“Smart Cow” – watercolour, ink and pastel, 12×9 inches

I was tootling around the Internet the other day, as you do, and somehow I wound up on one of those sites where people can ask questions and random people can answer.

Some young girl had just started painting in watercolour, and she asked “How can I add white to a painting? Should I use ink? Acrylics? Pastel? What do other people do.”

(This is a common problem with watercolour – because it’s transparent, you can’t add white watercolour paint on top of colours. Well, you can, but all you get is a muddy version of your original colour).

Anyway, some lady, obviously replete with years of experience, answered as follows:

“Real artists don’t add white in this way. Instead they plan ahead and leave white spaces on the paper.”

I don’t know this woman, but I wanted to slap her anyway.

Real artists?

Like there’s some kind of real artists club, and she is the gatekeeper!

Listen to me, random Internet lady … I am a real artist and I add white to my paintings all the time. I use white guache, white ink, white pastel, white anything-I-can-get-my-hands-on. Then I paint over it and scribble on it with coloured pencils and black ink and whatever else I have to hand.

And when I’m done, I might load white acrylic onto a toothbrush and flick it all over my painting. Just to spite you!

 

“The nose knows.” Watercolour, pastel and ink. 5×7 inches

I’m joking (partly) but here’s the thing …

One of my favourite quotes about art is by the street artist Banksy, whose simple advice is:

“Think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a f******* sharp knife to it.”

I can’t count the number of people who’ve told me that they used to love painting or drawing or sewing or sculpting or whatever … but then they stopped because this or that person told them they were doing it wrong. 

So they quashed their instincts, and stopped being innovative, and learned to do whatever was expected of them, to draw within the lines, to always, always think INSIDE the box.

And isn’t that true of life in general?

We all learn to stay within the lines. We learn what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. We get trained to conform. And to never ever show our true selves for fear of rejection.

But here’s what I’ve learned …

I started out creating conformist art.It followed the rules. It looked pretty. It was safe and conventional. 

But it was boring.

So, to alleviate the boredom, I started experimenting … trying new media, new techniques, new ideas …. some worked and some didn’t, but all of a sudden I felt like I was actually alive. Like every day was a little adventure, because who knew what I’d discover next?

And the more I experimented, the more I poured my own over-emotional, too-caring, disorganized, chaotic, funny, introverted, anxious, mixed-up personality into my paintings, the more people wanted to buy them.

“Lily the Pink” is up for auction on eBay! (see my Facebook page for details)

And even if they didn’t, even if I never sold a painting again, it wouldn’t matter. Because creativity of any kind is all about the journey and not the destination.

A bit like life.

If you want to hear more from me, sign up to get email updates here. And on the off-chance that you’re looking for some super-cool, “no-one else has one of these” Christmas gifts, why not check out my store on Red Bubble? I’m especially proud of the 2015 ‘”Cows with Attitude” calendar – the perfect gift for that friends or family members who have a little bit of attitude themselves!

25 Comments

  1. J
    October 28, 2014

    oh.. great … YES!!! I am an artist too ( OK, I am an amateur artist who has done loads of courses, but who feels unqualified to put ARTIST on my passport.) I dislike the "draw it like I do, and colour it like this" approach. And if I see that masking stuff come out, I switch off. Yep, white on watercolour can produce mud, and yep, it’s great if you can manage to miss the bit you meant to keep white by NOT accidentally splattering with colour. But, who cares. If it works.. (or something else works, why not?) And why NOT have a pink cow….
    I rarely sell, I rarely manage to sort myself out to get printing done of a piece I think might sell
    (usually because it is too late, and I have added the glitter pen, or used a silver calligraphy pen on something BEFORE I thought about the saleable possibilities)

    Love the cows

    Reply
  2. Serena Lewis
    October 28, 2014

    I totally agree with you, Louise. The first rule of art – "There are no rules!". I get riled up too when know-it-all artists try to tell other artists they are doing something wrong. Art is raw, it is personal, it is creative….definitely not meant to be confined to strict boundaries. Btw, I LOVE your cows!

    Reply
  3. Judy
    October 28, 2014

    Louise, your cows are so full of personality. The colors and textures contribute to their beauty! Love your art.

    Reply
  4. Mikel Ann
    October 28, 2014

    I think I might have an art crush on you after this post! Keep up the gorgeous work and damn the box!! You’re fabulous.

    Reply
  5. Lisa Goren
    October 28, 2014

    Great post Louise! I often get the question, "are you allowed to …. In Watercolors?" I always say that permission is always granted. One of the great things I saw recently was the John Singer Sargeant watercolor show in Boston. He used white on top, crayons, wax, ink, and even cut out pieces he didn’t like and pasted other parts on. If he can do it – anyone can!

    Reply
  6. Marcela Strasdas
    October 28, 2014

    Great Post Louise!!!

