End of Project Blues–How to Handle Them

Have you ever experienced something I call the end of project blues?

That happens when you’ve worked on a piece for a long time, and put a lot of effort into it? Sweated over it to make sure everything’s just right.

It feels great to finish it, doesn’t it? Time to celebrate.

But then what?

A lot of big projects come with a hidden problem. Something that doesn’t show up until the project is finished.

What is it?

End of Project Blues--How to Handle Them

Apathy about starting the next project.

How to Handle End of Project Blues

End of project blues takes many forms. Maybe no new subject really inspires you, so nothing looks appealing. You feel dissatisfied or unfulfilled by the masterpiece you just finished.

Or maybe you just need a break.

I’ve been in each place many times. Some of my “breaks” have lasted months, rather than days. One time, I walked away from the easel for two years!

We all need a break now and again, but not for weeks, months, or years (most of the time.)

So how do you keep moving forward after finishing a big project (or any project)?

Following are three things I’ve done in the past that keep me creating. Not all of them will work for everyone, but I hope they at least get you thinking about ways you can curb the end of project blues!

Always Have Something New in the Works

It’s a lot easier for me to go from one project to the next if I already have something in progress. Sometimes it’s just a collection of photos in a folder. Sometimes I’ve cropped some of those photos, and sometimes I’ve already started the line drawing.

It doesn’t matter how far along the piece is as long as I have something already started when I sign the current piece.

You might also try working on two things at once. That way, you already have something else well started when you finish the current piece. That’s also a great way to combat boredom with a project. Just work on the backup piece!

Batch Work Basic Things

Batch work is what happens when you do a batch of similar tasks at the same time.

With art, that might be sorting and preparing reference photos. What I sometimes do after finishing a project is go through all the photos in my Potential Projects folder and sort out half a dozen or more that look promising.

Then I spend an afternoon cropping them in various ways to find the best compositions. Sometimes I combine photos.

Technically, I’m not drawing, but I am preparing to draw, and that’s the first step in the process.

Try Something New

Perhaps the best suggestion for overcoming end-of-project blues is doing something completely outside your usual work.

For example, if you do human portraits, try a landscape.

If you work in a realistic style, give surrealism a try. Or maybe an abstract.

Getting outside and drawing is also a good way to cure the end of project blues.

You might also try something that’s just, plain fun. I like to play around with watercolors and watercolor pencils. They’re more spontaneous, and even if I don’t get a masterpiece out of it, I’m almost always motivated to get back to the serious work.

Beating the End of Project Blues

These are just a few ideas to get you started. As I mentioned earlier, not all of them will work for everyone.

But if they get you started on the right path to what works for you, then they’ve done their job!

And so have I. Happy penciling!

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3 Great Strategies for Getting Things Done

Today, I want to share three strategies for getting things done.

I decided to address this topic because several of you have remarked on my level of busy-ness so far this year, and it’s true. I don’t remember the last time I had so many things going at the same time for so long.

I’m guessing a lot of you are experiencing the same thing, and wondering how in the world to keep everything on track! So let’s talk about three things that help me stay on top of my work load.

I’ve already written about finding enough time for art, so lets talk about studio life (and life) in general today.

3 Great Strategies for Getting Things Done

Before I get to those strategies, let me set the record straight on one thing: Balance.

There’s a rumor that you need to balance work. I’m not sure what that means to you, but when I hear that word, I see a pair of scales. You know. The old-fashion, scales of justice type scales.

The theory so far as I understand it is that you must give equal amounts of time to each area of work or each task every day. Nice theory. Not practical.

At least not for me.

Most days, one of my tasks requires the bulk of my attention for a short period of time. A week or maybe two. I must set aside other things until that task is finished in order to meet a deadline. In the old days, portraits often demanded my full attention. These days, I dedicate the last week to ten days of each month to finishing and publishing the magazine.

I simply cannot “balance” all of the things I want to do every day and get that Must Do thing done on time. Something has to give, and it’s almost always “balance.”

So if balance doesn’t work, what does? Here are the three most productive strategies I use for getting things in a timely fashion.

3 Great Strategies for Getting Things Done

Strategy #1: Prioritize

The first strategy is prioritizing: Looking at the things I need to do, and deciding the in order in which they need to be done.

Prioritizing happens at several levels. Some tasks—like the magazine—can be prioritized on a monthly basis. I know when I need to give my full attention to layout, design, and publication and I block those days off on a monthly basis.

Some things are on a weekly cycle. The weekly blog post and newsletter fall into this category.

And then there are daily priorities. Usually cat chores and house chores, but also drawing or sketching.

At the beginning of the work day, I look at what needs attention that day and list those items with brief descriptions. For example, on Tuesday of this week, part of my list looked like this.

Strategies for Getting Things Done - Prioritizing

I know the blog and newsletter needs to be finished, proofread, and scheduled by the end of the day Friday. It’s possible to do everything in an afternoon if necessary, but I prefer to take my time and be more careful.

I could have added a number of other things to that list, but they weren’t priorities on Tuesday, so would have presented distractions.

When I finish the priorities, I move on to other things.

How Do You Get Started?

Take a look at what you need to do this month, this week, and today.

The absolute best way to do this is to have an ongoing or long-term list. Why? You probably have things that need to be done on a repeating basis and other things that are accomplished over a period of time. Long-term things may become lost in the day-to-day without a long-term list. It’s happened to me!

