4 Big Misconceptions I Have Had About Creating Art

 "My love for animals" - An art journal spread by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I come from a family who always valued arts and crafts, but my parents and relatives were not artists themselves. I spent my childhood drawing and painting, mostly animals because I feverishly wanted to have a pet of my own. My ultimate dream was to become a visual artist. Now when I look back, I see big misconceptions that I had about art. These misconceptions are not rare or unique, I hear and see people talking about them all the time. So I wanted to tell how I currently think about them and what I would say to anyone who has the same experience.

"Hilppa's puppies". A line drawing by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Misconception #1 – “Am I talented enough?”

People talk too much about talent when they talk about artists and art. I think the word should be banned, especially when talking about children and their creations. There are many other ways to encourage and admire. The problem about the word “talent” is that it implicates a thing that you can’t change in yourself – it’s there, or it’s not. Yes, some people are more visual than others. But there are so much more qualities that are needed for becoming an artist. For example, growing and combining ideas, and seeing principles and concepts behind real objects and events. Instead of just redrawing a photo of my beagle and her puppies in 2007, I could have put the warmth into focus and tell a bigger story about the unconditional love that I was witnessing at that moment.

If you question your talent, stop! Start learning how to process ideas, how to apply visual principles, and how to evaluate the quality of your work. The question implicates that you need to start learning and practicing! I love the ambition behind the question, but stop agonizing over it and start learning!

If you say, that you already are learning, but still question your talent, you are not learning enough on a higher level. If you are watching videos about someone painting, you also need to know the reasons behind the decisions the painter is making. You need to connect the theory with the actions. (That’s why I built the class Inspirational Drawing 2.0 – you will get not only the hows but also the whys)

Making a mess. Read about 4 big misconceptions about making art!

Misconception #2 – “All I want is creative freedom.”

Many years ago, when managing IT projects by day, I needed a creative outlet by night. I wanted to feel free, create loosely and make a beautiful mess. And so often, I only made a mess that didn’t set me free at all. When I was able to freely choose from the vast amount of art supplies, the beginning often felt suffocating. Then there was an agony in the end when I wasn’t able to be satisfied with the result. I added new layers after another and desperately tried to make it work.

There’s one big problem in creative freedom that I missed. To feel free, I needed the opposite. I needed limits and a direction. I didn’t need anything as defined or restricted as a reference photo or an image in my head. I needed to limit my supplies, my colors, and my feelings. As the work progressed I could have become more focused and experienced the freedom through the gained focus. Instead, I was overwhelmed by the choices.

If I could talk to myself now, I would say: “You don’t need freedom, you need to educate yourself in art. You need to explore what and how the master artists have expressed. That way you can find what’s your take on the big themes like landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and abstracts. Knowledge will give you the direction and set you free.”

There has to be a balance between creating and acquiring information. If you only make a mess, you easily invent the wheel again and again. On the other hand, if you only study art history, it can make you feel intimidated. However, knowing more doesn’t make you less unique. There’s no reason to avoid going to art museums, art galleries, browse and read books about art history (I often listen to art related audio books while creating). Understanding the background stories of artists and artworks, helps you to find your personal focus. (That’s why I sell Imagine Monthly Bundle 1 and Bundle 2 – so that you can connect dots between art history and your creative inspiration)

Paintings on the wall. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Misconception #3 – “Someday somebody will find me.”

When I started blogging over 10 years ago, I thought that someday someone would get in touch and say something like: “Hello, I am a hugely famous art critique, and I would like to buy your art because it’s so fabulous.” Not probably in those exact words, but you get the idea. I also wished that there would be a lot of people visiting my blog and admiring what I had created. But there were practically very few people visiting my blog even if blogs were very popular at that time.

The best thing that I did back then was that I started following business people. Many recommended setting up an email list. It felt awkward enough to blog, so it didn’t feel natural at all. In 2010, I decided to trust the advice and sent my first group email to 9 subscribers. Even if they had deliberately subscribed my emails, I felt like I was spamming the world. After a year and seven more emails, I had 95 subscribers. I still felt like a spammer, but because the number was growing, I couldn’t stop either. By blogging and sending emails regularly, I got more subscribers, and my feelings changed. Sending the emails felt more like a service than spam, and in 2014, I started posting them weekly. (If you are not a subscriber yet, subscribe here!)

When I write my weekly emails, I don’t write to “hugely famous art critiques.” I write to my soul-mates who love art and are always eager to learn more. I write to people who want to explore all kinds of approaches to art and who want to share the enthusiasm and ambition behind all that.

If you are waiting for somebody to find you, make sure that you also do the work. Being consistent and learning business and marketing means a lot. But there’s also one more misconception that I want to bring up that relates to this one.

The Modern Woman, a watercolor painting by Peony and Parakeet.

Misconception #4 – “Images are enough.”

Let’s get back to the time when I started blogging and was hoping to get more readers. Well, yes “readers,” even if I wrote very little. I thought that images are enough. If I made a picture pretty enough, where would I need the words? Do I even have to say my real name “Paivi Eerola,” isn’t “Peony and Parakeet” enough?

But we need the names, the words, the faces, the stories to get connected with people. It’s scary and difficult, but it’s also necessary. As artists, we need to make the process visible. We need to make the knowledge that we have gained visible. We need to open our minds and tell what we feel when we create. We need to tell how our creations can relate to the viewers as well. Even old master painters still need the words. The museums organize guided tours and offer audio guidance through headphones. There are books and biographies. The sad truth is that many of the artists who died undervalued didn’t use enough words.

There are also other things that we need to include than just words. These are the ways we photograph, exhibit and handle our art; the way we show joy about what we have created; the way we participate and include people into discussions rather than staying silent. I refuse to call all that with the word “marketing” because I think it’s much larger than only that. It’s about growing your artistic identity where you can spread your passion and where you feel the need to do so. Then it’s more than about your images – whether they are “good enough” or whether you are “talented enough.” It’s about using art as diversely as possible to connect with people. It’s a good cycle to build, as these connections also improve your art.

A Finnish visual artist Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet and her art journal.

Check out my new coaching program “The Exploring Artist” for building belongingness, making art that matters, and strengthening your artistic identity! >> Sign up now!

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22 Responses to 4 Big Misconceptions I Have Had About Creating Art

  1. Mary Monckton says:

    This is a wonderful post and I am sure will resonate with many people. I will be in Helsinki in early August. Any chance of meeting up?

  2. Lin Powell says:

    I always love your words of encouragement and seeing your creative work with it’s feeling of freedom and joy rather than precision and overthinking. I was not considered the artist in the family. My brother “had the artistic talent”. I now do something art related every day. He hasn’t done art for at least 25 yrs now. I did sell for a while, but the truth is, I found it stressful and eventually repetitive, producing the same things I knew would sell. Now I refuse to sell, I just experiment and have fun. You have helped me open my mind to new techniques and new ideas. Instead of working for perfection, I play for joy, for movement, for peace as a way to feed my soul. It doesn’t matter if it is good or not because it is not for sale. I have found this an entertaining way to use up my many art supplies without buying more. I love the art you make using only simple tools like colored pencils. I’m glad I found your blog and I appreciate all you do to reassure us that art is to be enjoyable, free of criticism and pressure. It is ok to do art just for yourself. Thank you.

    • Päivi says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Lin!

      I have been in the same situation than what you describe many times during my art career, especially with classes. I have told myself to create more simple and inexpensive classes to bring in more beginners. But in the end, staying in one place and producing the same thing repeatedly is never the answer for an artist. We need to let ourselves to evolve and at the same time, support our customers to do the same. Of course, some people will always stop following and buying from us, but there will be new ones. There might be a transition period where there are fewer people around, but I truly think that if you follow your mission and in the same time, interact with people, you will become a better artist.

      It is certainly ok to do art just for yourself, but I think that art also has a mind of its own. When we create something, it wants to be shown, and it wants to have a wider impact. The impact doesn’t always need to be selling the piece but sharing the joy of creating in one way or another. Teaching is one way to spread the joy, but there are many other ways too. I believe that the more approachable artists are, the better.

      It is delightful to hear that you have enjoyed my blog and also wonderful that you have found the joy from limiting your supplies.
      I am never able to give as much in the blog as I do in my classes,
      but I am glad that the little that I have given has been inspirational for you.

      Thank you for commenting and welcome to my classes when the time is right!

  3. Paivi what great info you have shared here. I have been seriously working on my presence the last three years and the thought of writing a blog terrifies me but talking about the what and why of my art is much easier to think about. I have worked art shows here in the states and it has really started to pay off this last year but I want to do more on line so I am going to be looking into this new workshop you have mentioned and hoping to take your Inspirstioal Drawing 2.0. Thank you.

    • Päivi says:

      Thanks, Paula! The Exploring Artist sounds perfect for you and if welcome to Inspirational Drawing 2.0 as well.

      Being terrified: I hear you but if you have attended art shows, you are already half way! It’s easier to talk to people when meeting them face to face, but in the end, it’s not that different.

      First, when I started sharing, I was horrified: everybody sees me.
      Then, the disappointment came: nobody notices me no matter what I do.

      But after dealing with those, one of the hardest things for me has been to get used to rejections: when people don’t like, stop liking, unsubscribe, don’t buy, etc. It’s surprising how personal that can feel even if it’s perfectly natural and ok. I see dealing with rejections as one part of building the artistic identity.

