When you are first starting out as an artist it can be really exciting exploring all the possibilities with different art mediums. You may even find one that really resonates with you and inspires your work. Experimenting and working in multiple mediums is something I really love, and it’s something I highly encourage every artist take the time to do.
As a child, I started out with mostly drawing mediums like graphite and colored pencil, although not in the way I use colored pencil now. As I got older I started using pastels and acrylic paints, mostly through art class experiences in school. Eventually I decided that I really liked painting and that was going to be “my thing.”
Art College brought even more experimentation especially in my illustration classes which was like opening a whole other set of doors down a whole different hallway. How was I supposed to just choose one to specialize in now??? Also, on that note…do you HAVE TO choose just one? The reality is, that many artists are often multi-disciplined and in my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even within my colored pencil work, which I now consider my primary medium, I’m often using mixed media applications.
While my experimenting days are far from over, I tend to have a handful of favorite mediums I stick to now. The advantage of having a working knowledge of a variety of mediums has given me ways to work more efficiently in my current art practice. This is obviously not for everyone and, of course, there’s nothing wrong with specializing in one. The problem for me is that creatively my mind starts to wander on occasion and I long for something that has a more immediate gratification and result. For those of you that are familiar with colored pencils, you know that it can be a very tedious and slow medium. I absolutely love the results I get from it, but sometimes I want to just do something larger scale in an afternoon and that’s just not possible with my beloved colored pencils.
From an exploration perspective, often my biggest creative challenges come from my commission clients. It can be easy when you are making work primarily for yourself to stay pretty snuggly in your comfort zone. For this reason, I actually really look forward to it when a client approaches me about a project that’s a little outside of my creative box. Typically the challenges don’t involve using a medium I’m unfamiliar with but instead doing something different with that medium.
For example, I have one client who has gotten me to do two Diet Coke can replica garbage cans. One for her and later a smaller one for her good friend. This same client also challenged me to do a multi-panel painting with a New York City theme in an abstract style.
More recently, I was commissioned to do a custom pair of Vans Slip-ons for another very special client for her wedding day. She came to me with the idea and that she loved my peony colored pencil pieces and it was up to me to make that dream come true in the form of shoes! I love these collaborations with my clients and it usually pushes me to learn a new skill or find a way to creatively problem-solve their request.
That said, I always make sure I’m not over-promising and under-delivering. First of all, if I haven’t done something before, I’m upfront and honest about it. If I think it’s something I could figure out, then I go for it, but with the caveat to my client that it will be the first attempt and also that it may take longer because of it. This is also something I only tend to do with clients that I either have a personal relationship with or have done many commissions for. There needs to be a certain amount of trust there between both of us for me to be comfortable taking on projects that are a little out of my wheelhouse.
Now all of that said, there are times as well when it’s not a great idea to go on an experimentation spree. There’s a difference between exploring new mediums and attempting to establish some proficiency at them and just skipping around because you are frustrated with one and then end up not mastering any.
Many beginner artists will hit a roadblock in a particular medium and because it becomes too difficult or they can’t achieve artwork that looks like someone they admire immediately, they give up and move on to another medium. This typically happens a lot with adult students either returning to art or learning to become an artist for the first time.
For some reason, there is a misconception out there that art is supposed to be easy – so easy that a child could do it! So why can’t you as a grown adult? Sure, some styles of art “look” easy or some may feel a bit more intuitive, but make no mistake that it doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to some extent. Like any new skill that you will learn, it takes hours of repetitive practice and a strong desire to learn and improve to actually get good at something. Even those who find art comes more naturally to them still need to put in the time.
The main thing that I always return to when I’m experimenting or trying something new is deciding if it’s fun. Many people make a living from being an artist and enjoy doing so but for those who are using it primarily as a leisure activity don’t forget the LEISURE part. Trying something new creatively can be a great way to break out of a creative block. By simply changing the surface that you are working on with a particular medium you can open up a whole new world of possibilities and even perhaps stumble upon something that really clicks with you. It may even inspire a new style of art that you don’t normally work in. The main thing to remember is that when you are open to possibilities there is no limit to what you are able to create!
Have you created artwork outside of your comfort zone recently?
Share your experience with me in the comments below!