5 Ways to Cultivate Your Creative Voice

“How do I develop a unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?” 

Recently, while I was setting up for a morning workshop demonstration, a student asked me the following question; “How do I develop my own unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?” 

I responded to her while arranging my art materials for the morning with a handful of ideas. I want to share them with you now.  Here are five ways to cultivate your creative voice. 

1.    Establish a Rhythm. When you are working toward the development of your own artistic voice, the first pillar to establish is regular working habits. Consistent work will bring you both confidence and momentum in the development of your artistic voice. Take out your calendar and schedule weekly studio time. This is a critical step in the process that should not be ignored. Otherwise, you may end up feeling like a phony and spending valuable energy second guessing yourself. Regular work cultivates the confidence and momentum you need to continue growing.

2.     Gain Inspiration. Discovering your own creative voice requires an understanding of what inspires you. So be sure to fill up your inspiration tank! Who’s your favorite artist? What moves you about their work? Describe it, write it down. What is your favorite painting? Do you remember the way you felt when you first saw it? I remember viewing an exhibition by John Singer Sargeant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when I was 25. It permanently altered my creative journey. Why not try copying a favorite painting, just to understand the artist’s mindset and methodology in the work. This is a process of sensitizing yourself to your own artistic tastes, and then moving toward the subjects, textures, colors, shapes, designs, and even finish quality that moves you. Describe how you want to make others feel when they view your work. It can also be helpful to articulate what kind of art you don’t like, and stay away from it in your work! Try creating a mood board of your favorite colors and paintings, textures and surfaces, subjects and designs, and then hang it in your studio to keep you motivated. Get really clear about what you love, so you are moving toward this in your own personal work. 

3.     Be An Explorer. Your artistic voice needs space and time to engage in creative play that allows you to explore new territory. This is when you paint just for yourself. Not for the client or the exhibition or the accolades, but for the pure joy of creating. These other motivations can nurture a performance mindset that obscures our true artistic voice. Basically, we are trying to impress people instead of painting what we love. I don’t know about you, but when I’m performing for approval, I put on a mask. I hope you don’t make this mistake the same way I have. Instead, put on your favorite music, turn off Facebook Live, take off the mask and allow yourself to explore your creative passion. Be an explorer for a while instead of a performer. In time, amazing things begin to happen as you cultivate this type of creativity. Honest work emerges. Authentic expression develops. You discover your voice. 

4.     Get Feedback (from people you trust) It is very difficult to both create and critique your own work toward the development of a unique personal style. As artists, we have a tendency of getting in our own heads. What we often need is the encouragement of others! A great way to do this is to connect with other artists that share your passion and get valuable feedback from them on your work. I joined the CT Pastel Society as a young artist and made wonderful lifelong friends who have encouraged my creative development in powerful ways. Early on, I connected with a few artists at my church. We shared our work with one another, spurring each other on to develop our potential. Not only was I greatly encouraged, but I was able to provide encouragement to others as well. You could be a fantastic source of inspiration to someone else in their own creative development! Here’s the truth, you’ll often be the last one to see the genius in your work. But others will point it out right away. You’ll discount that little painting you made during your personal studio time, thinking, “It’s not even finished, what a mess!” Then your friend will see it and say, “don’t touch it, I love it!” This feedback is invaluable, and creates a trail of breadcrumbs along the way to realizing your own unique style.

5.     Be Patient. Your inner creative voice is more like a dove than a peacock early on. It’s not audacious and showy. It’s sensitive, avoids attention and can get scared away easily at first. You need to give yourself time and space to develop naturally, and trust that consistent, honest work will encourage the dove out of its cage. Forcing it is never a good idea. Give yourself permission to research, explore, create, copy, share, review, revise as well as rest and renew your senses. Before long, you’ll find yourself soaring with a unique creative voice of your own. 

I hope these five points will encourage you in the development of your own personal style. Don’t give up, keep on painting, and keep pursuing your passion!

