ideas, taking new approaches to your work, and even having some fun and taking a break from your more committed work.

But how do you know if your work looks too much like your teacher’s art? And how do you start making it look more like YOUR unique art? Let’s dig in!

Hey there! 👋 I’m Carrie. Here on Artist Strong I help self-taught artists who have a home studio, feeling stuck with their art, move from wondering what’s next to confidently expressing themselves through unique, original art. To date, thousands have joined the community.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽 If you feel like gaps in your learning hold you back from making your best art, sign up and watch my workshop, called How to Create Art from Your Imagination. It’s completely free for you to watch and the link is in the description below.

Today let’s talk about how to consciously use the skills, techniques and ideas that influence your work while creating work that stands out on its own.

A Tipping Point

We reach a stage in our learning where we’ve developed just enough skill through following the process of other teachers that we imagine more for ourselves and our art.

Selling and exhibitions feel a greater possibility now that you don’t feel like a total beginner. But how to get from where you are now to where you want to be feels less clear.

Maybe the next paint-like-me class or free tutorial will be just what you need…

Or will it?

You’ve started to have this inkling that there’s not one master lock and one key. You can’t use what worked in the past, that brought you to the new level you’re at. Because now it’s no longer about emulating your teachers, it’s about what comes from inside of you.

Just last week someone confided in me, “I want my paintings to look less like a paint and wine party and instead be more reflective of me.”

You need something different. A new approach.

So how do we use the lessons and learning we can now apply to our art to step into the next stage of our work?

Reflect on your interests

First: What kind of art, materials, media, genre, movements, mark- making… etc. do you feel drawn to and excited to explore in your work?

You can also list all the classes you’ve started. Yes, even those you didn’t finish. Observe any trends you spot when looking at all the classes, materials, and kinds of art you’ve created during this learning period.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽Let’s go through this process now: list any patterns you observe in the comments below.

How much have you deviated from your teacher?

Second: How much have you deviated from your teachers work?

This is vital to your development and style. If you can’t see this yourself get feedback from fellow creatives (peers or mentors) you can trust.

Guess what? It’s tricky figuring this out. It’s nuanced and not a black-and-white answer. It’s going to evolve and that will happen more quickly if this is something you can honestly self assess.

We get good enough to be proud of our growth in our quality of work. People get excited and can even ask to buy your work! But this is also where a scarcity mindset can come into play as well as the bending of ethical boundaries…

I have seen SO many artists on Instagram request that people be more conscious of their work and how reflective it is of a unique style. Because too many excited learners and explorers will share very close interpretations of the work without credit or acknowledging it isn’t a process they developed.

Two terms are important here: derivative and appropriation. And I argue they are heavily related.

Here’s an example.

You study Starry Night by van Gogh. You learn about his palette and mark making and instead of creating a copy as a study piece you do a local urban landscape.

You decide the composition in your image reference. But use his colors and techniques.

When you’re finished, people admire the work, tell you how great it is, and compliment you by saying, “it looks just like a van Gogh!”

This kind of art is derivative. It is so heavily influenced by teachers the person’s voice who painted it is obscured.

Appropriation means to take from other artists or cultures and then use it in your work. Again, it’s the idea that the influence is dominant. (And this doesn’t even touch on how selling appropriative works can take money from the cultures and people who have the original idea).

This is a great learning activity. It even demonstrates a level of skill and application to apply his style to a composition of your own. But, it is only a beginning if you seek a unique style and voice.

So, let’s start asking ourselves, “What do I want to say? How can I change up what I’m doing to step further away from my teachers?”

Map your Artist Family Tree

Step three: this is where I’m going to refer to Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Very briefly in his gorgeous little book, he calls on us to map our artist family tree.

He suggests we fully research the people who inspire us, and then the people who inspire them and keep going. Looking at these many threads, you can begin to see how and why you enjoy certain parts of your teachers’ art, both living and dead.

And this opens the door for much greater creative exploration as you more consciously mash up the techniques, ideas, colors, etc. into something that is uniquely yours.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽If mapping sounds interesting, and you’d rather have a step-by-step process that walks you through this concept then I encourage you to hop on a call to apply for to apply to enroll in my program Self-Taught to Self-Confident.

Self-Taught to Self-Confident walks you through building strong foundations to draw and paint whatever you want; this way you can confidently build a practice to show up regularly for your art and explore what you want to say. 

Walk away with a series of artworks ready for you to share with loved ones, exhibit and even sell. Take a peek at my calendar to choose a time where we can discuss your art and decide if you’re a good fit.

Today we discussed how part of our learning journey includes a stage where our art is heavily influenced by those we take classes from and study. Taking paint-like-me classes can be a great way to develop skill and your confidence, but at some point you might start feeling a inkling for something more. You’re ready for YOUR style to show through in your art.

In order to get there we must take the time to reflect and consider our interests, influences, how close our work currently looks like those we learn from. When we do this and engage in a process like mapping our artist family tree we can start making more conscious steps forward with our own style and voice. 

Are you ready to step into your best work yet? I know it’s inside of you. And I can’t wait to see what you create.

Thank you so much for watching, please like and subscribe to Artist Strong if you enjoyed this video and remember:

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