Should you Adopt the Mindset of a Professional Artist?

Well, in my not-so-humble opinion, YES! But what exactly do I mean?

What I’m NOT talking about is quitting your current job, doing nothing but art and trying to get paid for it. I realize a lot of my YouTube audience and by extension, blog readers here, are leisure time artists just trying to enjoy themselves with art, produce some satisfactory results and perhaps improve.

So, that last one, improving, THATS what I’m talking about here and this is where a professional mindset will help you regardless of whether you aspire to reach a professional level or not. Even more specifically, lets deal with one important way to facilitate improvement and that’s problem solving.

So, Where’s your Talent?

I’m amazed at how many aspiring artists repeatedly produce the same level of work, realize it has real shortcomings, get frustrated, feel like they failed, then try it over and over without once considering exactly where the problems lie. Somehow they just hope that a repeated attempt to make a nice picture will work itself out. When it doesn’t, they despair that they just don’t have any talent and give up. Talent is so much less relevant than most artists realize. Sure it exists and can be a factor in understanding, but artistic advancement is much more accessible than is commonly believed. Simply trying harder is not the answer either. I’ve often heard the idea put forth that you just need practice time. Put in the brush time or the art miles and you’ll get better. Again, there is some truth to that, but unless there is direction and focus that’s not enough. Its like driving miles and miles to the west when you really should be going south. Miles alone don’t help. You’ll never reach a particular destination unless you’re headed in the right direction. Its not all just intuition. There really are learnable skills and diagnosable problems in art. REALLY! This should be an encouragement to anyone who feels they’ve hit a plateau with their art and are wondering if they just don’t have what it takes. Taking your art to the next level can be about so much more than artistic aptitude and talent.

Check Your Work, Then Check it again

So what can you do without spending a fortune on artistic training?

Compare and analyze, analyze, analyze. Work to identify and solve specific problems. I can’t over emphasize specificity! Take a piece you’ve worked on and compare it to a similar but masterful example. Something you love and really want to learn to paint or draw. Be specific and judge it on factors such as those listed below (these tips assume a certain amount of representational or realistic interest in your art since this is usually where artists start).

Accuracy – Judge the specific proportion, value and form of your work and identify where it is most deficient (the inaccuracies). It could be all three. This one area alone accounts for 80-90% of weak representational art. Identify the problem then set about isolating and exercising those muscles alone. Having issues with proportion? Learn and practice better seeing and measuring techniques. Most basic drawing books will demonstrate this. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is an excellent book for showing how we perceive proportions and how to improve our perception. Have you ever drawn by using a grid over a subject image and one on your paper? Then copy the forms and shapes in each grid square? I did this for the first time as a child and was amazed. I realized if I can do it there I can learn to see and measure a subject without a grid. Eureka! Another great book is, How to See, How to Draw – Keys to Realistic Drawing. It has excellent chapters on seeing, comparison, measuring and correcting your drawings. Practice with a medium you’re most comfortable with, whether it be pencil, marker, paint, charcoal, etc. Draw, draw, draw. Start with simple subjects and work up. Accurate proportion is usually just adopting better comparative seeing and measuring techniques (like a grid). Same goes for form and value. Are you effectively judging deeper values or lighter values accurately? Are you looking for value patterns? Look for shapes created by highlight and shadow, not just shapes of your subject as a whole. Isolate values in a scene with a viewer window and judge its depth. Does a form look 3 dimensional or cut out when you draw it? Does it feel fluid or stiff? Study value and contour forms from masterful examples until you can replicate them. Trace them to help you visualize and better study those forms. I know this just scratches the surface but you get the idea.

Technique – Know the mediums you use and love. Make sure you can control them and make them do what you need them to do as a medium. This is subordinate to accuracy but it will hold you back if you don’t attend to it.

Repetition – Yeah, I know. That implies the “P” word again. However, when “practice” becomes more specific and focused it becomes productive (yay! a more positive “P” word). Once you identify those specific problems attack them with vigor and you’ll see results. I guarantee it.

