How to become an artist

For many of us, me included, attaching the ‘artist’ label to what we do is a sometimes uncomfortable step requiring a level of bravery. Who am I to write this article? – can I call myself an artist?

The imposter syndrome nags on, ‘What me? How can I say this about what I love to do? Am I good enough? Only famous people who sell every painting and make their living from their art are artists.’

This is, I believe, fundamentally untrue – unpainted paintings, uncarved sculptures, unpenned novels, unwritten songs, sonatas, operas, plays and so on would be the only result if we failed to have a measure of self belief before embarking on a creative journey as an artist.

We need to step back and reframe this belief and to understand that in order to call ourselves artists it is important to question aspects such as fame, notoriety and retail success as the measure for judging creative endeavour and title.

Last week I watched a beautiful film ‘At Eternity’s Gate‘ – about the final three years of Van Gogh’s life as an artist. Slow paced and emotive in its blending of nature and Van Gogh’s response to this inspiration source for his work, the film inspired in me the question ‘How do we become artists?’ What drives us and how do we carry on regardless of recognition, success or financial gain.

There is a scene in the film when Van Gogh describes to a priest in the asylum he is about to leave that painting is the only thing he can do, The priest does not ‘get’ his work – he says ‘ the world does not look like this, this just looks mad’.

Did Van Gogh attach commercial success to his belief that he was an artist and his compulsion to paint? Of course he wanted and needed to sell but the world wasn’t ready for him. He was to all intents a commercial failure in his own lifetime. But did he earn the title artist? Well of course he did.

When you look at art, whatever form, what is it that moves you? For me it is usually colour, my eye is always led to the colour burst in the room. When you go to a gallery do you always buy? I can with some degree of certainty guess that you probably do not. When you scroll through Instagram why do you do this? What are you looking for?

As a consumer or practitioner of art maybe you are looking for inspiration but I find that as an artist sometimes comparison steps in and this is I believe what stops so many of us from becoming artists in our own right.

‘Oh I give up’ we say, and usually far too soon before we have even given ourselves a chance, ‘I will never be able to paint, sing, write, sculpt, compose, take photographs like… insert any name of any one you look up to and admire.

And here is the thing. We are all afraid to fail and yet without making hundreds of attempts at whatever artform we choose most of us will never become any good. So many of us early in our lives listen too deeply to critics who thoughtlessly make an offhand remark about something we have created that throws us off kilter and makes us give up. The critics are often surprisingly people who care about us and have our interest at heart, our teachers, so we listen to what they say. We are discouraged and we lose the courage, and with that loss, the freedom it takes to try, to explore, to play and to practice, to feel our way and to learn from mistakes.

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr Suess

In my chosen art form, painting, most mediums have limitless possibilities of application to enable art expression. In order to exploit our chosen medium we need to spend time playing to understand what we can do with it.

Expel the notion that every time you decide to make something that it needs to attain a kind of perfection. Perfection is impossible. Perfection straight jackets possibility because of the fear of making bad art.

To make great art, and I believe everyone can, you need to welcome failure and to seek it out. Failure is fabulous – believe it and embrace it! Why is this? By failing we learn. It is that simple.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
Paulo Coelho,

And when I talk of failure I mean failing after putting in a lot of effort. Sometimes I paint over and over a successively bad painting until I arrive at something that to me is passably acceptable. To reach this passably acceptable standard, self imposed of course, the work emerges after an interesting creative journey with ups and downs in the process.

Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali

To explain, maybe the composition was wrong, the colours murky, the subject just didn’t work and so I kept on painting over and over until some things began to gel.

If we think of a simple analogy, boiling an egg or making an omelette, it takes time and trial and error to make the meal just right for your taste. You like hard boiled? Four, five or six minutes? – it’s a matter of taste. You like a soft omelette without a runny centre – it take time to perfect the process to suit you.

So you get to the stage when your painting is passably acceptable to your taste. You have taken a creative journey and someone who doesn’t like your flavour of painting disses it. It’s like offering your delicious hard boiled egg to a fan of soft boiled eggs they can dip their soldiers in.

But the judgement of one person, the wrong person at the wrong time can destroy your confidence and at worst cause you to give up because you have not had the time to become sure of your own ability at the stage you had reached when the critic destroyed you. Most probably you had not yet found your artistic language. Can you remember a time when this happened? Did it make you stop doing something that interested you? Did you decide you were no good at that something? But try to learn to take courage. It is never too late to start over and reframe your attitude and to start playing again and rekindle your creativity.

