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I Want To Do What You Do

Beginner art class

I’ve been asked a lot recently, to teach a class to create work in my style. The request comes disguised as a compliment "I want to do what you do", but to me, it's not necessarily a compliment.

I have very conflicting emotions about this and struggle to formulate a reply, so I’ll attempt to explain myself here, while I’m not in the hot seat.

A million thoughts run through my head on receiving this request, which has sometimes been very persistent or even aggressive. The two principal ones are; “Wow! What an amazing compliment!”, the other is quite business like; “My artistic expression is my own intellectual property”. Please understand that my creations are only in existence through years and years of failed attempts, forward and backward steps in progress, trial and error and small triumphs, all of which is still happening every time I pick up a paint brush.

Creativity meme

I have taught one class in “my style” and I believe I was extremely fortunate in the attending students, although I didn’t realise it at the time. All were established artists already and just wanted a weekend of playing with art in a different way, more like an art therapy weekend. It was so much fun and I loved sharing ideas with a relaxed and receptive group.

However, some recent requests have revealed themselves to be less benign. One prospective student openly declared their intention of being able to copy my work so they didn’t have to buy it.

Ouch. I mean come on, I’m not even dead yet and it’s not selling for millions!

From a business perspective, I’m not nearly well established enough outside of my local area to encourage people to pass off my creative process as their own expressions. But from an artsy perspective, I love encouraging others to develop their creativity.

So, how to approach this conundrum? I recently took a vacation that gave me time to collect my thoughts and meditate on recent ideas and problems (see John Cleese’s talk on Creativity about the importance of this

I came to the conclusion that I would actually be doing any developing artists a disservice by teaching them ‘how to paint like me’.

The easiest way I can think of to explain it:

If you buy a flat pack wardrobe, take it home, read the carefully prepared instructions and put it together, did you make the wardrobe? I would argue no, you didn’t. You assembled it. There isn’t anything remotely creative in the process.

I could teach you the mechanics of my pieces, how to break everything down into a series of easy to do steps, but the magic of it would be lost.

Freedom to fail meme

I have the extreme pleasure of being surrounded by a fierce group of artists forging their way in the world, whom I can turn to for guidance and discussion. Mariah, of Harmony Valley Art, was with me during my last class request encounter and I was glad to get her thoughts on how to handle this. She was quite shocked at how persistent the ‘student’ was and commented on how uncomfortable I looked. Believe me, during the exchange I was very uncomfortable. I’m glad she was able to offer some words of wisdom, some of which I’ll share with you now.

Mariah recommends encouraging emerging artists who are still tying to find their best expressions to first list everything that inspires them.

Ding! This light bulb went off! Of course!!! It’s what artists do all the time, even if they’re conscious of it or not!

When you’ve got your inspirations down, that’s where your art is going to come from. It’ll resonate more deeply, it’ll be true to you and most importantly it’ll be honest and authentic. You’ll find all of that in every brush stroke and pencil mark.

Here are a few things that inspire me.

Freedom, peace, tranquility, geometry, nature, cosmology, calm, harmony, music, energy, adventure, connection, mystery, the unknown, spontaneity, astrophysics, laughter, cold crisp air, light quality, cubism, animals, podcasts (The Human Experience is one of my faves) and the list goes on and on and on………

Not all of these show up in every piece of my work as an obvious influence, but it’s certainly guiding my brush strokes, colour choices and composition. It’s what drives my art and sparks my ideas.

Mariah Plant's art work

In contrast, here are some theme’s that inspire Mariah’s creations; “self adornment, the female figure, Euro influences on Canada, damask wall paper, moths, the moon, witchy aesthetics and more. The list goes on and on, just like my far from one track mind.”

I highly recommend you look at her beautiful work and you’ll find these influences in there. You can follow her on Facebook: harmonyvalleyart, Instagram: mariahaimeeart or go to her Etsy shop:

The best thing about creating art from inspiration is that even if you have the exact same inspirations as me, our art will never look the same, because we are not the same.

I’ll continue to host figure drawing sessions and teach the beginner paint nights to share my skills with others. I can show you many brush techniques, the best way to apply paint and easy steps to assemble a painting. If you’re beyond that, then really, you don’t need me, you’re ready to take those skills and play with them.

Don’t be the assembler, dig deeper and be the creator. It won’t be easy, but anything that’s worth doing never is! Find your voice and share it with the world in the way that only you can, then you’ll be a true artist and I’ll be turning to you for discussion and advice!

Weigh in on the discussion!

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