Since I was small, I longed to be an artist. I would observe my peers effortlessly drawing characters from their imagination, jealously wishing to create my own works that would make friends and adults gasp in delight.

Today, I still feel a yearning in my bones to create. It’s a feeling that will stay with me for the rest of my life. To make art is to be me, and I will continue to create, whether or not my art receives recognition or financial gain.

How about you? What does it mean to you to be an artist?

Hey there! 👋 I’m Carrie. Here on Artist Strong, I help self-taught artists with home studios who feel 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, “How to Create Art from Your Imagination.” It’s completely free, and the link is in the description below.

Today we are discussing what it means to be an artist.

Artists look at the world differently. 

Part of being an artist is looking, and looking carefully. Observation is a crucial aspect of our work, and our art reflects those observations.

When I was painting regularly, I caught myself looking at the sky, thinking, “ultramarine blue with a smidge of cadmium yellow and titanium white.” Without thinking or trying, I’d assess what colors I needed to create the green of my holly bush or the purple freesia wafting its beautiful smells next door.

This keen observation also lends itself to seeing the rules and systems in which we operate in family, society, and culture at large. I believe this is why so many artists lean toward issues of social justice. Our art is a reflection of our observations.

Artists have an enthusiasm for exploration. 

Trying new materials and being excited by our ideas is par for the course. When I jokingly ask others if they, too, could start their own art supply store, I see a sheepish grin and hear a knowing sort of giggle.

Curiosity and a passion for our materials open us up to many possibilities in our work.

Artists have a near-daily practice. 

In another video, I talk about the value of having a small daily minimum commitment to your art. This is literally the only thing that has kept me going since the birth of my daughter and wrist surgery on my dominant hand. Showing up daily is about exploring ideas and materials, building and growing skills, and maintaining a habit of making art.

I always have grand notions of making art on my vacations, but generally, I bring along my art supplies and do a bunch of nothing. I recently returned from a trip to Nags Head, North Carolina, where I still didn’t create any big art on the trip, but I did manage to pull out a small sketchbook to play with contours before bed. It was a small act but felt possible to realize and kept my observational skills honed.

A fellow community member shared with me that sticking with her small, daily commitment at times feels more like a placeholder that reminds her when life is less full, this is a priority deserving of even greater time. 

Even if I can’t make it into the studio for big chunks of time at home, I know I’ll still show up and put some pencil to paper. It’s not about having huge chunks of time for art all the time, it’s about integrating art into your life when and where you can, even if it means really small tidbits of time.

Artists are skillful. 

We can interpret what we see around us and use our preferred mediums and materials to communicate the visions we hold.

As a teacher, and for my personal practice, this includes being able to draw and paint realistically. Having the skill to do this has opened me up to taking greater risks and exploring new ideas. I’ve stopped believing my lack of skill holds me back from making or being good at art.

I’ve seen it with students of all ages too: when they achieve a level of observational skill, they can draw or paint anything they want, and their creativity begins to soar! What do I want to say?!

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽If you’re ready to make art a priority in your life and want to explore making art in a unique style, I have just the thing. It’s called Self-Taught to Self-Confident, and it will help you move from feeling stuck, wondering what’s next to confidently creating a series of artworks that you can share with loved ones (and even sell).

Choose a time from my calendar here so we can discuss where you are at with your art, where you want to be, and how to get there.

Artists embody creativity. 

Creativity is the unique and novel way in which we express ourselves in this world. Creativity can be applied to all aspects of life.

Several people in the community have said, self-deprecatingly, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” So let’s dispel that today. Here are a few ways creativity can show up in your life:

  • The clothes you choose to wear
  • How you decorate your home
  • Your car choice
  • The ideas you bring to your job
  • How you cut and style your hair
  • The jewelry you wear or don’t
  • The body art you have or don’t

Of course, this is also part of your art! Your art is uniquely yours, and as we build skill and explore our voice, this is how our creativity is expressed.

I find my creativity is best served by some structure. That’s why I choose to work in a series, where I explore one idea or medium across a specific number of artworks.

I have a video about how structure can help your art here.

The next one I’m sharing has been the hardest and easiest part of my personal practice. 

To be an artist is to embrace mistakes as part of the process.

I am a recovering perfectionist, which meant for years I saw mistakes as evidence of how I was bad at… life. And even proof of my unworthiness. The irony is the work I’m most proud of has come from random ideas and testing the limits of the medium.

Over the years, I’ve begun to accept that mistakes are actually what bring character and flair to the artwork. My so-called mistakes are pieces of the work that truly help it shine. It’s where my voice comes through in the work.

For example, Barbara and her embroidered background would not exist today if I had fully considered the composition before I began painting her. It led to problem-solving that helped me identify the color palette for the series and my interest in pattern design of the 1940s.

Anonymous Woman: Barbara

To be an artist is to choose art even when it’s hard.

One of my first hard times was when I was in immense pain. Art has always been a reprieve: from physical pain when my IBD caused throbbing aches and cramps, or when I had a cyst on my pituitary pushing on my optic nerve. It has brought comfort through the death of my father and brother and continues to be a release in everyday moments of stress and life.

Research has shown that 45 minutes of making art actually decreases cortisol (a stress hormone) in your bloodstream.

It’s not only anecdotal that art helps your physical and mental health. It actively improves your life in so, so many ways.

For me, art is part of who I am, and honoring that helps me cope with and thrive in my daily life.

An artist is forgiving of oneself and of the times that prevent us from making.

I can hear a few of you saying, “But Carrie, sometimes when it’s hard, it’s impossible to show up and make art.” I’m here to say you’re right! In the first months of both having a newborn and a pandemic, I could not bring myself to make art. I started to want to make, but I wouldn’t get out my paints. That led me to revisit my colored pencils. That hard time and break led me to the medium I’m feeling most passionate about right now. 

The good thing is being an artist is part of who you are, it’s not going anywhere. It will be there for you when you’re ready and able again.

An artist uplifts fellow artists.

Recently, I helped start a local artist group. As of this recording, we call ourselves With Women’s Hands: Artists of Greater Houston. We meet once a month to connect, share ideas, and support each other in our goals. This month, we’re going to plan out our social media for as much of the next month as we can.

While making art is often a solitary process, we can all skip the scarcity mindset that many of us hold and help each other reach our goals. There is room for all of us to win.

The difference between identity and goals

A nuance not often spoken of: being an artist is an identity separate from measures of success.

Today, notice how I didn’t talk about exhibiting or selling? Although these are personal goals for my art, I will continue to make art whether or not this happens. I’m still an artist. Neither sales nor rejections define me. (Though some days that’s easier to say and feel than others).

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽Do you find yourself conflating your definition of an artist with the goals you have for your art? Tell me more in the comments below.

So what does it mean to be an artist?

Being an artist is so much more than putting a pencil or paint to paper. For me, it’s a value-based label that is part of who I am. It’s one piece of my identity. When I reflect on my values as a creative, it’s those values that drive my creative decisions, including how and when I show up for my art, whether I sell or promote my work, and more.

I’m really curious how my values, or ingredients to being an artist connect to you and your practice. Does one really resonate with you? Or perhaps you’d add another value to today’s video? Tell me more in the comments below.

Please be sure to like and subscribe if you enjoyed today’s conversation. As always, thanks so much for watching. 

Remember: proudly call yourself an artist.

Together we are Artist Strong.