Artist, Know Thyself

“Know thyself.”

Those two words have offered good advice ever since some Greek sage uttered them centuries ago. They’re usually attributed to Socrates, but at least a dozen other wise men have been credited with saying them first. But this blog is about art, not history.

I often say those words to myself as I’m learning different art media, and more and more, I say them with a shake of my head. Where art is concerned, you see, I obviously don’t know myself very well. Let me explain.

I used gel pens to this "Creative Cats" coloring page.
I used gel pens for this “Creative Cats” coloring page.

The decision to learn drawing came last June after I’d bought a fairly expensive set of colored pencils. I’d discovered “grown-up” coloring books — which are now all the rage. The first one I bought — Creative Cats — cost $6.00. Once I had it in my eager hands, however, I had no idea how I was supposed to color the highly-intricate drawings. Crayons wouldn’t work. What did I need?

I experimented with cheap colored pencils, switched to gel pens, then went back to colored pencils — after buying that very nice Prismacolor Premier set. I immediately fell in love with the pencils, but it struck me as a bit absurd to invest so much money all for a $6.00 coloring book.

The only way to justify the expense, I reasoned, would be by learning to draw.

But, little did I know that it would be a long time before I’d be ready to even attempt using those beautiful, colorful Prismacolor Premiers.

I bought a sketchbook and an inexpensive set of drawing pencils. I looked through “how-to” books on Amazon and settled on Drawing Lessons for Beginner Artists. All my sketches were black and white. No color.

After finishing that book, I moved on to You Can Draw in 30 Days.  Black and white. Still no color. That was fine, though. I was learning, and I was having fun. Oh, but I was looking forward to the time when I’d be ready to grab those colored pencils and create real art!

Thirty days later, I joined Matt Fussell’s Virtual Instructor site and began his “Secrets to Drawing” course. I learned the elements of art and so much more. All in graphite. Black and white. No color.

Red Conte
Conte sticks gave me my first opportunity to use color in my art.

Finally, things changed. Nope. I didn’t get to start using color. I got to try charcoal. I hated it! My drawings were messy — and so was I. Why would anyone want to draw with charcoal? I knew it was a medium that I would never enjoy.

And then I started doing charcoal portraits. I did get to use a little touch of color when I learned about conte sticks, and before long my opinion changed. I loved using both conte and charcoal. Who would have thought?

As much as I loved charcoal, it was soon time to move on. What next? Pen and ink. Back to black and white. My first pen and ink project was fun. I’d bought a set of Faber-Castell “Pitt” artist pens, and with the very first stroke, I was in heaven.

“Oh, I love these!” I exclaimed. Had I perhaps found my true artistic calling? Was I destined to be a pen-and-ink artist? It seemed a likely possibility. Years before I’d done a bit of calligraphy and had enjoyed it. Plus, I had a lovely set of gel pens. Wouldn’t it be fun to draw with them?

Once I started actually attempting to draw with pen and ink, however, my tune changed — drastically. I simply didn’t have the patience for it. My strokes were too imprecise. I couldn’t correct my mistakes.

I still loved my Pitt pens, but I hated pen and ink drawing. I hated it so much, in fact, that I quit drawing. For nearly two weeks, I didn’t touch my sketchbook. Of course, it was late December. Holiday season. That was the excuse I made. The truth was that pen and ink drawing wasn’t fun.

I’d been following along with The Pen and Ink Experience video course, and one morning I realized that I didn’t have to finish it if I didn’t want to. I felt a little guilty, yes, but I also felt a little relieved. I could go back to learning and start enjoying art again.

Next came colored pencils. I liked my Prismacolors. I tried Polychromos, too, and liked them, as well. I learned techniques for using them, then moved on to oil pastels.

My first reaction was “Oh, yes, I’m really going to like oil pastels.” Later, I was saying, “Hmmm, I’m not sure oil pastel is really my thing.”

And then, there was watercolor. “I’ll never catch on to this…I don’t like watercolor” soon became “There’s nothing I love more than watercolor painting.”

In looking back over my journey to this point, it seems that with the one exception of colored pencils, I’ve consistently been wrong about my likes and dislikes. I obviously don’t know myself when it comes to art.

Lately, as I’ve thought more about individual style, I’m wondering how I’ll maneuver my way into developing a truly personal statement with my work when I clearly have so little understanding of myself as an artist.

Maybe it just takes me longer to learn what I like and don’t like. Maybe the only way I’ll really come to know myself is by continuing to try new things, to explore many different pathways, and to discover unexpected possibilities.

I guess this is one of the reasons I’m enjoying this process of becoming an artist. I’m not only learning a great deal about art, I’m learning a lot about myself, too.




  1. Oh, I’m that way with music, too! “I don’t care for Haydn.” “He’s my favorite composer!”

    We need experience with a medium, a composer, and instrument to know if we like it or not–and in the early learning phases, it’s just so hard to know if something is for us or not!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have no idea how I missed your comment. I just came across it today. You’re right. We definitely need experience before we can judge whether or not something really suits us. At the moment, I’m loving watercolors, colored pencils, and soft pastels. But that’s today. Tomorrow it might be different 🙂


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