10 Things I learned My First Year of Painting

It's been almost one year since I first started painting seriously. In that time I have developed my skill just enough to recognize how much I can improve with dedicated practice. I still have decades of painting ahead of me. For those starting out, I would like to share the ten things I have learned this first year of painting.

1. Be Patient
Be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to practice and create tons of crap art. Be patient with your artwork too. Allow the paint to dry between layers. Be patient enough to walk away from something for a day and come back at it with fresh eyes. Be patient enough with your painting to add those finishing details and contrasting values. Just be patient. Art can't be rushed.

2. Practice
Make a commitment to yourself to paint every day. Get a small 6x9 watercolor sketchbook and create small paintings that can be completed in an hour or two. Set the timer on your phone for 30 mins and do warm-up exercises of color mixing and practice brush strokes. You don't need to create masterpieces every time you sit down to paint, the point is to just practice.

3. Inspiration is everywhere
Go for a walk, people watch, explore nature, bird watch, check out art books from the library, go to museums and galleries, follow other artists who have mastered their medium on social media, follow photographers, study anatomy or botany, go to the zoo, and open your eyes. Open your eyes.

4. Learn to draw
This is one of my goals for the new year, to refine my drawing skills. Learning to draw helps develop the artist's eye needed for painting; to break down shapes and recognize changes in tone and value. The better you are at drawing the better you can be at painting. It's also one of the fundamentals that got skipped over in art school, never being taught the basics. So I am at a serious deficit here and I aim to correct that. So learn to draw and draw every day.

5. Get out of your comfort zone
Yes, I am a beginner but that doesn't mean I can't associate with artists with all various skill levels. Follow tutorials you think might be too difficult, try that detailed painting. It's the only way you'll grow.

6. Incorporate other mediums into your art
I routinely use watercolor pencils, colored pencils, inks, and gouache in my art. There is a reason the category of "mixed media" exists. Have fun and experiment. Unless you are professionally showing your art for a juried competition you can use whatever medium you like. Go nuts.

7. Have fun
Paint things that you love and bring you joy. Paint how you want to paint. If you like abstract, paint abstract. If realism is your goal, practice realism. Paint flowers or boats. If you don't enjoy the subject matter painting will seem laborious.

8. Set clear, attainable goals
I learned this one about three months in. I didn't have a plan for painting and no real goal toward growth. So I created little monthly goals. One month was devoted to painting clouds, another to leaves, and another to studying up on color theory. It may take a bit to discover the areas you want to work on, but once you recognize these areas, write them down. Have a plan to improve.

9. Decide if you're an artist or a hobbyist
At some point, you'll need to decide if this is a hobby or a serious pursuit. I never went into watercolor painting with the mindset that this was going to only be a hobby because I've loved art my whole life and I have always wanted to be a serious artist. As the months progressed I just wanted to get better and better. But that is just me. Some folks are looking for a hobby and watercolor is a wonderful medium for the hobbyist.

10. Using artist tools is not cheating
It is not "cheating" to trace or use a lightbox anymore than it's cheating to use a ruler to draw a straight line. If you find a tool that helps you achieve better results then use it.

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