Did you ever look at that artist on a street or that painting on a museum wall and wondered – how do they do it? I mean, where do you even start? When painting a portrait for example, do you draw eyes first? Do you start from the top? People got used to considering artists a different breed, ‘free spirits’. But I bet you, there is an artist living inside of you, just being unnoticed!
I grew up in a non-artists family. My father has a degree in engineering and my mom – in foreign linguistics. My grandmother would give me paints and paper so that I entertained myself as a kid when she needed to do some work. That’s how it started and yes, I painted all my life since then. I totally believe any skill is acquirable given time and effort. I was lucky to have a lot of both.
When I had to choose a college – I wanted to go to Australia and study film production. My parents wouldn’t let me: way too far and I was way too young to even apply (as we used to finish high school at 16 then). As a compromise, I agreed to apply to the National Academy of Fine Art and Architecture in my hometown Kyiv, Ukraine.
It was close to exams time and I had a lot to catch up. Most applicants graduated already from a community art college. I spent a lot of time studying about theater (as I chose theater stage design as a major due to the least competition). I saw applicants drawing human models at live sketching classes, while I was trying to at least get the general proportions right (pretty unsuccessfully). I was recommended one of the professor’s workshops. It was in historic Kyiv district in a basement. I fell in love with art much more then and met plenty future friends, who as myself succeeded in enrolling to the Academy.
I remember this stage design workshop with another professor. He would have a huge vintage wooden table in the middle of his studio. There were plenty of books everywhere, that we looked through and discussed during a class. He would brew tea and one of the students would always bring some homemade cookies. Then we would show our work in progress. We would talk about whether an idea that was presented works and what are the other possibilities. Our professor said that a stage should remind one of a dream. It shouldn’t be necessarily realistic but it must be persuasive. Whatever it is, it should reflect your relation to an object that you are observing.
One time I was walking with a friend in a park. He wanted to take a photo of a tree, wondering how to make it different. I said that he should show through his photo, how he feels about this tree, how he perceives it. Generally, that is how you learn to tell a story every time you create. Unless you are a journalist that has to depict an unbiased reality, your relationship with a subject should be felt through your work. That is where you have to prove why you want one to spend the time to look at your work.
We all have opinions and feelings. Thinking critically is the first step to awakening that artist inside of us. That is when you become conscious of events surrounding yourself and start to notice things. Anything. Whatever it is that resonates with you. It can be facial expressions of people around you, maybe your family or co-workers. It can be patterns of traffic, or glitter of produce (in my case).When you notice things, you will then start to form your opinions, you will realize how you personally perceive them.
When you notice things, you will then start to form your opinions about it, how you personally perceive the matter. It doesn’t really matter whether you love the subject or hate it. There is beauty in both approaches.
The next step is to share the message. It is the skill to let people see (or hear) how you feel about your subject and why. Every one of us has a unique mindset. You know how daltonic people might not even know they don’t see colors right. It’s very simple: the way they see is the only way, hence the right one. So when you tell a story, make sure you tell it loud and clear. The idea should be comprehendible. But it’s not the ultimate goal.
You remember how it feels when you wake up that winter morning and you see that streets got covered with snow over night and it all seems so freezing cold, that it gives you shivers. But then you make yourself some hot tea and while brewing it your inside windows get covered with newly formed condensation from the heat coming from inside the room. It’s warm and bright in the kitchen, where you are at. Remember a smell of that tea and bread or breakfast. It makes you feel ever warm. It’s all about contrast. One feels rich in a poor neighborhood, and one falls in love with rain when living in a desert. Comparison to an obvious opposite makes your idea visible.
They also told us at art school to sometimes rotate our paintings upside down to see what’s wrong. The trick is that we get used to looking at our work from the same perspective. By changing an angle we pay attention to details again. It’s not only in regards an artwork. They say that driving after 3 years of experience is the most dangerous. We don’t have substantial skills yet, but the process already seems very familiar. So we loose focus, hence car crashes. Staying focused is a skill essential to succeeding in any field. In surgery and art particularly.
And the last thing – you just need to find your language. It can be painting, drawing, photography, installations or video. Whatever it is that resonates with your perception. And when you start, just never stop. That’s what I did. You can see my work here and maybe share what you think about it with me. But even now, having over 10 years of a professional art career, I can start a portrait sometimes, and have hard times delivering it. But eventually, I always do. It’s consistency that makes it possible. Also the passion for a subject of the story, you are trying to tell. And constant questioning yourself – why? why not? and what if?
And after that, there are really no rules. Just explore and live your life with a story worth sharing. Choose to see the ugliness or the beauty. Just be open and feel it.