The Painterly Portrait on Black - PART TWO

Part two of "The Painterly Portrait on Black" is here! I hope you enjoyed the first video. Now it's time to refine our portrait and develop the features as we bring this little African Princess to life. Enjoy!

If you would like to try your hand at the UART Dark Pastel papers and boards, you can find them here. Give it a try, I think you'll love this wonderful, rich dark surface for pastel. Now get out to your easel and create something lush and painterly today!

The Painterly Portrait On Black

Exciting news! I'm announcing a new two-part video series that will illuminate and inspire you with a new approach to the painterly portrait! I'll show you how to pull the lights out of the dark by creating a portrait on black using the newly released UART Dark Premium Mounted Boards. Check out part one below, and if you enjoy the video, please click the subscribe button on my YouTube Channel! That way, you'll be the first to know when part two releases.

I'd love to come along side you and help you take your portraits to the next level. Join me in a live portrait workshop near you!

The Painterly Landscape

This spring has provided me with fantastic opportunities to help artists develop their creative potential in both landscape and portrait workshops from Vermont to Virginia, as well as my home state of Connecticut. We've put together a short video from our last two landscape workshops to give you a glimpse into what a painterly landscape workshop can be like, and share some of the lovely work produced by our workshop participants. 

Check out my list of live workshops below, and come join me at a workshop near you!

Painting Trees in Pastel

Happy spring! The tree blossoms have just decided to bloom this week here in Connecticut, so I must confess to being pretty excited. It's a perfect time to answer a lingering question that many of you have asked me in previous workshops:

"How do you paint trees?"

I thought the most effective way to answer your question would be to actually demonstrate my approach to painting trees in pastel for you. So here's a free video demonstration to help you tackle this exciting subject. As you do, remember this creative tip: suggestion is often more powerful than a literal description when it comes to handling foliage. 

Enjoy the video!

If you found this video helpful, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel! And be sure to post a comment or reply to this email with any other questions you may have. I'll do my best to address them in future videos.

Check out my list of live workshops below, and come join me at a workshop near you!

Charcoal Drawing Step-By-Step

I hope you know just how unique and extraordinary you are as an artist. 

You're different. This is because you don't see things the way others do. Instead of just looking at a field, you see a glorious pattern of light and shadow. Instead of looking upon a face, your artists' eyes observe a beautiful mosaic of color and light that conveys unique expression and likeness. What an amazing gift you have!

Whenever I'm teaching new artists to see in this way, I like to describe the seven "visual habits" that govern our ability to see like artists. I describe all seven of these habits in my book, "Beginning Drawing," if you'd like to find out more. 

I'd love to share a fun one-minute video with you of a step-by-step charcoal portrait. This Cambodian Apsara Dancer was a real joy to create. I used all of the seven visual habits to draw this portrait. 

One of the seven visual tools is called, "units of measurement," and I used this technique to scale the drawing to the paper as well as to establish the basic proportions in correct relationship with each other. In this portrait, the distance from the dancer's chin to her forehead line were used as a unit of measurement to scale the drawing.

Watch the video with your artists' eyes and enjoy!

A Solution to Your Studio Chaos

Admit it... you have a problem, and it's gotten out of control. Your studio has become infested. It's as if these little critters have multiplied overnight, and now you can't seem to get a handle on them. Know what I'm talking about? Your pastels! 

In all seriousness, organizing your pastels can be overwhelming. Developing a simple system to access all those colors, brands and sizes so that you can paint with confidence and focus is not only important, it's critical to your next painting's success. Don't worry, I'm here to help. 

Just sit back, grab a peppermint mocha and watch this video. You'll be organizing your pastels in no time!

Looking for Inspiration?

Workshops are such an inspiring time of collaboration and growth for all involved. I just hosted a portrait workshop sponsored by our friends at UART Premium Sanded Paper. We thought you would enjoy a window into our creative experience, so we made a video to give you a taste of our time together! What a fun and talented group of artists came together to encourage one another in their creative development and learn with me. 

Are you looking for some further inspiration yourself? Don't miss out on upcoming opportunities to grow! View our 2018 workshop schedule here.

