New Beginning, Fresh Start, Turning a New Leaf. Just a few of the ways we talk about being re-energized and re-focused on our projects and goals. Sitting with a group of artists recently, the conversation went like this: “I haven’t done anything new.” “My brain is mushy.” “I have a show coming up and no work for it.” “I’m just repeating myself”. “It all looks the same.” “I don’t know what to do.” Sound at all familiar? How do we keep it fresh for ourselves and spark creativity when we have deadlines to meet and feel like we need to ‘produce’ creative work? While we can’t just wait for inspiration to strike, there are ways to foster the joy of creating. For me it doesn’t usually require any Big changes (new medium, new genre) but rather small changes I can easily fit into the work I already do. Here are some suggestions that work for me:

Change Scale

Townsend Atelier recently hosted a show that had one simple requirement – all artists had to create a work on 4” round coasters. At first this seemed crazy. Four inches? and Round? But what at first seemed really limiting resulted in a huge amount of fun both in creating my own pieces and in seeing everyone else’s. The landscapes, portraits, abstracts and even sculpture and mixed media were eye-opening!

Confidence, 4” round, oil on coaster

Confidence, 4” round, oil on coaster


This show helped me see I could easily mix up the size of my work, so instead of just working in a mid-size, I’m bouncing back and forth, one day working and forth, and forth, one day working tiny, the next very large.

M is for Mouse, 4x4, oil on panel

M is for Mouse, 4″ x 4″, oil on panel

WIP, 30x30, oil on aluminum panel

WIP, 30″ x 30″, oil on aluminum panel


Lovely Lamb, 4x4, alla prima,oil on panel

Lovely Lamb, 4″ x 4″, alla prima,oil on panel

Take on a Challenge

A friend and I talked about our resistance to dealing with social media and promised each other we would post more often. That didn’t happen till we were invited to a Facebook Challenge: post 7 paintings in 7 days. Rather than posting old work I chose to try working alla prima – something I never do. Again, this turned out to be really fun, and successful. It gave me so much more confidence in painting, and I wouldn’t have done it without the Challenge.

Change a Material

Choose just one new material – a new brand or color of paint, a different medium or varnish. I recently switched to aluminum composite panels for larger works. So far I’m really liking it, but there is a definite learning curve in prepping the panel and in how the first layer of paint soaks in when compared to oil primed linen. Making just one change keeps the frustration level down during the learning curve; when something goes ‘wrong’ I don’t have to wonder which new material caused the issue. Its easy to isolate and solve.

Choose a Workshop with a Specific Goal

I quit taking workshops for awhile – I found I was just taking random classes that were fun but unrelated to my actual work. After considering what I would find truly useful I chose a drawing class. In last month’s OPA blog, David Dibble quoted Jeremy Lipking’s advice to painters:

“Draw more, that’s basically it. A lot of people feel like they know how to draw good enough already, but don’t trust yourself. Learn to draw better.” I can draw – but not nearly as well as I would like, and not in ways that actually inform my paintings. Choose a class that builds an area you want to strengthen. Growing and stretching skills is so satisfying!

Artists on the Loose

Artists on the Loose

Join a Group

We work alone so much of the time and often with no feedback other than the voices in our heads – which, admit it, are frequently negative. Even if you’re an introvert (I am), get over it and go find a few other artists to hang out with on a regular basis. I joined two groups this year – one is specifically a critique group and the other is in a shared studio space. Both support me in my work and let me learn about the very different kinds of work that the others are doing. We talk about our successes and dreams and failures. It makes the load lighter.

Count the Ways

There are so many possible ways to change things up and get recharged. See what’s new in your colleagues’ approaches. One friend of mine is learning about gold/silver leafing. One has decided to stop taking commissions to have more time to follow her heart. While I’m trying out alla prima paintings, another friend has just discovered the pleasure of working slowly in layers. A Facebook friend has committed to doing 100 drawings before returning to the easel. Yet another is documenting her shoe collection through paintings and drawings. Every. Single. Pair.

Finally –

This is something I hadn’t considered until reading Jerry Hardesty’s blog post ‘Art Does Not Speak For Itself’ on FASO’s Fine Art Views. It’s about the need to be able to talk about our art. He writes about having a collector ask about a piece only to find himself completely tongue tied and have the collector wander off. I’ve been there, bet you have too. He suggests a number of ways to get comfortable speaking about your art. My personal favorite is his suggestion to join Toastmasters, but no matter how you achieve it, learning to communicate with others about the work we do can only enhance our own experience of it. So, on my list for next year, is to learn to speak about art publicly. Who knows – even that could turn out to be fun (I’ll keep telling that to my inner-introvert).


Why do all of this? Because the benefits are huge. It keeps me excited about painting, and it keeps me asking questions – What happens when I do this? What if I do it here instead of there? Why did that fail and what can I do about it? By nature I prefer the safe, the familiar. So its unlikely I will suddenly take up performance art, or abstract work. But by trying out changes that aren’t too far outside my comfort zone, I stay connected to my work but continue to grow and to love being an artist.

What gets you excited about being at the easel? What do you want to try, and why? What challenge could make you actually get going? What we do as artists is very hard work. But it should also be very very fun. Ready, set, Go!

Blog post by Terry Rafferty

Upcoming OPA Events

30th Annual National Juried Exhibition 30th Annual National Juried Exhibition
The Thirtieth National Exhibition and Convention will be hosted by the California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum, located in Escondido, California, from April 9 through May 16, 2021. Learn More!
First Annual Student Art Competition First Annual Student Art Competition
The First Annual Student Art Competition is from January 15 - February 15, 2021 and will be open to Student between the ages of 14 to 22 only. Learn More!
OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase
The Spring 2021 Online Showcase is from March 1 - May 15, 2021 and will be open to Associate members only. Learn More!