Block out time to do the things that Must Be Done this month.

Set aside a specific amount of time each work day to work on that project, or block out a few days dedicated to that project. Do the same thing across multiple months for those projects that are too big to finish in 30 days or less. Give priority to projects with a specific due date, like portraits.

Block out time week-by-week for weekly work.

Do the same thing for weekly tasks. I know a blog post is due every Saturday, so I automatically plan writing, editing, illustrating, and proofreading a blog post into the weekly routine. Usually, I give a little bit of time three or four days a week to various parts of it. See more in Strategy 3.

Block out time each day for daily work.

I include cat chores, house chores, and sometimes yard work in this category. I do these tasks every day regardless of whatever else is waiting, so I set aside an hour or so at the beginning of the day for them.

Some basic business-related tasks also happen every day. Checking for blog updates and doing social media, for example. Once done in the morning, and they’re finished for the day.

It’s always most productive to prioritize the big things first, then fit the little things in around them.

Strategy #2: Discipline

Discipline is also important. Prioritizing your work does no good at all if you lack the discipline to stick to your priorities.

I confess. Discipline is my weak link. Prioritizing is easy because a lot of what I do includes a deadline. I know how much time most of those things take, but I have difficulty preserving that time. It’s kind of like preserving the highlights in a drawing. I tend to work right over them!

How Do You Get Started?

How you implement discipline depends largely on your daily routine and your personality. If you work best under a little pressure, set a timer when you start a task, and stop when the timer goes off. You can use an egg timer or a digital timer. The type matters less than having a timer of some kind.

My best advice on this is to figure out how you work best, then devise your routine based on that.

Maybe you work best in total silence or with music in the background. Or maybe you like a visible list posted in a prominent location, reminding you what still needs to be done.

The key is finding the method that works best for you and using it faithfully.

What helps me most with discipline? A 15-minute task list.

Strategy #3: 15 Minute Task List

One of the most helpful things I do is what I call a 15-minute task list. Repeating tasks (like checking websites for updates to install) are on the 15-minute task list.

So are things that take a week or more to accomplish. When I work on a book, for example, I give 15 minutes a day five days a week (and sometimes six days) to writing. 15 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time to finish anything, but it’s amazing how those minutes add up.

What’s usually on my 15-minute list? Checking for blog updates tops the list. I write home every month, so adding to my letter also has a place on this list. When I need to write a freelance article, that’s on the list.

But you don’t have to do 15 minutes. Any short length of time works.

Right now, I’m trying to set aside 30 minutes a day to do a quick sketch or work on a more involved project. When I’m able to do that, my projects make progress. Plus, it’s more satisfying to spend that half hour a day and make a little progress, than to wait for a larger block of time and make no progress because that big block of time never happened.

How Do You Get Started?

Identify the things you do every day or the things that could progress if you worked on them a little bit each.

Set a time limit for each thing. You can start with 15 minutes like I did, or ten or twenty.

Work on each thing on that list for the set amount of time. When the time is up, move on to the next thing.

Those Are My Strategies for Getting Things Done

These are the three that help me most, but I know there are other strategies, as well. What works for you? Share your tips in the comments below!

Looking for more strategies for getting things done? I’ve written a more in-depth article on EmptyEasel on getting things done. Read How to Get Things Done Even When You’re Swamped.

Simplification in Art (And How to Achieve It)

Dan Miller is the featured artist in the April 2020 issue of CP Magic, and is a great writer as well as artist. So I invited him to write about an art topic close to his art (and heart.) He responded with this article about simplification in art. I know you’ll enjoy hearing his thoughts on this important topic.

Simplification in Art

Simplification in Art

By Dan Miller – www.ImpressionEvergreen.com

Evergreen, Colorado is that magical place situated over the rainbow. Upon arriving 22 years ago, we discovered a land of silvery aspen where bluebirds fly, red foxes hide and each morning begins with a golden sunrise. Away from the confusion of suburbia, I found more time to simplify my work. The true essence of nature became obvious.

To simplify is difficult.

I like to choose a motif and use all of my senses in a thorough examination. Observe the subject intensely and memorize the attractive, essential features. My camera is an indispensable tool in the process. It’s a digital eye that freezes a fleeting moment in time.

I have deep reverence for nature so when I wander alone into a remote wilderness, it’s a spiritual experience transporting me closer to heaven. In order to create an honest representation of the image fixed in my mind, the scenery is simplified while using bold contours and coloring. My drawings are heartfelt expressions depicting the grandeur of the American West.

Spectacular landscapes are much harder to break down because in my enthusiasm to replicate the scene, the inclination is to include every detail. Unfortunately when that happens, the soul of a place becomes lost and the expression becomes complicated and troublesome to grasp.

When drawing a tree, I try not to reproduce every branch and needle. I employ techniques in regards to pencil pressure and color blending while at the same time stylizing the essence of a solitary pine. I break the tree’s complicated shape down into its basic elements, exaggerate the color and capture its personality in an effort to create a more expressive piece of art.

Simplification in Art
Loveland Pass Lakes

Contrast and Color

If I’m lucky, I’ll dream about a work in progress. Then it’s almost as if the simplification becomes interwoven into the subconscious. In technical terms, the art theory is surprisingly simple. More contrast and colors equals complex, while less contrast and colors equals simple.

I’ve learned much from a deep appreciation of art history. The first cave paintings are sophisticated simplifications that exhibit a graceful elegance. Creating beautiful abstractions by eliminating unnecessary details while preserving the spirit of the whole is something artists have been striving to achieve ever since.

Gore Rage Wildflowers

Stay True to Your Personal Style

The temptation to emulate my artistic heroes is irresistible but my artist-father preached from the pulpit of originality. He urged me to stay true to myself and not be influenced by what others are doing. I was challenged to develop interpretations unspoiled by imitation, criticism and greed.

My approach is not formulaic. It’s been a matter of accepting and embracing my natural style while resisting the ever-changing, fashionable trends. An eternal mystery to me is how an emotion conceived in the heart emanates into an eager left hand where it’s delivered by pencil point for all to see.

Spending many years painting commercially to please a fickle audience, caught me up in the competitive affectations of photorealism. A fascinating movement but if executed improperly yields cold and lifeless results. I chose to follow my heart and returned to a little box of wooden crayons.

Evergreen Lake Fall

Learning from Nature as well as Art History

I’ve spent the past couple of decades laboring to uncover a nice middle ground between photo-realism and abstraction. In order to achieve this, I’ve spent countless hours studying nature, art history, science and religion but mostly I’ve worked on drawings. I’ve experimented with different compositions, color schemes and paper, hoping to arrive at a more personal interpretation.

I began listening to the old masters from the past. Albrecht Durer admitted, “As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.”

Hans Hoffman instructed, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Vincent Van Gogh revealed, “How difficult it is to be simple!”

The simplification of my style has been a gradual, uncalculated transformation. An arduous process chocked full of confusion, doubt and failure but in the end it’s worth it. For a humble truthseeker like me, it’s been a revelation to discover that the simplest things in life are often the truest.

Zion Canyon

How Does Simplification in Art Look?

So how does Dan’s work compare with his source material? Here’s the reference photo he used for his CP Magic tutorial.

Animas Forks. This is the reference photo for Dan’s CP Magic tutorial. A beautiful, but complex scene.

And here’s the finished artwork.

Simplification in art demonstrated in Dan Miller's artwork.
Dan’s finished piece, Animas Forks, demonstrates his unique way of simplifying the complex and creating artwork the embodies the character and spirit of place without drawing every detail.

My thanks to Dan for sharing his thoughts on the importance of simplification in art, and staying true to personal style.

Hopefully you’ve found some encouragement from Dan if you’ve been thinking about simplifying your own work.

Dan is the featured artist in the April issue of CP Magic, where you can read about his artistic journey, life experiences, and see how he creates his beautiful work.

The Challenges of Being an Artist

Time for another artist interview. This month, CP Magic is talking art with Carrie Lewis, discussing some of the challenges of being an artist.

The Challenges of Being an Artist: Talking Art with Carrie Lewis

Carrie has been painting and drawing since she was old enough to hold a crayon. In the late 1990s, she began doing more colored pencil work, which is now her primary medium.

She blogs regularly about all things colored pencil, and publishes the monthly e-zine for colored pencil artists, CP Magic.

She’s currently in the process of designing a new course.

Carrie is the featured artist for the March 2020 issue of CP Magic, where she talked at length about her art story, as well as presenting a landscape tutorial on Pastelmat.

For this post, Carrie talks about the things that have given her the most challenges as a full-time artist.

The Challenges of Being an Artist

CPM: Thank you for agreeing to share a little bit about what it’s like to be an artist. How long have you been an artist?

Carrie: I don’t remember ever not being an artist. I have a photo of a drawing I did in crayon on the bottom of a dresser drawer, but I don’t know how old I was at the time. The earliest drawing I have was drawn when I was 7-1/2 years old.

CPM: And you’ve been doing art ever since?

Carrie: Pretty much, other than two periods when I stopped. I’d say I’ve spent fifty years (more or less) making art. Mostly horse portraits, but some for myself, too.

CPM: And are you full-time now?

Carrie: As full-time as possible with so many other things also going on. To be more specific, I’ve not had an outside job since August 2009.

CPM: So you’ve been making art more than enough time to encounter some of the challenges of being an artist.

Carrie: Oh, yes! Even before I went full-time, I encountered challenges. Some types of difficulties were the same in both parts of my art life, but some where unique to each part of the journey.

Chestnut Morgan Mixed Media

The Biggest Challenge of Being an Artist

CPM: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced when it comes to art.

Carrie: That’s easy! Making time for creating.

I used to say “finding” time to make art, but then I realized that I had the same amount of time every day. Twenty-four hours. The trick was making the time for art by letting something else go.

CPM: Does that really work?

Carrie: Absolutely. When my husband and I decided by mutual agreement to unplug the television set many, many years ago, productive time suddenly seemed to expand. It may not seem like much, but an hour a night spent drawing instead of watching TV speeds up the drawing process significantly.

Even if someone gave up just one night of television, that’s an extra one to three hours of art time a week.

If they stopped TV altogether, like we did, that’s a week full of evenings to draw. Imagine what you could do with five to fifteen extra hours a week, not counting weekends.

Rainy Day on Mustang Ridge

The trick to making the time for art is letting something else go.

The Most Surprising Challenge of Being an Artist

CPM: What was the most surprising difficulty about becoming a full-time artist?

Carrie: It was quite a shock to discover that I couldn’t paint or draw eight hours a day!