  4. Gloria houlne says:

    Paivi this is excellent topic. I believe the word talent has somehow taken on a skewed meaning, from the archaic meaning of ‘disposition of a person’, to the Roman’s use as, a unit of value equal to the value of a talent of gold or silver, to Middle English, the natural endowments of a person, right up to the modern definition a special creative or artistic aptitude.
    Spending eleven yrs running an art supply store in an art dept at a university has shown me that talent is closely related to the archaic definition in that it is the thing within us that guides us to what it is we love to do. When we love something and want to do it enough to learn the skills and master the discipline, we do it with abandon.
    We are not afraid to look the fool, we hold whatever the activity in the highest regard because it has value to us. At least that is my view of the understanding.
    My other pet peeve is when people say, I can’t be an artist, I can’t even draw a straight line. I can only say I don’t know any artist that can or any that would really want to.
    The most difficult thing for me, as I think you know is putting my stuff into words. But I’m learning.
    Thanks for all this insight.
    Gloria

  5. Gina says:

    Thanks, Paivi! I have missed reading your posts- filled with such gems of encouragement and wisdom! I am not really interested in creating as a business, but I really want to”grow my artistic identity so I can own the big word ‘ the artist’. I was asked to teach a couple of classes on creative doodling at a regional leadership conference and in the program I was listed as a local artist. I felt unworthy of the title – almost a fraud! Evidently I am a better teacher than I am artist, because I was asked to teach same class at state conference next year! Gulp, I need help! 😍Gina

    • Päivi says:

      Gina, thank you for your response! Growing artistic identity is definitely needed for everyone who teaches classes!

  6. June Walker says:

    A very interesting post.

  7. Sandy Guderyon says:

    Paivi, Your words could not have come to me at a better time! I have taken several of your courses, which have opened me up to a free feeling about using art supplies. I realized that limiting the choices of supplies would be a good thing. ALL of my supplies are very nearby and I think that keeps me from creating, sometimes. I am about to begin doing an art project in a new way for me and I would love to sell them. If others can, so can I! I am practicing and getting better and better work in front of me all the time. I would love to take your next course, too. And today, I will remove some of these supplies off the art table and to another part of the room. Thank you for the wisdom you so generously share with us.

    • Päivi says:

      Sandy, so great to read about your thoughts and it’s wonderful that you continue your art journey. And yes, the timing of “The Exploring Artist” is perfect for you!!

  8. Lucy says:

    Excellent blog post, thank you. Many ah-ha moments as I’m ploughing away at earning a living from my art passion.

  9. Patty Joyce says:

    Pack . . . My hobby is photography. I was introduced to Art Journaling about a year ago and had hopes of combining the two. In the meantime, during the last 3 months, I have rented space in a store, in a very small town, that has several vendors. Between rent, deposit, and purchasing frames, paints, etc. I am in the hole about $700! I am told my work is thought-provoking and that I have a good eye, but have sold very little.

    Needless to say, I am quite discouraged, but love creating and yet financially, can’t afford this forever. My “contract” with the store is for another 4 months and then I need to make another 6-month commitment.

    I would appreciate any advice or direction.

    Sincerely,
    Patty Joyce

    • Päivi says:

      Patty, thank you for your comment and sharing your story!

      My general advice is to all who read this and relate to your story, is to bring in the potential customers as early as possible. So before making bigger financial investments, it’s good to figure out where the potential buyers are, what is important to them, and how to build relationships with them even before you are selling anything.

      However, I also think that almost all artists, and entrepreneurs in general, have invested time or money at the beginning of their journey so that the investment has not always been successful. I remember printing a big pile of postcards just because a potential buyer asked an offer for those.

      At the moment, the most important thing is to figure out 1) how you can make the best out of your investment considering a longer time than just the next four months, and 2) what to do to make your rented space bring you joy and energy instead of making you feel discouraged.

      First, I would make a decision not to invest more money. Second, I would invest the time for interacting with people. The more you interact with your potential customers, the more you will learn about the ways you can bring value to them through art. What are the things you want people to take away with them even if they didn’t buy? What do you want them to know and feel after visiting your space? What do you want them to do so that you can stay in touch with them?

      Think about yourself as the leading artist of your community. Make sure that people can easily access you. Set up demonstrations, “Meet the Artist” events, etc. Make sure to always share your contact information, and where they can find you online. Offer wall space for other artists and think about yourself as the owner of “mini gallery.” It can also be one way to cut your losses if your contract doesn’t prohibit it.

      The thing in selling is that you need to make the same offer for the potential customers many times before they take any action. So find ways to make people come back, to get to know you and find their approach to your art.

      There’s a lot I want to say, but the time and space are limited here, so I welcome you to sign up for “The Exploring Artist” and start building “the artist” in you! The registration will be open this week!

  10. Brigitte says:

    What a brilliant post and very uncanny timing too! Thank you.

  11. Patty Joyce says:

    Paivi . . . Thank you sooo much for the practical and wise advice. I am certainly taking it to heart..Will keep you posted on the progress and will sign up for your class.
    Blessings, Patty

  12. Amy Allen says:

    Thank you for this Paivi. It’s so helpful to hear from a “successful ” artist that she’s had the same kind of thoughts and challenges! This is so helpful for me to look at my misconceptions and fears, too. Also, I was touched by your words “soul mates” to refer to us, your readers and students. After all, isn’t it what we all want– to feel connected with other people and share ourselves? I’ve just started taking classes in fabric art, and it’s wonderful to meet new people who confront similar challenges and inspiring to hear their ideas! And it’s great to learn from people who are farther along the path and very skilled. I’ve recently read a book that debunks some similar misconceptions and puts forth interesting ideas about creative life. It’s called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a fun, easy read. I highly recommend it.
    Thank you again, Paivi. I always feel encouraged by you!