by Sean MaryHelen Johnson

How do you begin to make art and what's important?  Most art books begin with a section on materials.  Most art workshops begin with a materials list.  But what is even more important than materials and composition and color, and all the categories you can think of about constructing a image or making art?  

You.  You are the source of the vision, the story, and the meaning behind the image.  You are the real impetus behind art making.  Your confidence level will affect the work you do and the ability to bring your vision into being.  So I will start with the basic of basics—YOU.

Everyday, a creative person must fight the fear that their vision, their art making is not important.   You must beat down the concepts that art is a waste of time.  Art is not valuable.  Art or being creative is just a playful pastime (although play is a good thing and not to be dismissed at work). No!  Art is healing and visionaries are a most important aspect of our culture and society.  Your contribution is important.  Even if you don't want to make art professionally, art is a way of recording your life and what you love.  If you have an urge to be creative in any way, you should follow it.  It will lead to a good space within.

Engaging in creativity is a journey of learning and enlightenment for anyone.  Creativity requires that we embrace core values and pursue becoming a more developed and realized person than when we began.  Dani Shapiro in her book, "Still Writing" states that courage, patience, persistence, empathy, openness and the ability to deal with rejection are qualities that are required of writers.  See,  Writing, like any other creative pursuit including art making, requires that we be gentle with ourselves and allow ourselves to explore and practice before expecting to be able to make "good" art.  To practice faithfully, we must be willing to fail, and return again and again to the practice table.  We must be gentle with ourselves in order to build skills and confidence.

Our education system requires performance, not practice.  So you may be a little out of practice at practice.  Learning to draw, paint, and make images requires failing.  In school, we weren't supposed to fail, right?  In my family we were supposed to make As and Bs.  Cs, Ds, and Fs, weren't appreciated.  So we studied.  But studying isn't the same as practice.  Practice takes into account that failures are needed before we succeed.  Sometimes failures even lead the way to success.

So keep that in mind, and practice, practice, practice.  You might want to begin with seeingLet's see what one of my favorite artists, Charles Reid, has to say about seeing.  Mr. Reid says there are 3 ways of seeing:

    1.  Through contour or shape to emphasize a flat pattern or a linear quality.

    2.  Through rhythm or gesture to capture the spirit or essence of your subject.

    3.  Through broad masses of colors and values, using a lost-and-found quality to characterize your subject.

                From "Pulling Your Paintings Together" by Charles Reid. See,

In a workshop I took with Mr. Reid, he said:  "The way you draw is the way you paint.  Let's just draw this once and then paint the same way."

So, to begin image making, we must start with seeing and drawing.  And to do that we must trust what we see, and our body's response, and our whole being to guide us through the process.  In seeing, we must simplify and focus.  In drawing we must allow our eyes to observe the subject and trust the hand-eye coordination to transfer to paper what we see.  In the beginning, your drawings will likely be less accurate than what you will be able to achieve if you practice daily or weekly.  

Here's a suggested process for those who don't believe they can draw or those of you that just want to get back into practicing:

  1. See what materials you have on hand.  Do you have a variety of pens, pencils, watercolors or other art supplies?  If so, get them all together in one place and make believe you are 3-5 years old again (this is where play and imagination come in).  Have fun.  Just see what marks you can make.  Make a mess.  Test the supplies you have on hand.
  2. Gather your favorite 3 tools together and set the rest aside.  Get a good sketchbook to work in—I recommend one with 140lb paper.  Strathmore makes a few in different sizes with 140lb paper which are inexpensive and good for journal keeping with drawing and painting.  Go ahead, get a second pocket size one and carry it around with you for a week and stop somewhere during your day for 10 mins and draw something you like.  See, —you can't beat Cheap Joes for supplies, although there are so many others that are great.
  3. Go to the kitchen table and get one object and draw it by carefully observing it and looking mostly at the object while you are drawing.  Use a good strong line and don't erase.  If you need to make a correction just draw over the lines with another good, strong line.
  4. Do this every morning for a week with the same object. 

Let me know how it turns out!  The drawing I did at the top, "Friends," shows you how far you can go with inaccuracy and still be reading the underlying message of the piece.  See you next week!

Image "Friends" and article above, copyright SMHJ2016, all rights reserved.  Contact for permission requests.  See SMHJ's website at: