Paint what you love: Gail Sibley, "Vesuvius Beach Ladies Club #1, pastel on Wallis paper, 11 x 18 in. Sold.

Paint What You Love (And Ignore The NaySayers!)

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. 

Paint what you love: Gail Sibley, "Vesuvius Beach Ladies Club #2, pastel on Wallis paper, 12 x 18 in. Sold.
Gail Sibley, “Vesuvius Beach Ladies Club #2,” pastel on Wallis paper, 12 x 18 in. Sold.

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.

Paint what you love: Gail Sibley, "Vesuvius Beach Ladies Club #3, pastel on Wallis paper, 12 x 18 in. Sold.
Gail Sibley, “Vesuvius Beach Ladies Club #3,” pastel on Wallis paper, 12 x 18 in. Sold.

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.)

Gail Sibley, "Aloysuius," pastel, 8 x 6 in. Sold
Gail Sibley, “Aloysuius,” pastel, 8 x 6 in. Sold

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!

Related Posts

Subscribe to the HowtoPastel Blog today!

Take a course

Like my Blogs?

Do you like the blog?

Support HowToPastel and help me to keep creating content to instruct, inspire, and motivate you with your pastel painting. Although I’ve been asked, “How much does it cost to subscribe?” HowToPastel will always be free. Your financial support is completely optional but does go a long way in helping with the cost of running this blog. Thank you!


38 thoughts on “Paint What You Love (And Ignore The NaySayers!)”

      1. Thanks for this Gail it has hit a cord .. and I simply love these paintings of the senior ladies ! You can tell you really enjoyed painting them ! They have great energy and fab warm colours which make you feel the hot day on the beach 😊
        For me I love painting flowers or fruit … either as still life, in a garden setting, or wild flowers in the landscape . I never seem to have much success with pure landscape unless it has these elements! I used to do a lot of seascape and still do occasionally but it doesn’t take me to that happy place anymore like it used to ! I have always felt that flowers are not popular subject from a selling point of view but will take onboard what you have said and stay with my passion 😊

        1. Thanks so much Marilyn!!!
          And thank you for sharing your own loves. I’m glad you know what you love to paint and I’d say YES, keep painting what you love ie flowers! And…it’s interesting how our loves can change along the way, as in the seascapes for you.
          I really do believe the more you listen to your heart, the better things will be all round!

      2. I’m new to this medium. I’m obsessed with the different pastels out there. Softs, oil, short, oh and the pigmentation !
        Once I tried 3 different mediums , “to find my style” . Well I love watercolor, oil, and pastels! Birds , still life and landscapes with stormy or cloudy skies.
        Anyways. I’m here. I love this blog , but I’ll be checking on it, when life allows me a few minutes to do so. Thank you!

        1. Hi Vanessa, thank you for your bubbly reply to my blog post! It sure made me smile. It’s good to discover the media you love to use…that can be half the challenge of painting lol!

  1. Lovely blog, Gail. Thank you!
    I would love to paint people, but haven’t had much success…guess I should keep trying, although I don’t love painting them!
    I do love flower and landscapes, and I love painting them. Adding a person or two would be great.
    Thanks for your blogs, which I enjoy every time.
    Best wishes and thanks for the inspiration,

    1. Thanks so much Wendy!
      And it’s clear in your paintings of landscapes and flowers, and nature really, how much you love that subject. And if you love figures and would like to include them, that passion and desire will pull you through the not-working-so-well times.

    1. Thanks Patricia! And that’s so good to hear. Sometimes it’s difficult to discern what truly moves you to paint. Listen closely and you will hear the call!!

  2. Yes! Thanks for this, Gail- it resonates with me and it helps me validate my own painting choices.

    It’s so easy to feel that success is found in painting the way others around me paint. Pastel isn’t a popular medium here, and I prefer painting figures or portraits, although I’m still trying to work out my style and direction. Somehow I’ve never quite got on with landscapes. I enjoy walking and being outside, looking at colours and shadows and so on, yet I don’t know how to make them come alive. (Strangely enough I’ve sold a few of my earlier oil landscapes, though I didn’t even like them much.) So I’ll continue to work on the things that I want to paint.And I love the all Vesuvius beach ladies- I can really feel the light and the moment with them.