Here is what I have learned on my journey to becoming happy to call myself an artist. I paint a lot. Some of my paintings are good. Some are not. I don’t care if everything I do is good or not because I have learned that failure is amazing. When you do something in a way that produces an outcome that is far from satisfactory you learn something.

If I mix orange and green I get mud. I don’t like mud. Lesson learned. Paint some orange. Let the paint dry. Paint green next to orange. They are polar opposites on the colour wheel and the contrast is awesome.

Another thing I have learned is to love process. When you are truly engrossed in a painting the world around you stops. It is liberating – chase those moments!

It may seem obvious but ditch procrastination and make time to do it. Stop talking about it or making excuses – there is always time – just stop watching TV – leave the house alone and ignore the ‘must do’ tasks. Making art is a better route to happiness than DIY.

Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make even more art.” Andy Warhol

Invest in yourself and don’t be mean with the materials you need. Start gradually – buy some lovely pencils and a good sketchbook, build up your tools – you can’t make art without them. And remember to squeeze the paint out of the tube – it’s meant to be on the paper or canvas. Don’t worry about running out – you will get to know what your favourite colours are and actually paint does go quite a long way. If you work in acrylics put the lids back on the paint or it will dry up. Look after your tools – clean them after each painting session and store them with care.

Look at art – if you like it and you can afford it – buy it. Go to galleries, museums, art fairs, plays, the cinema, read books etc. Travel, look around you, notice things, appreciate beauty whatever it is that you believe to be beautiful. You life will be richer. You will be richer. And the world will be richer because what the world always needs are people who are happy creating, sharing and contributing new beautiful art. Art is a wonderful route to happiness.

You can be an artist. Everyone can be an artist!

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso

Steps to becoming an artist

Start making something – anything that you enjoy. Give yourself permission to try lots of different media

Reframe your attitude to growth and embrace failure and mistakes for the lessons they will teach you

Enjoy what you do – play, explore, experiment – and for goodness sake ditch perfection. Be curious – its far more interesting!

Make 100 of whatever you are playing at doing – you will get better at it

Keep seeking until you find what you love and remember it doesn’t have to be one thing. Picasso made paintings, sculptures and decorated ceramics. He was a genius but some of his art is passably acceptable in my view. Picasso is my favourite artist!

Keep doing it, show it to people, be vulnerable, start an art Instagram account, be committed and keep stepping forward

Never stop learning and know that you can change tack – it’s entirely up to you

A final word

Remember artists are practitioners, they make, they do, they create, they collaborate, they communicate. Artists also show and share and put their work out for the world to see. Artists embrace vulnerability and accept that some people will be fans and some will not like what they do. Artists sell work and some make their living from their art. However commerce is the least authentic rationale for earning the title of artist.

If Van Gogh had given up The Starry Night would never have been painted, Don McClean would never have written ‘Vincent’ and ‘At Eternities Gate’ would not have had a reference for inspiration.

This article is ©Mary Price2019 – you are welcome to share so long as author is acknowledged

Read new customer reviews

This whole art business thing is one of the biggest learning curves – every tiny step brings a new insight but what has struck a chord with me most of all is how customers like to engage with the artists they buy from. Investing in artwork is a more emotional purchase than say buying a new coat or a washing machine for example and it pretty much equates with the pleasure you get from booking a holiday. Almost.

Artwork lasts. It doesn’t break down, wear out and become unfashionable.

If you have been thinking about buying a print or an original to add to your collection you may be interested to read reviews from some of my recent customers.

I contacted a few customers who had bought paintings and prints over the previous three months and asked for some feedback. I told them that I wanted to post their responses semi anonymously and I was pleasantly reassured at the positivity and willingness of everyone I emailed.

The page is looking great – even if I do say so myself. I feel proud that customers value the care I put into ensuring great quality prints and finished originals. I use Royal Mail tracking so that I can see when the customer receives their print. It is more expensive but I think most people prefer to have the reassurance of tracked delivery. I loved all of the reviews but this one from Alex, a customer who lives in Bristol, just bowled me over.

“Having a painting of Mary’s on my wall at home brings me daily joy. Her work is stunning. I was lucky enough to be invited into her studio after contacting her to say how much I admired her work. It was such a pleasure to go and see where these beautiful paintings are created. A tremendously difficult decision choosing but I fell in love with The Madonna.

“Mary was also kind enough to let me pay for the painting in instalments which we agreed upfront with a contract. The communication was frequent and friendly and Mary even went out of her way to bring the painting to its new home. I will be forever grateful for giving me this opportunity, it helped me afford a piece of unique art that produces so much happiness and inspiration in our home. It is beautiful, thank you Mary.”


Madonna and Child – available as an open edition print – Original Sold.

