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

Painting ‘Afternoon Tea’ at the Hotel du Vin, Bristol

Bristol is my home town and a uniquely inspiring place for artists. From wide open vistas enjoyed from many city viewpoints such as the iconic Suspension Bridge to dockland walks and city cafés there’s plenty here to get those creative juices flowing.

It’s the go to city for arty people with a plethora of festivals, art trails, world famous street art, galleries, eclectic museums, great local pubs and unspoiled parks. You can find out more about what Bristol has to offer visitors here

Walking up and down Bristol’s hilly terrain you will inevitably work up an appetite so what could possibly be nicer than a special treat of Afternoon Tea at the conveniently located Bristol Hotel du Vin. I went along with a group of Bristol bloggers to savour, review and more unusually amongst our group, to paint the afternoon tea – painting food is a new but thoroughly enjoyable departure.

Afternoon tea – the savoury treats

Like all good things its the little details that count and this afternoon tea has been designed to impress. It’s a delicious treat served with style and panache and it delivers on flavour. There is the perfect balance of savoury and sweet choices complemented by specially blended Twinings tea or coffee.

If you want to push the boat out you can go to town with champagne or a wonderful choice of in house gin cocktails.

You can opt for a cream tea priced at £8.50 or go for the big treat afternoon tea at £20. Take your time. You don’t get rushed here. Soak up the ambiance, the candle light and admire the comfortable surroundings and friendly unobtrusive staff who are happy to answer your questions or leave you to enjoy your tea as you wish.

The afternoon tea includes five savoury and five sweet treats presented on a beautiful silver tiered platter finished off with sticks of pale pink candy floss adding a fun flourish to an already mouth watering assortment.

Candles create that special ambiance

Candles create that special ambiance

It was fun drawing the candy floss, not what you automatically expect for afternoon tea but a brilliant finishing touch adding colour and a party feel to the occasion. We were served in a long board room with curved windows, exposed brickwork echoing the building’s past, and furnished in highly polished dark wood and sparkling Venetian mirrors that twinkled in the candlelight creating a relaxed and cosy ambiance.

Arched windows and sparkling mirrors provide a historic setting

Arched windows and sparkling mirrors provide a historic setting

The savoury offerings include Severn and Wye smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, egg and cress mayonnaise brioche sub, ham with Gruyere cheese croissant, heritage tomato and tapenade galette and  a goats cheese and spinach quiche.

This was followed with warm scones with a mixture of Bonne Maman jams, clotted cream and Lescure butter

The sweet course was a delectable assortment featuring lemon meringue pie, a knickerbocker glory, raspberry and dark chocolate tea cakes and custard donuts. All this finished with home made apple candy floss and a choice of teas.

I visited Hotel du Vin along with 25 Bristol based travel, lifestyle and food bloggers. The hotel hosted the occasion and we were treated to talks from the general manager and hotel tea sommelier who described to us some of the finer points of Twinings tea blends.


Blogger enjoying the champagne bubbles with Hotel du Vin Afternoon Tea

Nick, COO at Hotel du Vin, “Everyone loves the traditional Afternoon Tea, we believe it is one of the finest meals, a perfect combination of sweet and savoury. We wanted to update this favourite to reflect the increasingly adventurous nature of British consumers that are seeking more unique food pairing experiences. We’re really excited about this offer, bringing together two of 2016s biggest trends, with the quality that Hotel du Vin is known for.”

Hotel du Vin, Bristol, is right in the centre of the city but tucked away into a quiet courtyard setting near the historic and quirky Christmas Steps that leads to Park Row, an interesting street with several contemporary art galleries. The hotel is also within an easy 10 minute walk of the City Museum and Art Gallery, the Royal West of England Academy and the Arnolfini.

The Bristol Hotel du Vin is a peaceful oasis high end in comfort and design, yet an affordable hotel to choose if you are celebrating a special occasion or simply want to treat yourself to some well deserved luxury.

Based in an old sugar refinery the hotel designers have been meticulous in ensuring that some of the unique features of the original building have been retained.

Standard rooms sell anywhere from £115 on a room only basis or £140 inclusive of breakfast for two people and for a special treat the highest standard of suite (such as Veuve Clicquot) sells from £229 on a room only basis or £255 inclusive of breakfast for two people.

Book your stay at Hotel du Vin Bristol

Hotel du Vin Afternoon tea Photo courtesy of Hotel du Vin

Hotel du Vin Afternoon tea
Photo courtesy of Hotel du Vin

Inspired by travel exhibition – Bristol Tobacco Factory

I have a forthcoming solo exhibition entitled ‘Inspired by travel – Paintings by Mary Price’ at the Tobacco Factory cafe and bar starting on Monday 5 September and running for the entire month. I will be sharing and selling work painted during the past year inspired by my travels to Spain and Portugal. Full details see the Tobacco Factory website here

The exhibition will feature a number of larger works on canvas as the space at the Tobacco Factory lends itself well to big paintings which is great for me as I love to paint big.

The show includes a series that reflects my love of wandering  aimlessly around narrow side streets in the cities of Porto, Lisbon, Cadiz, Malaga and Seville as well as some of the pretty towns on the Algarve.


Cadiz Casa ©Mary Price 2016

The work in the show reflects my fascination with old windows and doors and a series of imaginary buildings that are a mixup of essence of place and memory. I always draw and take lots of photographs when I travel but my paintings are far from representational. Anyone who reads these blog posts will know that I favour an intuitive way of expression.

For me this means building up layers of marks and tonality before imposing imagery that inspires in the moment. I like to begin from a space that is free and easy and to hone detail and subject later in my working process. Sometimes happy accidents on the page where imagery starts to emerge will set me off in one direction, at other times I have a sense of what I am trying to achieve and a notion of the vague direction the painting is heading in.

I tend to go through phases of obsession with different inspirations and the current focus is on fabulous imaginary homes imbued with various symbols that represent place in memory.

if you would like to read more about how travel inspires my work please go to this post on travel memory paintings


Sevilla Casa ©Mary Price 2016

If you would like to find out more please feel free to contact me via the form below.

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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