You see, I’d always had to work around a full-time job. The job was necessary to pay the bills and support the art habit. I’d been successful painting portraits most of that time, and was able to do one a month around my work and family schedule.

But when I became a full-time artist, I really expected to double or triple production. It would be easy! I’d just have several pieces in progress at the same time. I was doing oils then, and would move from one painting to the next while the others dried.

So it was something of a stunner to discover I had, at best, five hours of productive creative time in me. After that, the battery ran dry. Most days, I could work four hours before running out of energy, no matter how many paintings were in progress.

Creating is a very mental exercise and if you work standing as I did and often still do, it’s also physically taxing.

Christmas Tree-O

The Most Persistent Challenge for the Artist

CPM: What challenge has been the most difficult to overcome?

Carrie: As a one-artist-show, there are also other things to do. Blogging. Bookkeeping. Inventory control. Customer fulfillment. Marketing. It’s all my responsibility. Until I’m making enough to hire someone to do some of those things, I have to do them.

In one way, I haven’t really given up the “outside job,” because I consider all of those things to be my day job. I just don’t have to leave home to do it.

The real difficulty is not that they have to be done. That’s just a fact of life if I want to earn a living with my work (which I do.) The real difficulty is that I so often find myself back in the position of having so little time for creating art.

And I can’t give up TV, because we’ve already done that!

Siesta Time

CPM: LOL, I hear you on that.

Thank you to Carrie for being so open about the challenges of being an artist.

Thank you, Reader, as well. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. You can read more about Carrie and her life as an artist in the March 2020 issue of CP Magic. She’s also provided a stunning and dramatic landscape drawn on dark Pastelmat.

Talking Portraits with John Middick

Today I’m talking portraits with John Middick.

John is the creator and host of the Sharpened Artist Podcast, the weekly podcast for colored pencil artists.

The podcast was created in 2015 and John says his primary focus was offering encouragement to fellow artists. He accomplishes that goal by not only sharing tips and techniques for drawing, but by interviewing other colored pencil artists. Giving them a chance to be heard and encouraged.

John is the featured artist for the February 2020 issue of CP Magic, where he talked extensively about his artistic journey and other subjects. He also provided a tutorial for that issue.

But for this post, we’re talking about his favorite subject: People. Specifically, faces.

Talking Portraits with John Middick

Why Portraits of People?

Carrie: Thank you for agreeing to talk with me, John.

You draw a lot of subjects, but what I think of when I think of you as an artist is portraits. You obviously enjoy doing human portraits. What makes them so attractive?

JOHN: I’ve always been very, very interested in people, the human condition, and understanding people. Faces are fascinating.

But I think a lot of it is because I was so terrible at drawing people as a child, and I wanted to be good at it. I would try it and couldn’t figure out how artists were able to do that.

Amy, Colored Pencil Portrait by John Middick
Amy

Back in the 80s, I’d go to the mall once in a while and see artists set up in the middle of the mall. They were creating art right there on the fly, doing commissions of people sitting there or painting from a photograph or something. It was the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen in my life.

I remember someone painting a portrait. Someone’s just sitting there in front of them, and they’re painting and I was just dumbfounded. I could not believe that that was possible.

Now I feel like portraits are just one of the most compelling pieces of artwork. Obviously, it’s my opinion, but there’s just something about being able to depict a person.

And it’s not just copying who this person is.

It’s also showing the personality and showing something that you just can’t get with a camera. I’m fascinated with that.


My mom had to tell me, “Come on, we are going,” because I just wanted to stay there. I was just blown away at that.

John Middick

About Commissions

CARRIE: You do commission work?

JOHN: Yes, I do. In fact, somebody just contacted me about doing a cat. I do animals once in a while. I will do just about any commission somebody asks me to do, and I have a good photo reference. Or preferably I can take the reference photos myself.

But mostly I do portraits with commissions, but I’ll do the occasional cat or dog or something like that. Or a farm or something like that.

I love doing commissions, too. A lot of people don’t like it and talk about how awful it is, and there can be a downside. But there’s something exciting about giving that piece of art to the individual after it’s all completed. They love it and some fall apart.

Intensity

Carrie: I’ve had that happen to me more than once. It’s such a good feeling.

John: You can’t replace it.

Carrie: No you can’t. Sometimes it’s worth more than money.

John: I’m not getting rich on doing commissions. You’re not going to really make a whole lot doing portraits , some artists I guess would. But there’s a reward to being an artist that has nothing to do with money. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need to be stroked once in a while; to feel good about what I do.

Future Plans

Carrie: What plans do you have for future works?

John: I have a series I’m about to start working on that I’m so excited about. And I’m hoping I can execute on this. I should be able to between teaching and things I’m doing, but I want to show people with technology.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that every time we adopt some new little innovation in technology, all of us as a species start using these things in some interesting ways.

Like one time I was at one of my daughter’s basketball games. Everyone was standing up with these huge iPads. All these parents right in a row taking pictures and videos with their iPads.

Alessandra

Carrie: And now it’s cell phones.

John: Yeah, yeah, they use cell phones. Used to be the flip phone, they would bring out their flip phone at a wedding trying to take pictures.

So I’m the weirdo in the audience. I usually have my camera and I’m taking pictures of people taking pictures of people using cell phones. I’m trying to make a series now out of that because I’ve been collecting reference images for a long time.