Do This, Not That

Compare what you’re doing to masterful work, and when you do, don’t get discouraged, get specific. This cannot be overstated. I’m not talking about the emotional, self-deprecating comparisons that are so often frowned on. Those, “me bad, they good!” comparisons that tear down your self worth. I’m talking about technical, academic comparisons as if you were checking your answers on a test by comparing them to a list of correct answers. The tendency among beginning and intermediate leisure time artists is to quickly find and settle into a level at which they can be satisfied. There is nothing wrong with that if continual art improvement isn’t really a goal. And yes, you should be happy with where you are in the process and enjoy the journey. But if improvement is your goal, and you accept your poor results, you’re no longer identifying and working on specific problems anymore and thats essential for continued growth. Technical comparisons are a vital part of this activity. If a wonderful drawing or painting puts yours to shame, define the specific why’s of that comparison. Get past broad “I’ll never get there” judgments. Stop shaming yourself. Honestly study it, compare technical specifics, define the differences. This approach works. Specific problem solving in your artwork will bust through barriers like you wouldn’t believe. It’s what pros do constantly. It’s what they did to get to where they are and its what they do to continue on a path of improvement. But you don’t have to be a pro to benefit from this mindset.

What all this boils down to is this – the better you get at identifying specific problems in your art work, the better you’ll be at finding specific solutions and become better equipped to take positive steps towards improvement. And in art, in my opinion, improvement = discovery and that ignites greater passion and delight!

If you’re looking for good online basic drawing instruction is a great place to start (WARNING: Some pages contain nude artist models)

Check out my Amazon affiliate page of recommended art supplies

11 thoughts on “Should you Adopt the Mindset of a Professional Artist?

  1. Steve, Looking forward to tomorrow night ‘s class. Would it be possible for my daughter to come with me? She’s visiting for a few days and is so supportive of my art adventure i would like to include her. We were assuming she’d just stay home but I decided nothing would be lost by asking. Thanks JRogers

    On Wed, Aug 7, 2019 at 6:00 PM The Mind of Watercolor wrote:

    > Steve Mitchell posted: ” Well, in my not-so-humble opinion, YES! But what > exactly do I mean? What I’m NOT talking about is quitting your current job, > doing nothing but art and trying to get paid for it. I realize a lot of my > YouTube audience and by extension, blog readers her” >


  2. A very encouraging essay! Thank you. Being all psyched up and positive is important but not enough—;your still have to crystallise your idea into an image and your hand has to know how to render it. That’s where the brush miles come in: hands don’t learn from analysis (or reading blogs) do they. Only with brush miles, but as you say— the direction does matter.


  3. Thanks, Steve. Very good and well thought out advice. I particularly needed that. I’m sure it will benefit many others.
    Good luck with your continued teaching online and at GCCA.
    Ed Lominack, MD


  4. Thanks, Steve. You are right on the money. I’ve been so busy learning to work with the medium, I’ve neglected keeping up my drawing skills.


  5. You are preaching to the converted. So important to keep these things in mind all the time when drawing and painting. The only drawing teacher I had (a professional artist) gave students lots of exercises in comparative measurement and seeing, especially tone. These tools gave me the confidence to draw anything from landscapes to architecture to faces. Great post.


  6. I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. I think that is very helpful advice to aspiring artists, one that often probably goes overlooked. I think you are right that people think that it just takes time and practice, but it makes sense what you say, that you have to problem solve and see and understand where the problem lies before you can see improvement in your art. Can you tell me where one can sign up for your courses? I heard you mention one in your video, but I don’t see and information about it anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Steve, I’ve been a subscriber for a while but never ventured out of youtube. So I’m very please to read your blogs.
    I too, am an illustrator, graphic designer and fine artist pushing his way to 50…lol.
    Thank you for the encouragement through your blogs and videos.
    I have many questions for you and would appreciate a dialog sharing art and the word of God.

    Grace to you Steve

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Whoa! Proko looks pretty cool.

    I have a pair of live models (close friends of mine) but if they ever decide to stop modeling, I’ll join Proko.

    As for talent, I’ve been saying that too. Someone with persistence who’s coachable is gonna slaughter someone with natural talent but lacks discipline.

    As for problems, I do an eye test then show a few people whose opinion I trust. Then correct mistakes in the next one. I almost always do the same painting twice – the second time an improved version of the first.

    Good article!


  9. Your words are right on. One thing I have noticed in my not so good drawings or painting is that I nave not been LOOKING OR SEEING what I’ve been looking or seeing. I really needed your words. Being 78 years old I don’t have a lot of time to get really good but maybe I can get better. I started thinking art about 20 years ago. Thanks for your help. I do something everyday.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you very much for this article, Steve; I first read it probably about six months to a year ago. After mulling over what you said for a while, I summarized it into a *very slight* paraphrase, “Professionals identify and solve *specific* problems”; I wrote that phrase out and posted it at a couple places where I make my art; it’s helped me many times to stop allowing myself to be so frustrated and instead try to focus in specifically on what’s not working.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s