Permission To Play

I think every artist, whether just starting out or a seasoned pro, struggles with the urge to make every effort something they can be proud of, hang on a wall, or possibly sell. Its hard to spend limited time and effort and not have expectations.

However I have yet to meet an artist who if asked why they became an artist their response would be “to get rich”. Most of us explore our art because we have something inside that we need to express. Art, in its many forms, is fun. Creating things that elicit a response, within us or others, brings satisfaction. It’s easy to lose sight of this when confronted with limited time to pursue art. The creative process needs to be fun, and I’ve met many artists who found the most success with the work they did for themselves. Stuff that they didn’t think would appeal to others conveyed greater emotion and lead to greater success, in sales or commissions, than the stuff created for that purpose.

So its good to remember to give ourselves permission to have fun. Paint something new, try a new technique, and remove all expectations that the result will be worthy of anything more than painting over. Better yet, enter into it expecting to not be happy with the result. The goal is to play.

Last night I wanted to try doing a sky like I had seen done by a painter I admire by the name of Jan Blencowe. Her youtube video got me excited to try a scumbled sky, with more color and less definition than I am used to. So I grabbed an old canvas that I had experimented with painting clouds, and started painting over it. I decided to just do the top and see how it went.

painting over old canvas to try a scumbled, atmospheric sky

Since I was just having fun, I also decided to use the palette knife more that I have in the past, to create a richly textured background for the sky. I layered in the paint thickly, created some texture and color, and let it dry. Then I went back and scumbled in some color and variation. The result is a more atmospheric sky that leaves a lot to interpretation. It could be cloudy, or foggy without defining for the viewer exactly what to think.

scumbled sky

When I was done playing with the sky I was pretty happy, so I decided to play some more, and see if I could turn it into a painting using a photo I took recently and posted here.

Since I was playing, I continued to use the palette knife which is not my usual approach, to block in the underpainting. Then switched to brush and put in the barn.


At some point I realized it was coming along pretty well so I finished it off by adding the trees and shadows and color in the foreground, and added more of the frozen river using heavy glazes. Overall I had a lot of fun. I surprised myself at how much more fun it was to paint this without expectation than it would have been had I set out to paint this photograph for a specific client or purpose.

Finished "fun" painting of a winter barn over marsh.
Finished “fun” painting of a winter barn over marsh.

Give yourself permission to play. Have fun with your art, and see what results. It may surprise you!