How to be an artist

It seems to me that most of us want to feel both safe and free. Being an artist, on the canvas and in life, can allow for both these two states to coexist. It seems to be an eternal dance of mastering freedom, presence and learning; each one allowing the other to exist.

Here are some pathways that I have found from my own experience and studying the masters. I could be talking about any art form, not just painting. I find that my practice comes in cycles; sometimes I am right on it…. and other times….

Henri Matisse ‘Nude in a Wood’

Take risks. Paint with curiosity so that you can “fail” again and again. When you paint with a state of curiosity, it doesn’t feel so much like failure, it feels like “ Whoa I didn’t expect that!”

Paint like a child. As Picasso said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

So try and hit “reset”. Unlearn your beliefs about what art is, allow your innate sense to come through and your mind to relax. Painting with a feeling of ‘Allowance” changes everything.

Enter unknown territories. Matisse said “Creativity takes courage”. It is so exciting and so scary! So wonderfully challenging. Create challenges, otherwise you will become bored and stale. That feels worse.

As Martin Scorsese said “Part of any endeavour is that each one has its own special problems, it’s the nature of the process.”

Paint with your whole heart. Paint about things you are passionate about. If you are learning some new technique that feels a bit dry at the time, go with it and then apply it to your passion.

If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” Marc Chagall.

Marc Chagall ‘Around Her’

Feed your soul, every week. Everything doesn’t always have to come from you. Be inspired. Find other artists, nature, life, that inspires you. Expose yourself to art you love and dislike. Be open. Try new ways and experiences in life, often.

Show up daily. Push through the lethargy until it becomes like a lover that you must see. This creates a mass of work in which you are more likely to experiment; a building of skill and so freedom, which leads to breakthroughs, a resilience in pushing through sticky points to soaring, and a ritual and deep connection with expressing the unknown within you.

Know that you are connected to all that is, to archetypes and infinite beauty that connect you with your unseen audience. When you show up and paint daily you start tapping into this infinite pool more easily. Often you don’t even necessarily understand it. You just express it. So tune into spirit, your muse, the eternal, nature.

Draw with your non-dominant hand as a warm up and beyond. It goes beyond the mind and we seem to drop expectations of what is possible and go with the flow, more easily.

Take a break from paintings. Have several paintings on the go at once, then you can leave one for a while; coming back fresh really helps. Also look at your work upside down, through a window, from your camera, in a mirror, in a different room, any way of seeing it with different eyes. Get feedback from others who you respect.

Choose an area and become excellent in that area. Study it, take lessons and practice it mindfully. Make breakthroughs by keep practicing it. Decide to become excellent in this area.


No one can paint like you. They could copy you, but they cannot create like you. By showing up each day, painting from your heart and creating a volume of work, you create a space in which you feel safe to experiment and be curious. The canvas will still be there tomorrow to create and express another moment. By finding teachers and people that inspire us and give us feedback, we miss some big falls and we grow; by experimenting and diving into the unknown and infinite, we soar.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Picasso


I would love you to continue with this in the comments below…. There are so many ways to be an artist.

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  • Colette June 29, 2018  

    Hey Dawn….i just saw your work and love it to pieces..and your philosophy too.
    The India retreat looks great.

    Colette ?

    • Dawn July 2, 2018  

      Hi Colette
      thank you so very much. It has been my balm. Yes India is an adventure for sure.

      Much love to you.


  • LAURIE FIELDMAN July 1, 2018  

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. The inspiration I needed to get through a challenging time personally & professionally. Thank you, again!

    • Dawn July 2, 2018  

      Hi Laurie
      I am so glad it helped. It seems these times of growth make for our deepest art. It’s all treasure but hard digging it up sometimes.It will shine back at you in many ways as you keep polishing it.

      Much love and light to you on your journey.


  • Howard I Koor August 23, 2021  

    Hi Dawn,
    I just stumbled onto your wonderful website. So full of creativity, color, and inspiration.
    I don’t paint, but I do write, and I believe that your words apply to writing as well.
    Some ideas that I share…
    *We don’t have to know the answers when we start
    *Stay in process
    *Create ways to start and stay in flow
    *Not everyone shares the exact same process
    *It’s good to have goals, but also to be open to what happens along the way

    Thank you

    Howard K

    • Dawn February 28, 2022  

      Hi Howard
      thank you. For some reason your comment has only just showed itself to me. Thank you so much for sharing those writing processes and yes they certainly do apply to painting too and that openness is the key… and surrender and trust come under that too I think… that feeling of painting with your heart and belly wide open whilst standing in the fulcrum of the present moment.Thank you.

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