Carrie: Is this series going to be serious?

John: That’s a good point. It could be whimsical. I don’t know. I think it will be more of a focus on the person.

I’ve got this huge folder of files, and I’m hoping I can pick out some things that are interesting enough. My challenge is figuring out how to make this about the person and not about the object that they’re interacting with.

See how John Middick drew this portrait step-by-step in the February 2020 issue of CP Magic.
John draws this portrait step-by-step in the February 2020 issue of CP Magic.

Carrie: Long-term series or just a few pieces?

John: I’m thinking it’ll probably be a long-term series. I’ve never really done anything like that.

I’m always impressed when somebody has a very nice cohesive body of work. Some of the other colored pencil artists have been working in the medium for a while. I like that. I always had that goal, but I’m always doing other things like teaching classes and writing courses. I feel like I don’t take enough time for my own artwork.

And so I’m going to try to do that. That’s where I am right now. But it’s hard to do, isn’t it?

Carrie: It’s very hard to do.

That’s Talking Portraits with John Middick

My thanks again to John for meeting with me. He has a lot more to share in February’s CP Magic, which you can get here.

Don’t forget about the Sharpened Artist Podcast, and if you really want to dive deep into portrait drawing, John’s Face Value course is just what you’re looking for. There is a waiting list for the course, but you can add your name to the waiting list here. John tells me the course opens one time per year and will be opening soon in 2020.  For more info or to reserve your spot go here!

I'm on the Sharpened Artist Podcast!

Guess what? I’m appearing on John Middick’s popular Sharpened Artist podcast today! How exciting is that?

Colore Pencil Podcast

Cincinnati, Ohio artist, John Middick created the Sharpened Artist Podcast in the summer of 2015. A weekly audio show dedicated to colored pencil, the podcast reaches artists of all skill levels across the country and around the world.

“The biggest reason I started the podcast is to help encourage new colored pencil artists, and provide tips and techniques to learn this new medium,” Middick says. “I was also able to give a voice to many colored pencil artists through artist interviews.”

Middick interviews colored pencil artists who are working on their art in isolation. The public sees their work and knows them by name, but rarely gets to meet them. And they don’t often get to meet each other.

“Hearing their voice created an intimate experience for the listener,” Middick goes on to say. “I quickly started getting listeners emailing me talking about how they felt like they were getting to know the artist’s behind the artwork.”

I am the guest artist for the February 3, 2020 edition of the Sharpened Artist Podcast.

I’ve listened to the podcast for a long time, and have been encouraged and instructed by many episodes. So it’s a special treat to be able to give back to the podcast and its listeners.

John and I talked about my artistic journey, colored pencils in general, and the artist’s life. I hope you’ll join us. I’ve designed a very special and hopefully helpful giveaway to accompany the podcast.

Why I Switched from Oils to Colored Pencils

Jana wants to know why I switched from oils to colored pencils, and if I’ve noticed one sells better than the other? Here are Jana’s questions.

Hi Carrie, 

These are business related questions instead of technical ones, so if you choose not to use them on your December questions posts, I will understand. 

1. Why did you switch to colored pencil from oils? I ask this because I went the opposite direction.

2. Do your colored pencil pieces sell as well as your oils did? 

Your blog with all its tips and helps is so interesting to me because you reinforce much of what I tell my drawing students. Since I teach primarily how to draw with pencil, it is only my more advanced students who go to colored pencil, so I read your blog to be sure I am not leading anyone astray. (It has been about 15 years since I was active in the CPSA or used colored pencils other than as accents to my graphite.)

Thank you for your thoroughness and clarity. 

Blessings, Jana

Thank you for your question, Jana. I don’t mind answering business questions at all.

Why I Switched from Oils to Colored Pencils

Why I Switched from Oils to Colored Pencils

I’ve addressed this subject more than once in the past, including a similar question earlier this month. But I wanted to answer this question because it also includes a question about sales.

And every artist trying to turn their artwork into money wants to know about sales!

I switched from oil painting to colored pencils for two main reasons, with about twenty years between the the first reason and the second.

Chapter 1: Convenience

For over forty years, I painted portraits of horses. I was an oil painter because that’s the medium I learned as a preteen and teen. By the time I sold my first portrait at 17-years-old, I’d already been painting for several years. Continuing to oil paint was never a question. I often told people I’d retire when I fell face down in my palette!

Image by Katya36 from Pixabay

Part of my marketing strategy (if you care to use such lofty terms) was attending horse shows and trade shows. Michigan hosted two big shows every year. The Lansing Stallion Expo in March and the North American Horse Spectacular in Novi every November. For many years, I attended both with a collection of paintings and drawings, but my primary goal was lining up portrait work.

I saw artists working at those shows and thought it would be cool, but oil paints are such a nuisance to travel with. They pack all right if you don’t take everything in the studio, but working on a painting in public is risky, and getting wet paintings home safely is no picnic either.

So in the 1990s I started looking for another medium that traveled better. I wanted something that could produce oil painting-like results, high levels of detail, gorgeous color, AND was easy to transport and use on location. Pastels were out because I’d already tried those and disliked them, so colored pencils were the only choice.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

I intended to continue oil painting. Colored pencils gave me a second medium to offer clients, but I really preferred to work in oils.

Most clients chose oils, but some preferred colored pencils. One couple even opted for watercolor colored pencils. Talk about a step outside my comfort zone!