    1. That’s so great to hear Judi.

      And..your love of figures comes through loud and clear in your work (the ones I’ve seen in our IGNITE! membership). I’d say, stay the course. Paint what you love. Yes, paint other things that move you in the moment but never give up painting the subjects that move YOU!

      And thanks!!

  3. Thank you for this great story Gail, and the encouraging words. As a landscape painter I don’t worry what others might think of a painting, but I often fight my own inner voices when they whisper “this subject is too hard for you to paint”. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Painting is a lot about taking a challenge. It’s tough battles and the sweetest victories! I really love your vibrant paintings of these four ladies, especially the first one with the flowers and trees in the background, and how their heads contrast with the dark green. These paintings are brimming with good humor and cheerfulness!
    Best wishes, Gabriela

    1. Thanks so much Gabriela for your kind words and for sharing your own experience with your inner voices.
      And agreed! Painting can be a challenge and yet, as you say, such a sweet reward in the doing of it.

  4. Your work is stunning Gail ! Love the Blog as well! Hmmm I love color , , I don’t know what I love to paint yet. Hoping to get better at drawing and composition so it feels more complete in my head and heart somehow💕.

    1. Thank you Debbie! Colour. That’s a great start! Draw, paint, work at composition and all the other parts. Along the way, you will find your voice AND you will discover what you most love to paint!

  5. Thank you, Gail. This post is exactly what I needed to read. I’ve doubted myself too much, and I should just get on with it!!
    By the way, your paintings of the ladies are awesome. I’d love to learn your process for making prints from a painting.

    1. I’m so glad to hear this came at the right time Camilla! We can get in our way sooooo easily. As you say, just get on with it. (Yes, I know, sometimes easier said than done….but do it!)

      Thank for your appreciation of my ladies!

      Regarding printing, I used to print my own work on an Epsom printer. Eventually the programme on the computer outstripped the printer’s programme and since then, I’ve not upgraded to a new printer. As I mentioned in my post, I used to sell in the Saturday Market so had a reason to have the printer to print my work. I don’t have that reason at the moment. Maybe one day I’ll get back to printing!

  6. Thank you, Gail! This was such a confirming, relatable post! I often find myself drawn to subjects that I believe to be “too difficult / complicated” for me, but if you love the subject, you will have the interest to paint it over and over again! (as you stated) Your blog posts are always so helpful and interesting. Much appreciation!

    1. I’m so glad to hear this post resonated with you Lisa! It’s so easy to stop ourselves from painting what we love by the number of excuses we can give ourselves. Thanks for sharing yours. And I hope you will smile and accept the challenge knowing you are attempting to express in art something you feel strongly about! Yeah!

  7. Once again Gail, you hit the nail on the head, especially in my case. I’m so drawn to interiors & urban scenes but am afraid to begin to tackle these images because I feel that they are too difficult to paint. So I continue to stay away from doing them. Your blog has given me inspiration to tackle what I love with the hope that the more I paint interiors & urban scenes, the better I will get. Thank you!

    1. Ahhh Patti, thanks so much for sharing your love…and your nemesis with us. And…I do understand!

      You may be familiar with the work of Sandra Burshell? I am a great admirer of her paintings of interiors. She contributed a guest post to HowToPastel which you may find helpful. It may encourage you to start!
      And with regard to urban svcenes, you can’t go wrong following the work of Nancie King Mertz. Click here to read her blog.

      Start small. Do some sketches. Know you can do this!!

  8. Ah…Gail! With your last two blog posts, you have managed to home in on my personal bull’s-eye-target passion! And, I commented on your last post, too (which is SO unlike me – so you should know that you’re moving THIS reluctant person to e-engage in a way I seldom do – You Clever Artist, You 🙂

    The ONLY thing I don’t completely agree with (and, I know you didn’t intend for anyone to read this into it – it’s a psychological, nit-picky point I’m making, hopefully in the most respectful way): you say you ‘loved the imperfection of their bodies’. I’ve been wanting to create a series of the VERY same subject (‘older’ people at the beach and other settings where they so bravely risk vulnerability by having no place to ‘hide their age’). I have done some thumbnails and studies with the intention of working up some finished pieces. After I’d given it some thought, I decided that one of the reasons I was drawn to that particular subject was not because of the imperfection of older bodies (and/or faces), but because of the almost-always-disregarded, total perfection of an aging body/face. We were ‘made to age’ in this very way – why wouldn’t we celebrate that natural perfection rather than covering it up?

