Artistic License

CJ (3)Recently I joked about receiving a “license to create” from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. I have this sticker posted on a mirror close to where I do most of my painting. It’s a great visual reminder of the joy that comes from being creative.

I’ve always been creative — I think everyone has creative ability — and throughout my life I’ve been involved in music, dancing, writing, photography, design, perfume-making, soap-making, and now, yes, art. I’m happily drawing and painting with watercolors. I’m learning scratchboard techniques, and soon I’m going to try acrylic paints.

I guess I don’t need a license for all my creative activities, but at the same time, I wish this little sticker could truly give me the artistic license I need.

Confused? Let me explain.

To me, artistic license is a special sort of freedom. It means knowing when and how to bend — or break — rules for better effect. It means having a vision and following through on it. It means changing perspectives or rearranging elements to create stronger compositions. With visual arts, it means seeing the world through an artist’s eyes, and I haven’t yet developed this ability.

I see the beginnings of it now and them. At times, a face will catch my attention. “I want to draw that face,” I think to myself. Or as we’re driving along, I’ll be struck by the beauty of a scene. “Oh, that would be beautiful to paint,” I say.

I’m glad I’m starting to see the world from an artist’s point of view. But there’s so much more to it!

Over the past few months, I’ve seen a lot of “art challenges” posted in various Facebook groups. A reference photo is provided, and artists are invited to share their paintings based on the photo. A simple concept. The results are always astounding to me because of the wide range of differences in the paintings submitted.

My thinking is along the lines of “Oh, I never realized we could paint part of the scene,” or “Oh, I didn’t know we could use different colors,” or “Well, you mean it’s all right to add something else to the picture?”

These variations — and dozens more — are part of what I call artistic license, that sense of freedom true artists have, the ability to see possibilities that aren’t obvious, and the instinctive knowledge of knowing how to create one’s vision.

My vision as an artist is still very limited. I’m basically at a “see it and draw it” stage, although I’ve learned to remove elements at times in the interest of simplifying a scene — not to strengthen the composition but to make it easier for me to complete. That’s not quite the same as taking artistic license.

What I hope to develop is an awareness of interest in composition. What I mean is understanding how to create strong points of interest for the viewer, how to view a scene or reference photo and “zero in” on finding the right focal point for the art I create. I also want more awareness of different styles and their effect. I know I’m not explaining myself very well, but that’s the thing about artistic license. It’s something that defies explanation. It’s something natural artists have, and something that struggling artists — like me — have to develop through time and practice.

At least, I hope it develops through experience. Even though I’m thrilled with the drawing skills I’ve learned, I don’t want to remain “stuck” at a level where drawing mostly means copying what I see or imitating another artist’s choices and style. I want to look at a scene and see it not as it actually is, but as I want to create it.

As artists, we have so many choices! We can create with stark black marks from charcoal, or fill a canvas with bold, unapologetic colors. We can work lightly and loosely, splattering drops of paint to create the illusion of an image, or we can meticulously create hyper-realistic drawings that leave viewers in disbelief. We can work large-scale or create tiny drawings. We can even choose to express feelings in abstract form, splashes of colors, or simple geometric shapes.

But when and how do we develop these abilities? At what point do we break free of the “learning process” and give ourselves permission to truly create?

These are questions I’m asking now as I seek my own “artistic license”. Although I’m grateful to “Cheap Joe” Miller for the sticker, I realize that what I’m seeking can’t be found outwardly. I’ll only find it deep within myself.



    1. Exactly! With so many possibilities, how to we develop that sense of knowing how to show our subject in the best way? I know it comes from understanding what we want to say, and I guess that goes back to having our own “voice” as an artist. I’m still at the stage where I’m learning to make sounds. The possibilities leave me gasping for breath, if you know what I mean.


    1. It’s a great feeling, really, to wake up each day and discover new things. Learning keeps us young in many ways, don’t you think? And art has such a playful quality about it, it’s a lot like being a curious child again. That’s one of the reasons I love it so much.

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      1. What really sucks is that so many schools think art programs are of little value. Quite the opposite! Part of my “mission” with art is to share it with children and help them see the possibilities it holds.

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  1. I thought your post made total sense. Everything you mentioned rings true for me and it is just a day by day learning process and every day, even with failure, I get a little bit better at some area of painting or I discover another easier way or more effective way of doing something. So this next year should be interesting….I’m half way excited, half way in dread.

    The story…well, my brother in law is a contractor and just bought some more land on which he invited us to store our travel trailer for the price of one painting a month. I told him, don’t you think flowers are gonna soften your image? He says, no flowers. I want TRACTORS!!!! Big tractors!!!! Rollers and graters and excavators! Oh goodness. Forced learning!

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    1. Oh, my, are you in for fun…LOL. My husband loves farm tractors, so I know I’ll eventually have to do a few of those. Vehicles can be so frustrating! I’ve done sketches of old cars and trucks, and I’ve tried a few sports cars. The old ones are easier, I think. I can’t even imagine trying heavy equipment. I suppose if you break the machines down into “workable parts” — the shapes — it could be fun. Interesting, for sure. I hope you’ll share a few online.


      1. Lololol. I drew a few excavators yesterday which has me thinking about your artistic license post. I think I like the idea of the part with the motor being on a dirt hill small and fuzzy like it is off in the distance and put all the focus on the arm with the bucket full of dirt and rocks. If it turns out decent when I finally do it, I will certainly share. I’m honestly overwhelmed…but I figure after a few of those paintings, I might get the hang of it. I told my sister, flowers for the wives, big trucks for the men.

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      2. Remember my van painting? Of course my husband loves it, and the surprising thing is that so many other people like it, too. Your excavators might be a real hit with everyone. The way you’re envisioning it sounds really fun. Best of luck with it!

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