What Makes a Good Artist?

I meet many potential learners who won’t enrol on any of my course or workshops despite having an interest in art.  Many of these people believe that they don’t have the skills to be an artist, but what are the skills and attributes that make someone good at art?  After many years of teaching art I believe that the best artists have a mixture of skill and attributes and just having one of them is often not enough.  I explore some of the key skills and attributes involved…

Talent

There is no doubt that some of us possess a natural ability to draw and paint naturally but talent can be over-rated because there are many other skills involved with being good at art and in being creative.

What makes a good artist?
What makes a good artist?

Technical Skills

This means the ability to complete a skill such as a wash or layering paint, these are skills that can be learnt and practiced.  Those of us that are good with our hands are often more able in these areas but the ability to handle tools and materials often comes with practise.

Learning technical skills such as how to handle media is one skill area in being a good artist.
Learning technical skills such as how to handle media is one skill area in being a good artist.

Observational Skills

These are the skills that are probably the hardest to teach, observational skills are about how we see and what we see.  The ability to look very carefully is a key skill in art.  This can take lots of practice over many years, many beginners just don’t ‘see’ objects and subjects as they are.  The practice of really looking with an open mind is something those who have not drawn or painted will be used to doing.  Drawing from life is one way that we can learn observational drawing skills.

Learn to draw from life, it will improve your observational drawing skills
Learn to draw from life, it will improve your observational drawing skills

Creativity

There are different skills involved in being creative and having technical artistic skills.  Many can copy or apply paint well but can lack the ideas for an imaginative piece of artwork. Many have explored what being creative means and it tends to be a state of mind where you are prepared to experiment and can make connections between things.  Being creative is a bit like play and a free mind is necessary to be able to make connections and be experimental.  Being creative is also about seeing things and having a vision of how you want to portray them in a more interesting way.  Creative people want to create things in their own way. 

One example I see over and over in the classroom would be a learner who makes marks and can see that those marks could be wood or hair and the learner who doesn’t make the connection.  Those learners who ask how to do something and those learners who are willing to explore to find their own answers.  These are key characteristics that make a person creative. 

Give new ways of working a try is a key aspect of being creative.

Discipline

Being good at art involves practice, just like learning a musical instrument it means doing something every day or every week to improve our skills.   Just like learning a musical instrument learning any craft like drawing and painting involves discipline. Those who draw everyday are the ones who make good artists because they are in it for what I call the ‘long haul’.  The best artists accept that art is not a skill that is ever ‘done/learnt’ but enjoy the process of creating. 

Some aspects of getting good at art can mean repetitive exercises like drawing basic objects like vases, teapots and cups to learn shape and proportion.

Colour Sense 

Another aspect is dealing with colour, some seem to have a natural colour sense and others struggle with this.  If you like colours and find you can put them together well in other aspects of life such as gardening or putting an outfit together then you are probably going to be good with colour in art.  Colour is a big part of painting so I would say this is an important part of being a good artist.  You can learn about colour if it doesn’t come  naturally,  I have written many posts about colour so have a look at How can I learn about Colour? for more information.

What do you think makes a good artist? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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