My Frida Kahlo


Frida Kahlo is an inspiration to so many and she has been having more than a moment in popularity just lately. Wherever you look right now her unique and distinctive monobrow seems to be displayed on anything from shopping bags to aprons and magnets to mugs in some of the trendiest gift shops in my home town, Bristol.

But her ubiquitous image appearing on all kinds of gift items is not the reason that I felt compelled to tackle her beauty albeit these may have had some responsibility in raising my awareness.

I noticed on my Instagram feed that people were using quotes by Frida to inspire and this led me to want to get to know more about her. She has, I learned, become something of a feminist icon and it is this primarily that peeked my interest.


Frida Kahlo and flowers (detail – earlier in painting progress) ©Mary Price 2016

Her tenacious approach to a life marred by physical disability and disappointment is famously and beautifully reflected in the wonderful paintings she made where she pours emotion and her own life story through self portraiture and symbolism.

Frida said, “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” To follow Frida’s paintings chronologically throughout is to follow her life. She lost herself in the very act of painting and found herself reflected back onto the canvas. Despite being unable to move for much of her life she found freedom through her art. She famously said, “Feet , what do I need them for when I have wings to fly.”

This sense of how painting can give wings to fly to an imaginary freedom resonates with me entirely. Painting, I find, is an escape route into another place, another universe where when lost in the act, time stands still and reality is for the moment suspended in a creative dream.

My Frida is relaxed with her eyes closed and surrounded with a meadow of imaginary flowers symbolising her beauty and reflecting her enigmatic passionate energy. She also once said, “I paint flowers so they will not die” so I wanted my Frida to be almost floating or bathing in flowers.The bath of flowers is also an important analogy in respect of her famous painting,’What the water gave me’.

Her palm tree earrings are where I have chosen to connect us both. Palm trees are my symbol reflecting my love of travel, natural beauty and by their swaying loveliness growing best in warmer climates a sense of eternal optimism and hope.



Frida Kahlo and flowers ©Mary Price 2016


Paintings for sale in gallery

Later this month 14 paintings and 4 prints will be available for sale at Tinca Gallery in Portishead near Bristol. This lovely spacious gallery sells paintings by several local artists I admire so it’s great to be in good company.

I can’t say how fantastic it feels to get some validation from a gallery. This is the first time I have shown work in this way. It’s scary but also really affirming. I will be featured as artist of the week when the paintings are on display on the gallery Facebook page very soon.

These are the limited edition giclee prints that will be included for sale.

I will also be offering these in my Etsy shop eventually. Each step takes time and this one has been taking forever but I don’t want to spend too much time glued to the computer. It will be up and running as soon as I can manage and announced here and on social media when ready.

It’s quite a steep learning curve getting work prepared for a gallery – painting the edges of large canvases, mounting little paintings onto MDF boards that need to be primed, emulsioned and sanded and finding out how unsuited IKEA Ribba frames are for showing in galleries. They look nice  and are lovely for home but galleries cannot fix screws into the frame without them disintegrating. But it’s all a learning process so I know this for next time!

Here are three tiny paintings that I finished recently that are a new departure that will be on display.

The gallery has also taken on one of my very large paintings inspired by my recent trip to Cadiz. I’m fascinated by the ornate doorways and weathered textures of Southern European buildings, it’s amazing how you can stumble on really magnificently decorated homes that are often hidden down narrow streets. The fact that these buildings are hidden has not stopped the builders and artisans from festooning them with beautiful tiles, wrought iron work and sculptured facades. This one is called Casa or An Imaginary Home. Like much of my work it draws on travel memory for inspiration interspersed with my own license to explode the colour onto the canvas


Casa or An Imaginary Home 100 x 100 cms acrylic on canvas

Earlier this month I had another lovely moment – my first Instagram sale that came about as a result of a 100 day project challenge that I’m currently doing to try to hone watercolour painting skills. Watercolour is a medium that I love the look of but find difficult so I’ve been trying to get better at it.

Instagram is where I post progress images and finished work very regularly so do feel free to follow – I’m @artistintheshed surprise, surprise!

Here is the little painting. Just a bit of fun really.


I will keep you updated with the date that the work goes up in the gallery. Thank you for reading.

Cactus and carnival inspiration

Tenerife is an island of fantastic beauty, a hard black landscape sculpted by massive volcanic lava eruptions, where prickly cacti grow with so many triffid like variations in weed like abundance.

This week I took photographs of the riot of colour at the Los Gigantes carnival and made a series of quick sketches of cacti.

Here are a few drawings and photos capturing some inspirations together with a painting made at a little studio in the main square at Los Gigantes.


Cactus celebration – acrylic on canvas


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