Paint what you love. We often hear that encouragement, don’t we? It seems obvious and pretty clear yet I know some of my students have a really hard time following through on this idea even when they do know what it is they love to paint!
Let me tell you a story.
A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me if I had any more greeting cards with the image of one of my paintings in the Vesuvius Beach Ladies’ Club collection (often referred to as The Vesuvius Ladies). Oh my, I thought, they’re still in demand!
On a summer day many years ago, I was painting at Vesuvius Beach on Salt Spring Island. Chatting away nearby were four women of a certain age. I smiled as I listened to them gossiping about a friend who’d recently taken up with a new man who they didn’t approve of. Besides realising that some things never change no matter what age we are, I kept thinking, There’s a painting there!
So I snapped some shots of the group as they sat chatting. Soon after, as they headed to the sea for a swim, I captured a few more images. I continued painting. Before I packed up to go, the four women returned and I grabbed my camera once again. (And yes, this was the time of camera and film!).
When I had the photographs developed, I couldn’t wait to paint them! I decided to paint them even though I was sure no one would want to buy paintings of a group of old women.
Boy was I wrong.
I painted these aging women because I loved the imperfection of their bodies and the beautiful shapes they made. I loved their various swim costumes and the feeling of different characters that emerged. I did these paintings for me!
So yeah, it was a complete surprise when not only did all three paintings sell, but the prints I made of them were some of my biggest sellers. (For years, I used to sell in the Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island.) I realised, the passion I had brought to painting these women, came through loud and clear. And, indeed, I can see know that there’s a universality to the subject that made it appealing to so many, even to this day! I just didn’t see that at the time. All I knew is that I was drawn to paint these women, beautiful in their maturity.
For me, this experience is no better proof that, as an artist, the best thing to do is to paint what you love!
We can be so influenced by outside influences and expectations that we can end up painting subjects that may not really resonate with us. We may think that landscapes are appealing to many people and so we should paint them. Or, as in my case, we love being in the landscape therefore I should love painting them. Ahhhhh, no.
I raised and loved a parrot family. Does that mean I should love to paint them? That would be another no. (Sure I painted a few pastels of them but really, my heart was with the creatures not the painting of them.)
Sometimes we’re really drawn to paint a subject but we don’t surrender to that desire because we doubt our ability. We think, “That’s just too hard for me to paint.” And so we don’t paint the very thing we are pulled to paint!
In these cases I say, let go of your own expectation of a great outcome when painting this new-to-you subject. Paint it and allow for the option of an awful result (perhaps only according to your judgment). Then paint it again. And again.
Paint what you love! If you do, you will be happier for the doing of it. Even if you think no one will like it, even if you think it won’t sell, even if you think others will be shocked by it, even if you think you won’t be able to do it justice, I say, paint what you love. And don’t worry about all those What-ifs! Learn from my own experience.
Notice what subjects make your heart beat a little faster – those are the subjects that speak to you as an artist. They may not speak to other artists but they speak to you. Pay attention. Listen. Then don’t worry about what others will think. Don’t worry about the end result. Paint with passion for your subject and that will come through. Paint what you love! And in doing so, you will share your emotional response whether joyous or sad, angry or hopeful, amused or proud.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic! Do you know know what you love to paint? And do you paint it??
Until next time,
PS. I learned over the years that I love painting figures. I’m also attracted to the way light illuminates a subject or how colours may surprise me. This can happen in landscapes, still life, portraits, animals, and urban scenes as well as with figures. I paint what pulls me, whatever it is!