P.S. Just listen to what Pam had to say about her workshop experience:

"This class was extremely well planned. There was optimum time for thorough and masterful demonstrations, and yet ample time for individual studio work.  It was a perfect balance.  Alain met each of us at our own level and made us feel comfortable.  I learned so much in just a few days!" -Pam


Pastel Study of a Scottish Loch

I've already been dreaming of the upcoming Scotland Paint Away Workshop in July, 2018. I couldn't help myself, and created a quick pastel video of an inspiring Scottish loch to spread the wonder with you. I hope you enjoy this short demonstration painting. Register now to join me next July and create your own inspiring paintings in Scotland!

The 5 Stages of a Successful Portrait Commission

These 5 steps will help you design a winning collaboration with your next client and grow your portrait business.

You love creating portraits. You’re passionate about people as well as your art, and you want to grow your portrait business. Why? Because getting more commissions and generating income through your art allows you to do what you love- to create- and fulfill your purpose as an artist.

Portrait commissions are a special kind of art; a true collaboration between the artist and the client. When they go well, these two parties work together effectively to bring a beautiful portrait to life. But when they go wrong, the process can be frustrating, stressful, disappointing and draining for both the artist and the client, and the end product is far from your best work.

A Pathway to Success

So, how do you ensure that all your portrait commissions will be destined for success, leading to more and more commissions? One significant way is to develop a simple step-by-step process which yields your best results, then clearly describe the pathway that you and your client will travel together to reach this destination.

Here’s the thing; your client doesn’t come with a third eye or a crystal ball that enables them to intuitively understand how they ought to work with you to achieve the greater outcome. And they aren’t artists, so they have no idea what you need from them in order to create your best work. That is, unless you clearly describe it to them.

Clear Away the Fog of Confusion

Now I know you are much more passionate about creating paintings than describing process. Trust me though, if you will take the time to define a step-by-step portrait process that clearly describes how you and the client can collaborate together to achieve the best result…you will clear away the fog of confusion surrounding the creative process and help your prospective client see what success could look like should they choose to work with you. Keep it simple, no more than six steps, and each step should highlight what you will do for them while describing what you’ll need from them in order to fulfill their wishes for a great portrait.

In the absence of these clear expectations, a client can feel insecure about whether working with you will yield the results they desire. This insecurity may lead them to hire another less talented artist who happens to communicate more clearly than you do. This is tragic, since you would have done such an amazing job!

The 5 Stages of a Successful Portrait Collaboration:

1.     THE INTERVIEW- This is where it all begins. You listen well to the client, finding out what their hopes and dreams for the portrait are, as well as who the subject of this portrait will be. Ask a lot of questions to ensure you understand the client’s wishes. What kind of person is the subject?  Should the mood be formal or informal? Where will the painting hang? Should the setting be inside or out? Discuss size, medium, clothing and background options.  Then, once you are clear on their wishes, explain the portrait collaboration with them in a simple series of steps. Let them know where you will need decisions and feedback from them in order to make this a winning collaboration. This will remove the client’s fear of “offending the artist” as well as provide them with a clear role to play.

Are You A Good Match?

You should also be sure that your artistic style is the right fit for this project based on their wishes. Show them your portfolio and find out which of your pieces are their favorites. Once you have a clear plan, schedule a date for step two…

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2.     THE SITTING & PHOTO SESSION - Another critical step in the development of a successful portrait is gaining the reference material. This can be done from life, photographs, or a combination of both. I often work with children, so getting photo reference is very important. If the opportunity to create a sketch from life emerges, even better. The important thing is to be sure to explain what you’ll need from your portrait subject in order to get great reference. A few thoughts on step two:

Direct the process. Take control! Do you prefer afternoon light? Schedule the session outside during sunset. Do you love that indirect window light? Arrange for this. Will you bring your own lights to their home or host them in your studio? Let them know. How much time will you need with them? They are looking to you to be the visionary artist and take charge at this stage.