Chapter 2: Changing Focus

Eventually, portrait work tailed off. I think the move to Kansas had a lot to do with that. Most of my clients were from Michigan and I had been active with the Michigan Harness Horseman’s Association since the second year it hosted a benefit art auction. Many clients purchased their first portraits there and some of them became repeat customers.

Kansas isn’t that far away from Michigan, but it was too far to make the trip to the MHHA auction every January. I continued participating, but by long distance. Then they canceled the auction.

After that, it didn’t seem to matter what I did, I couldn’t sell a portrait to save my life. The last portrait was completed in 2016. An oil portrait for which there’s a moving story. But still the last portrait.

Back then, colored pencils were just starting to catch on, thanks to adult coloring books. I enjoyed them. They were a lot easier to manage in my studio (which is one corner of what should be the dining room,) and they were still portable. My husband played in the Wichita Community Band and I could take pieces to work on during weekly practices.

So colored pencils became my primary medium.

Long Story Short

(I know. Too late for that, isn’t it?)

A decision that began as a matter of convenience became a matter of finding a marketing niche twenty years later. Simple as that.

I haven’t completely given up on oil painting. I still love the process, the colors, the results, and even the smells. But let’s be honest. With cats and kittens in the house, it just doesn’t make sense to try oil painting!

Maybe some day I’ll get back to it.

That’s why I switched from oils to colored pencils. Now about selling original art….

Oil Painting Versus Colored Pencils in Art Sales

The other part of Jana’s question is about sales. Have I noticed one medium outselling the other?

The cold hard truth is that my originals aren’t selling. At all. Any of them.

It’s been a couple of years since I sold original work and those were mostly ACEOs through eBay. Most of those were oil paintings, but mostly because that’s what most of my ACEOs were.

Why I switched from oils to colored pencils.
Even though my primary focus is now teaching colored pencils, I do have a website dedicated to marketing original artwork and promoting portrait work. In both oils and colored pencils.

Now, before you begin feeling sad for me, let me add that my work doesn’t sell because, quite frankly, I don’t market it!

Yes, I have a website dedicated to my original art, but the main focus of my studio business is teaching and that’s the bulk of marketing energies go.

If I spent just half the time marketing original art that I do marketing this blog, I’d probably have sales.

And then I could answer your question more positively!

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How Long Should a Colored Pencil Drawing Take?

How long should a colored pencil drawing take to finish? Carolyn is concerned about the amount of time she puts into her work. Here’s her question:

Colored pencil seems to take SO LONG, yet the results are satisfying.  Am I doing something wrong that it takes me so long to finish a piece?  I drew an 11×14 dahlia that I photographed in Seattle in August.  I finally called it “done” last week.  Almost 3 months.

Carolyn

I love this question, Carolyn, because it’s so common, and still so personal. Let’s get right to the answer.

How Long Should a Colored Pencil Drawing Take

How Long Should a Colored Pencil Drawing Take?

A lot of factors need to be considered in answering this question. The amount of time each day or week you have to work on your art is probably the most important. If you work on art only in your free time, it will take more weeks or months to finish than if you’re a full-time artist.

In the main, however, five factors determine how long any given artwork will take to finish. They are:

Size

Complexity

Level of Detail

Tools and Supplies

Personal Preferences

Size

Size is obvious. The bigger a piece, the longer it takes to finish. I’ve completed ACEO sized drawings in just a few hours stretched over a week. Lets say about 10 hours.

Similar styles of portraits that are 11×14 take up to 30 or 40 hours depending on what I do with the background.

I once did a 16×20 portrait that took 72 hours and several weeks to finish (yes, I actually timed myself.)

The largest colored pencil I did took months to complete. I have no idea how many hours it entailed, but it was a fully landscaped horse portrait, so it took probably close to a hundred hours.

So a good rule of thumb is that the larger a piece, the longer it takes to complete.

This portrait was 20 x 24 inches on mat board. It took months and untold hours to finish.

Complexity

For the purposes of this discussion, complexity and detail are not the same. When I speak of complexity, I’m speaking of the elements in the composition. If it’s a landscape, does it have a lot of trees, water, a mountain, flowers, animals, etc? If so, it’s more complex than a landscape of only trees and hills.

A still life with flowers, a vase, grapes, a coffee cup and saucer, and a biscuit on a plate is a lot more complex than a still life with only a banana.

If two drawings are the same size, have the same level of detail, and the artist uses the same tools, supplies, and methods to draw both, the more complex drawing is most likely to take more time.

Level of Detail

Level of detail means the amount of details in the drawing, both overall, and within each element. A sketchy-style drawing has very few details and can usually be completed quickly, sometimes in a single sitting if it’s smaller.

Lots of artists who draw from life do this kind of drawing and can complete one or two or more drawings in an afternoon.

But if a drawing has a lot of detail, it will take longer to finish, just because all those details require time. In some case, each area of detail can be like finishing a separate drawing!

This portrait was created in my usual detailed style, it took several hours to complete.
I used the same reference photo for this piece, but since it’s more illustration than fine art, it didn’t take nearly as long to complete.

Tools and Supplies

If you use just colored pencils and no solvents, blending tools, or special papers, it will probably take longer to complete a drawing, than if you used solvents, blending tools, or special papers. Solvents especially are time-savers for colored pencil artists.