    Last Christmas, I created a pastel for a dear friend of mine as a gift. He has ankylosing spondylitis, which causes a severe curvature of his spine – especially at the base of his neck. I had taken a photo of him at an angle that displayed that neck curve in the most uncompromising way – but I LOVED it because it perfectly captured that part of his identity. I was very nervous to give the pastel to him, and hoped that he would be okay with it. Thankfully, he was. And, so was his family – they all said, ‘that’s Dad’ (or brother, or whatever relation he holds with them). (Whew!)

    I simply ADORE the beach series you produced – I can FEEL the sun through your use of hot-hot colour, and the soft mass of their bodies. No wonder people (and I) responded to it the way they did!

    I am SO drawn to the face and the figure that I’ve chastised myself often for not committing time to achieving some better measure of skill in landscape…but I always come back to: I avoid it because there are many talented artists who LOVE natural or engineered landscape and have achieved a level of skill and connect us (viewers) to it in a way I never could. You really have convinced me that it’s okay for me to spend my (diminishing) time on earth continuing to pursue what lights me on fire. Hopefully, that will be reflected in my finished pieces, too. I’ll work on achieving some better skills in landscape or, a better word for it: ‘setting’ – so I can add more ‘oomph’ to that component when needed; some people’s identities are steeped in that, too.

    Thanks for all the inspiration you gift to us, Gail!

    1. Oh my gosh Pam, thank you for commenting once again on a post – yay!! And wow! comment you did – THANK YOU for taking the time to respond so fully. I love the enthusiasm and passion coming through!!

      Perfect imperfection I should have said. And I totally agree with you regarding our aging bodies. Yet our societies often make it hard to accept what we are and the nature beauty in aging. I think some of the appeal of painting these women was their complete comfort with their bodies! Thank you for your kind comments about the paintings 😁

      Thanks for sharing your own prisky painting adventure and the wonderful outcome. Brave indeed to present the work. And bravo to him and his family for seeing it positively! So great.

      Keep painting what attracts YOU. Your voice (and there’s only ONE of you!) will come through loud and clear.

  9. LOVED this blog. My heart simply sings when I’m painting wildlife, birds and farm animals – nothing moves me more. I’ve been told that as a pastelist I “should” focus on landscapes (and have been given books to “help” me) – I can’t bear the thought, even though I love beautiful vistas – I just don’t want to paint them. I recently took a landscape workshop with an internationally renowned pastelist – not to work towards becoming a landscape painter, but to help me think through my supporting backgrounds more effectively. The workshop also reinforced to me that I truly have no interest in painting landscapes. I enjoy the works others do, but it’s not for me. So, I agree – paint what we each love!

    1. Oh my gosh Lori – such a great example! Thank you for sharing your own experience with the “shoulds” and your shrinking away from them.
      Know what you love (as you do) and paint it!!

  10. Hello Gail! I read all your blogs but I am drawn ( pardon the pun) to comment on this one, as it is truly resonating with me, especially the comment about the distinction between what you are drawn to paint and what you love. I can get very mixed up with this and think I should paint what I love ( e.g landscape) but you are pointing out that is different from what I love to paint ( e.g people doing interesting things in a landscape setting). Thank you so much for highlighting this subtle but important insight/ distinction.

    1. Liz I’m delighted your were “drawn” to comment because this post resonated with you. I’m glad you picked out this subtle distinction. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking we should paint what we love. As I shared in my post, I loved my parrots but I really wasn’t moved to paint them, certainly not in the same way that I felt about them!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Other Related Posts

Headshot of Gail Sibley

Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

Join the mailing list today to receive exclusive tips, resources and inspiration directly from Gail:

Scroll to Top

Welcome Artists!

Online Courses

Pastels 101

Use this link if you bought the course AFTER Sept 2022

Use this link if you bought the course BEFORE Sept 2022

Pastel Painting En Plein Air

Art Membership

IGNITE! Art Making Members

Love soft pastels?? Then join 7000+ other subscribers and get my tips, reviews, and resources all about pastels... it's FREE! Just enter your name and email address below.

Your information will never be shared or sold to a 3rd party. Privacy Policy