Be Transparent: I will often let the client see some of the images on the back of my digital camera as I’m capturing them. This gets the client excited as well as giving you some feedback as to what they are responding to.

On Site Image Review I often bring my portable laptop and download the images on the spot, creating a quick favorites folder on the spot of our top 10-20 images. This is an excellent way to narrow down the selection with the client’s involvement so you know you’re on the right track.

Favorites Folder I then let the client know that I’m going to do a further review and edit, and will supply them with a favorites folder online (using something like Flickr or Shutterfly works great). The idea here is that in the end you ONLY SHOW IMAGES THAT YOU KNOW WILL MAKE GREAT PORTRAITS. I like to provide no more than 10 favorites images, and provide personal comments about the pro’s and con’s of each selection.

The Final Selection Once I share the image folder, I sit back and let the client have time to make a final selection for the primary pose and portrait reference. We sign off on it, and I’m on to step 3!

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3.    IN THE STUDIO- Now that you’ve got great reference and a clear agreement with the client about your pose and style for the portrait, it’s time to have fun painting! I can’t overstate just how significant it is to involve the client in the decision of selecting the pose and reference. This involvement builds excitement and confidence in the direction of the project. They can also begin to imagine what it will look like.

Timeline Let your client know how long you’ll need to develop the portrait in the studio. If you need three months then say, “I’m going to need three months to create a masterpiece for you.” Then deliver it in less time. Don’t say, “I’ll have this for you by next month, and then run late. That’s unacceptable. As an independent portrait artist, your word is your brand. Let your client know that you are going to need them again soon for step 4…

4.     THE FEEDBACK STAGE- Once you develop your portrait to a level you feel confident with, it’s time to involve the client again. Let them see the painting, offer feedback to you, then make your final refinements based on their comments. Build this stage into the standart budget and process for your painting, you’ll be glad you did.

Do you need a final sitting? Have this meeting at the studio or go visit them with a portable setup so you can check to make sure skin tones and eye colors are just right.

Not sure how much to refine? Get your client’s feedback on how they feel about the level of finish at this stage. This can happen by sending them a digital image of the painting, or by having a personal meeting. Invite your client to tell you if they’d prefer more refinement in any passages of the painting. They will feel as if they’ve co-created the portrait with you, which is very gratifying for the collector.


5.     THE UNVEILING- Now that you’ve made your final changes based on the client’s feedback, any confusion as to whether you are on the right track has been cleared away. From the very beginning of this creative process, you have been narrowing in on a masterpiece for your client, and they can feel it, which further excites them to see the finished portrait. Setup a plan for the unveiling—in your studio, at their home, or even at the framing studio. At this final stage of delivery, you get to celebrate together the development of this beautiful piece of art, while at the same time giving the client a positive experience with you—the artist. Positive experiences lead to great testimonials, which lead to more commissions!

Well done. You’ve implemented the 5 stages of a portrait collaboration with your client that will yield great results and grow your portrait business. Keep up the great work!

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Paintings That Tell A Story

Everyone loves a good story. Are your paintings communicating clearly and purposefully with a unique voice that speaks to your viewer? As visual artists, we are storytellers. We have a desire to express ourselves through our work. We do this by communicating with pictures to engage the viewer's imagination. This video will give you four tips to telling a compelling story through your art.

Traveling with Pastels

It's travel season here, with a number of art workshops in different areas throughout the country and abroad. Many of you have asked me what to bring and how to pack for a travel art workshop, especially when going abroad. In this video, I'll show you how to pack your carry-on luggage with all the pastel painting supplies needed for an efficient, portable painting setup. 

Simply click here for the Travel Supply List with a lot of products that I recommend.

Would you like to join me in an upcoming workshop? Are there obstacles to your creative growth that you'd love to overcome in an inspiring and encouraging environment? There are some amazing opportunities just around the corner. We even have a couple of spots left next week in my Capturing Light: California workshop! Check out my workshop schedule, and find a workshop near you. I'd love to encourage your creative development.

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