So are watercolor pencils. You can lay down base colors very quickly with watercolor pencils if you want to, then let the paper dry and finish the drawing with regular colored pencils. The time saved with the watercolor pencils can sometimes significantly reduce the amount of time needed to finish even large pieces.

(I wish I had known about watercolor pencils back when I did that big portrait!)

Personal Preferences

Finally comes personal preferences. This includes the method of drawing you use—lots of layers applied with light pressure or just a few layers applied with heavier pressure.

Your personal preferences include (but aren’t limited to) the reason you’re making art in the first place, your goals for art overall and for each piece, size preferences, subject preferences, and too many other things to mention here.

Most important, however, is this.

“Colored pencil seems to take SO LONG, yet the results are satisfying.”

Do I need to say more?

So How Long Should a Colored Pencil Drawing Take?

As long as it takes!

Don’t worry about how long it takes other artists to do the same kind of art. Some will finish their pieces more quickly, and some will take a lot longer! Just enjoy what you’re doing and keep making great pieces!

If you find the process satisfying and you like the results of the time you spend, then don’t worry about how long it takes you. The process is as much a part of the pleasure as the finished drawing.

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Where Do Art Ideas Come From

Today’s question is about that mysterious thing called inspiration. Specifically, where do art ideas come from and what inspires me.

I can tell you one thing very easily. It’s not always the same things.

But lets get the question first.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration? I love drawing landscapes but [don’t always] know what to draw.

I think I’ll tackle this subject in two parts, since ideas and inspiration aren’t always the same thing. Let’s start with inspiration.

Where Do Art Ideas Come From

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

I get inspiration from a number of places, many of them unexpected.

Movies & Music

For example, I love movies like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and John Carter of Mars.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Epic movies in which characters face huge challenges, daunting hardships and villains of the worst sort, and still come out victorious. Victories often come with losses, suffering and grief, but in the end, their noble deeds leave me wanting to do noble deeds. Most of the time, that means writing something noble, what I’ve come to think of as The Noble Novel.

But it can also affect artwork. A noble painting? A grand drawing? Something that stands the test of time and moves people decades later. That’s inspiration.

I get the same type of inspiration from music, especially classical music. The William Tell Overture (otherwise known as the Lone Ranger Theme.) The 1812 Overture. Bach. Beethoven. Mannheim Steamroller. The Piano Guys! The kinds of music that make my spirit soar, also tend to make me think about making art that soars, too.

Nature

Towering thunderheads provide artistic inspiration. The first snow of the season and also the last, especially if it happens to be that kind of snow that comes down in big, fat flakes that you can hear hitting the ground. Gives me a thrill just to write about it!

Rain. Thunder and lightning. The dramatic and often colorful lighting in the evening (I don’t often see the dawn.) The glisten of street lights on a wet street at nighttime.

As you no doubt can tell, it doesn’t always take much to inspire me.

And the things that inspire can change according to my mood, circumstances, and wellness. But you get the idea, I hope. Inspiration comes from all around.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Ideas sometimes come from all around, too, but they’re not usually on such a grand scale.

Remember that thunderhead I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago? I have seen clouds that have prompted me to do cloud art. I have drawn clouds both from life and from photographs I’ve taken. At one time, I even thought about doing a series of cloud portraits. I do live in Kansas, after all, and we have thunderstorms as a matter of course. There is no lack of subjects for cloud portraits.

But the Flint Hills also present plenty of ideas for landscape drawings. Believe it or not, the vastness of all that distance with so little evidence of population (not even a glow on the horizon in many places) tempts me to try to capture the same bleak beauty.

Water scenes give me ideas for art. Weather gives me ideas for art. Animals do, too.

So Why Is It Sometimes so Hard to Find the Right Idea?

Now we come to the crux of the matter, don’t we?

After reading the rest of this post, you’d think I never lack for an idea to draw. If that’s what you think, then you’re wrong. I often struggle with finding or settling on the right idea.

Too Many Ideas

Part of the problem is that I frequently have so many ideas that I don’t know which one to do next. They all look so good that it’s difficult to pick one and just do it (which is usually what my husband tells me to do.)

The readers touched on this when she said there are so many beautiful landscapes, she doesn’t know what to draw.

Lack of White Hot Passion

Another part of the problem is that I’m hardly ever aware of the kind of passion I think other artists have when they speak of passion for subject. That white-hot fire in the belly that won’t leave you alone. I don’t remember ever feeling anything to that extent. So I’m thinking, “I don’t feel white-hot passion for this, so it must not be the right thing to draw,” even if it is the right thing to draw.

And sometimes, the problem is that I just don’t want to do the same kinds of subjects again. I addressed this issue in a post titled, When You Get Tired of Drawing Your Favorite Subjects, so I won’t do more than just mention here.

What Do You Do When You Can’t Decide What to Draw?

This is where the rubber meets the road. You can have all the great art ideas in the world and still feel stumped.

I don’t know if these things will help you because they don’t always help me, but I offer them anyway.

Pick Something and Draw It

When you can’t decide what to draw, but you have lots of ideas, just pick a photo and draw it. If the ideas are all about equal, this is a good way to get started.

Combine Two or More Ideas

You might also try combining the best parts of several photos into your own composition. That’s perfectly all right, even if you are drawing a specific location. If you don’t want to do that, try drawing the most significant part of the landscape. A tree, maybe, or a pond.