    Reply
  7. Claudette Panico
    October 28, 2014

    You are spot on Louise…..believing you cant do this or that limits you and your creativity. Thinking out of the box is who we grow and inivative new ideas develop. But I should take this advice to heart….I am kind of a boxed up person myself. Thanks for this great blog.

    Reply
  8. Cathy Johnson
    October 28, 2014

    You GO girl! Yes indeed…ditch that box, or better yet fill it up with all the stuff you have learned to discard, happily, and toss it in recycle!

    Reply
  9. Linda Tennant
    October 28, 2014

    Louise, you really are one of my art heroes. I love this post.

    Reply
  10. Lynda Nichol
    October 28, 2014

    Great post!!!

    Reply
  11. Owen
    October 28, 2014

    !00% correct. I wrote something not dissimilar just a little while ago. Artists are people who make art. Period. 🙂 Let the inner and outer critic both go wherever it is they need to go meanwhile, let us make art. http://owenswain.com/blog/2014/10/17/old-ideas-and-popular-problems-about-art-and-with-artists/

    Reply
  12. Sherrie Simpson
    October 28, 2014

    Love it! I’m sure the person meant "a lot of artists." Well, actually, I’m not so sure. We’ve probably all met this person one way or another. One of my favorite new tools is a white gel pen. I love what it can do! One thing the internet art lady did was inspire a great blog post from you. So thank you, internet lady.

    Reply
  13. nadia
    October 28, 2014

    Hi, Louise. Came over from SBS–delightful post and so accurate. Love the cows as well.
    best from Tunisia,
    nadia

    Reply
  14. Lisa Hoffman
    October 28, 2014

    Preach Louise! I adore your work and I found that the more my sketching concentrated on accuracy, i.e. Looking like a photo, the more bored I became. It was tedious. I do advocate practice, but it wasn’t until I loosened up ( myself and the rules) that my true VOICE came through. Your blog is the perfect place to sound off about random, misguided rules. I’m glad you did!

    Reply
  15. Jo Sumara
    October 28, 2014

    Hi Louise,
    I came over from SBS also (although I am not enrolled this time, but will be back for the next class). Love your post and just the line…"collapse the box" makes me smile. Your cows are inspirational and I always look forward to your post. Jo Sumara

    Reply
  16. Lynn Cohen
    October 28, 2014

    Oh I sure hope you told the girl who was asking about white how YOU do it! As for the "real artist lady" random internet artist lady, may she rot in hell. LOL Yes, I said THAT!
    I have also been meaning to tell you that when we saw cows up close in Ireland and in England and in France in the small villages we drove or walked through and around I always thought of YOUR cows and I looked at those cows with new eyes! They were CUTE and draw-able, and thank you for giving me a whole new appreciation of cows in general! I do not eat them either.

    Reply
  17. Donna Naes
    October 28, 2014

    Oh Louise, you are so right on! Thank you for this post. PS…I think your work is amazing, and ‘those’ folks that continue to blow off those of us who experiment and use anything that works for us, can ‘well pooof off’. My thought is that they are not ‘real’ artists. We are!

    Reply
  18. deborah
    October 28, 2014

    THANK YOU FOR THIS POST, Louise! I wish that dear girl could see it and be encouraged to USE WHITE!. Oh it is so hard to be happy in a BOX! And sometimes it seems to take a lifetime to get out. Yea for the real artist’s journey! thank you again! deborah

    Reply
  19. tracey fletcher king
    October 29, 2014

    perfectly said… fabulous post…xx

    Reply
  20. Jan
    October 29, 2014

    Love, love your attitude!!! Great advise and insight!

    Reply
  21. Kirsty
    October 29, 2014

    well said. i learned from an early age being told i was doing stuff ‘wrong’ like pegging out the washing, peeling spuds etc. etc. but found that i got results. there is always 2 ways to do everything, if not more. both ways work. ‘constrained’ art is technical and much appreciated by many for the skill but unconfined art is generally appreciated for the Art.

    Reply
  22. Lisa
    October 30, 2014

    Bravo..

    Reply
  23. Darlene Campbell
    October 30, 2014

    (Although I don’t like white that comes in my watercolor box I LOVE other white products to use with watercolors.) You are so right! This is exactly why I say it is best to simply draw and paint first from instinct, from trial and error, in order to build style and confidence. One day you say, "Ah ha this is what I can do. This is me." Then after all of that go take some classes. It is easier to pull in techniques and methods to what you already do ..otherwise you risk squashing your creative style…just as you see happened in this story. Awesome though that you got a brilliant essay out of this…"real artists?" ha ha Cheers-Darlene

    Reply
  24. Joan
    November 1, 2014

    Hooray for you! Standing up for the "out of the box" artist is how we roll around here…NO RULES. I’d like to smack that internet lady upside the head with my 3 inch wide paint brush loaded with white medium of any sort. So there! Couldn’t agree with you more.

    Reply
  25. Marva
    November 1, 2014

    Bravo!!! There are no rules in art, that’s what I like about it!!!!

    Reply

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