Saturday, April 27, 2013

How Do I Start?

One of the most common questions I receive from friends, family and strangers is "I want to try using art to release, to heal, to veg out, for fun, etc. How do I start?"

Honestly, I'm not a professional teacher. Or a therapist. Or anything like that. I'm just a girl who's been creating since she was a kid and has finally found the courage to break out of the box I'd been placed in and stayed in for the majority of my life. I'm now a woman who makes art the way I want to make it, using the skills I have and my intuition and surroundings as inspiration and not someone who sits down and plans a masterpiece from start to finish. And while I'd like to take credit for doing this all on my own, I've had a lot of help from the beautiful Connie at Dirty Footprints Studio and a tribe of amazing, fearless women who have taken this journey with me.

While I can't guarantee that my advice here will really help you do all of the things you want to achieve with art nor promise that it will be easy to just let go (because it isn't) I'm going to do my best to answer that most frequent of questions. I'm not going to teach you how to draw, there are plenty of talented people, inspiring classes and great books out there to help you out with that. This isn't going to be a piece filled with deep lectures on perspective and color theory. So, if you're ok with all of that, let's get to that questions above. And keep in mind, this is just my own experience I'm sharing with you.

"How do I start?"

For me, I started out being nervous about trying something new. This is normal. Whether you've been drawing your entire life or you're brand new to the world of art making, stepping outside of your comfort zone can (and most likely will) cause nerves. The important thing is not to let them stop you in your tracks and keep you from starting. So, how did I overcome my nerves?

I used materials that were familiar and fun. For me this was brightly colored oil pastels which, if you are unfamiliar with them, is like the greatest crayon you will ever use in your life. And who doesn't love crayons? Of course, they're made from different materials are more vibrant and blend a hell of a lot better but if you've held a crayon and enjoy coloring this is the medium for you. If you're more comfortable with paint, then grab some paint in bright colors that catch your eye.

Next, pick something to put your pastel/paint on. Don't make it expensive because that will most likely stress you out to make things perfect. We aren't going for perfect here, we're going for whatever happens, happens. I personally like to use cardboard, mixed media paper (because it's thick and doesn't buckle under heavy layers of color) and card stock. I'd recommend staying away from thin paper and anything with a waxy surface (like poster board.)

Once you've gotten your supplies, get yourself relaxed and ready to paint. Pour yourself a nice hot cup of coffee, put on some music, take a few deep breaths, grab a color and just start. Scribble, doodle some shapes, make some funky lines. Whatever you need to do to get started, just do it. And don't worry how it looks because honestly? It doesn't matter. You don't have to show anyone your work if you don't want to and even if you want to, this isn't for them. It's for you. So fuck expectations, leave those guys outside of this moment and just let whatever wants to come out do so.

Don't worry about perspective, anatomy, color theory. Fuck all that noise. Go with what moves you. Follow your heart, your hand, your gut, the painting and leave your mind out of it... that big lump of brain tissue's got enough to worry about so give it a break when you come to your art. When your fear inevitably creeps up and tells you 'this is garbage', 'that looks terrible', 'why is her arm all noodly?' acknowledge it, give it a cookie and send it on its way. Don't let it stop you.

There are tons of drawings and paintings I've done that I don't show here (or anywhere) because they're ugly as sin and honestly? I don't like them. And you know what? It's fine to not like the outcome because when you're painting from the heart, it's the journey that matters most, not the outcome. So let the emotions and ideas leap from your heart on to the paper; if you want to cry, cry. If you want to laugh, laugh. This is all about you and your art practice. There's no right or wrong way to it; it just is.

While I was drawing yesterday I decided to document my process a little bit, since that is my second most frequently asked question. How do you do what you do? Well, honestly, I'm terrible at explaining and it's always different but I attempted to give it a shot. And in the spirit of Fearlessness, I even took some videos with my iPhone. I'm used to drawing with two hands; one drawing and one holding the paper steady so having one hand to draw and one hand holding the camera did lead to a little shaky cam and a few random odd angles but overall, I think they're ok.

The weirdest part, is hearing my own voice recorded. I was almost like "Nope. Nope, not sharing this. I sound weird." But, I realize that's just how I sound and that deleting them is just wussing out. So here's a peek at my process. I hope you enjoy it. :)

P.S. Flickr seems to have made the volume on these sort of quiet, so I'm sorry about that! I talk in all but the first video, so you may have to turn the volume up a bit. Next time I do videos, I'll upload them elsewhere. (open to suggestions if you've got them.)

Materials. As you can see, I'm using cheapy oil pastels that come in those value boxes of art supplies around the holidays. I *love* the boxes and while the supplies aren't the best I don't like to be wasteful. Also, I'd like to reiterate that you don't need to spend a lot on supplies.

Beginning. This is just the initial outline of my figure. I don't always draw figures, but I do most of the time.

Shading. I've used blue and purple here simply because that's what I felt the need to use. I know that sounds very woo-woo, but there really isn't a better way for me to describe it.

Working up a face. No talking yet.

Showing how I work in highlights and moosh things together. I talk in this one! Just a head's up for you noseys who just want to see what I sound like.

Smoothing out the figure and adding the shading back in.

Figure's skin all done.


A little technique tip.

All done!

The colors in this are more accurate than the photos, because this is a scan of the final piece. You can see I used the scrape technique in this one in certain places.

I hope this helps get some of you started on the path to your own painting/art practice and helps clear up some of the mystery surrounding my technique. Let me know what you think and if you'd like to see more in the future, I might do longer, edited videos of some of my larger paintings. It might be fun for me to see how things evolve in video form rather than just photos, since I'm a total nut for process. ;)


  1. Um, ok! What a fab post! You are very generous to share your process - and all while holding your phone! Your finished piece is beautiful and I love the look you achieved with the pastels.
    Oh, and this:
    When your fear inevitably creeps up and tells you 'this is garbage', 'that looks terrible', 'why is her arm all noodly?' acknowledge it, give it a cookie and send it on its way
    (Love it)
    Thank you too for joining in the SOC 3 - so looking forward to having you play along, xo

  2. Fabulous and so Fearless! You have inspired me to be braver in my Creation. Thank you for sharing this piece of you.

  3. I think you sound EXACTLY like I imagined you would, Danni. Love the videos- post more!

  4. Yay! I loved these little peeks into your process. ^-^
    And I admit... I was excited to hear your voice as well... lolz... And you sound just about exactly as I'd imagined you would. But I totally get thinking one's voice sounds weird when heard played back on a recording... ^_~
    Your love for pastels has inspired me to go dig mine out... I'm not quite sure where they are exactly... but I'm pretty sure they're hiding on my desk somewhere... o_O

    Thank you so much for sharing this, I can only imagine how much courage it must have taken. ^-^

    I look forward to anything else along these lines that you'd like to share... especially if it was one of your bigger pieces' process. =D



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