Do a Series of Small Studies

Something I like to do is small studies. One or two colors of pencil on colored paper keeps me from getting bogged down in detail. If you sketch fairly quickly, you can work your way through a collection of photos in a few days. It’s entirely possible that one will grab your attention enough for a more complete drawing.

And even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll have a nice collection of sketches when you finish!

Don’t Focus on Passion

If you have the “passion problem” that I described, then the best thing to do is ignore the idea of passion in art. Draw whatever appeals to you and call it good. We’re not all made the same. There are different levels of passion and some feel it hotly and some feel it temperately. I, for one, have an easier time feeling compelled to do something than feeling passion to do that thing. Maybe compulsion is some form of passion. I’ve been told it is.

Whatever the case, don’t let the way other people react to their work dictate how you react to yours. If that’s what you’re doing, it’s sure to stifle your natural creativity.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve answered this reader’s question (and that of anyone else dealing with the same issues.) Art ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. At least for me.

I feel like I’ve gotten a bit off track, but this is something I wrestle with on a regular basis, and I can tell you from experience that there have been times when it totally shut down the creativity.

Whatever else you do, don’t let that happen to you!

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When You Get Tired of Drawing Your Favorite Subjects

Be honest. Have you ever gotten tired of drawing your favorite subjects?

Everybody has something they love drawing. That subject is their go-to subject. It comes above every other subject they might ever consider drawing.

Some artists love still life art and assembling the elements of a still life is as much fun and making the art.

Others are drawn to animals and prefer pet portraits or wildlife art.

Still others specialize in human portraits or landscapes or urban scenes.

When You Get Tired of Drawing Your Favorite Subjects

There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is born with special interests and everyone gains life experiences that sharpen those interests or introduce new interests.

But what happens when you grow tired of drawing your favorite subject?

When You Get Tired of Drawing Your Favorite Subjects

Don’t be like me when that happens! You’ll end up stifling your creativity!

You see, I’ve been doing horse portraits for forty years or more. For most of that time, I thought I’d never do anything else. I saw no need to. I loved the look of horses, their long manes and tails, the way they moved and even the way they smelled. What else did I need?

Then came my first look at the Flint Hills of Kansas and all of a sudden, the idea of doing landscape art leaped into my mind.

Tired of Drawing Your Favorite Subjects? You may be on the brink of discovering a new favorite.
This is one of my favorite views of the Flint Hills, and the one I’ve tried most often to capture in art. I have photos of it from almost every season. The only thing I lack is a thunderstorm shot and a snowy shot.

At first, I resisted it. I wasn’t a landscape artist; I was a horse artist.

Then I decided to pair my horses with landscapes. That made sense, after all. Horses are part of the landscape around here. A big part.

That idea produced a couple of nice colored pencil pieces, but no more.

Afternoon Graze is the best of two colored pencil pieces pairing my previous love (horses) with my new love (landscapes.) I haven’t given up on this idea, but I confess to being drawn more to the landscape than the horses these days.

Since then, I’ve struggled to draw anything.

Yes, there are lots of fun pieces resulting from experimenting with my first set of artist quality watercolor pencils or new papers. And there have demonstration pieces for blog posts and tutorials.

But what I call “serious art” has dwindled to the point that it’s now been nearly a year since my last finished piece!

So what’s going on?

I haven’t really given that much thought because I have been busy doing other things. Things that need doing like writing and designing tutorials and improving the weekly newsletter.

I’ve also started writing a book based on the best posts from this blog. So it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my thumbs waiting for inspiration.

But a few days ago, a radical thought popped into my awareness.

Why am I waiting for inspiration to make another horse drawing when what I really want to do is a landscape?

You know, when you’re an artist, that’s one of those thoughts that pretty much stops everything in its tracks! You cannot not give it serious consideration.

I look across the room as I write these words and I see the line drawing of Thomas clipped to the sample of Clairfontaine pastelmat.

The finished line drawing for a portrait of Thomas, our oldest cat, recently deceased.

I received the sample this summer but didn’t know what to do with it until after Thomas had passed to the other side.

Now, I have the following dialogue with myself every time I look at the drawing.

“I wonder how that paper would work with a landscape?”

“No. That paper’s meant for Thomas’ portrait!”

And then I remember that stunning thought from a few days ago.

Maybe it’s time to move on.

I still haven’t taken that line drawing off the Pastelmat, but the idea grows more appealing every day.

And yet, I waiver between wanting to keep doing what I’ve always done because, well, that’s what I’ve always done and doing something I want to do more right now. It’s difficult to let go of old habits even when there’s the possibility the letting go isn’t permanent.

I hope you’ll forgive my rambling this way, but I know that when I struggle this much with something, there are others out there wrestling with the same dilemma.

That’s perfectly all right! It’s part of the growth process in life and in art.

So what should you do when you get tired of drawing your favorite subjects?

If you’re torn between making another drawing of a subject that’s been a personal favorite for years (or decades) and doing something new, don’t fret. It’s not unnatural. It may instead be a sign of growth.

Let go of that old habit and try your hand at the new idea. Maybe it won’t go anywhere, but maybe it will. Maybe you’ll discover a new Old Favorite. At the very least, you may discover ways to improve on drawing that Old Favorite.

That’s what I’m going to do.

Let’s try it together and see what happens, shall we?

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