Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rules for Art & Life

I was sitting at lunch today, eating my Reuben sandwich from Arby’s (man, those are some yummy sammiches!), thinking about art…and life.

I used to think that I was a rule breaker, a rebel of sorts, and I just didn’t like living with rules of any kind.  Come to find out, I actually like having guidelines for things. Rules, guidelines, parameters, whatever you want to call them, make life easier in many ways…and they make art easier, too. Some of them apply to life AND art; those are the ones I really like.

A couple of years ago I happened across a great list of Rules for Making Art that were written by Sarah Whitmire and so many of them just smacked me across the head with their insanely awesome truth and others were ones that I learned so much from that I have kept her list of rules hung in my studio, glancing at it every so often to learn a little more here and there.

Because these rules/ideas have taught me so much, I wanted to share them here, with all of you, in the hope that you can take something from them and learn from them, the way I have done and continue to do.

I hope you enjoy…

1. Everything looks better framed (or at the very least, sides painted). An ATC or another small piece of art should have chalk, ink…something, along the edges to frame the piece.

2. Pay attention to all the senses. For example, if your piece is a book, how does it feel in your hands? How do the pages sound when they are turned? Does it smell like an old library or a glue factory? Take all of these things into consideration.

3. Anyone can embellish. Think of this as the “jewelry” of your piece. Don’t stress about it.

4. Anyone can choose pleasing colors. Think about the colors you use together in your wardrobe or to decorate your house. Use what you love and what works for you.

5. Seal and coat. Everything looks better with a nice finishing coat of beeswax, matt medium, Gloss medium, or spray coating. Be kind to your art.

6. Don’t stick your focal point right in the middle of a piece. After you know why, then you are allowed to break this rule.

7. Stamps are tools. Don’t be afraid to get these dirty. Repeat, overlap, and don’t get so caught up on one “perfect” image.

8. Stamps are accents not focal points.

9. Don’t ever fall in-love with one part of a piece and “baby” it. A great teacher once told me, if you find yourself falling in love with one corner…paint over it until it is the same as the rest.

10. Don’t be afraid to get messy.

11. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

12. Fibers are your friends.

13. The one who dies with the most techniques… still dies. Don’t get over whelmed with learning a large quantity of techniques. Focus on one or two and PERFECT them. Make them your own, build on them.

14. Don’t try to plan things out.

15. Revisit your work. Hang it up. Keep it close. Learn from it.

16. Don’t rework old pieces. Always start fresh.

17. Piece not working out? Paint over it or tear it up and throw it away. You learned what didn’t work…now move on.

18. Just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will for you.

19. Keep a notebook with you at all times to jot down ideas.

20. Go to bed thinking about your art. If you do this with intention you will have new ideas and solutions when you wake up.

21. When you see art you like write down why you like it in your notebook. Was it the colors, subjects, use of materials? Refer to this when making your own pieces.

22. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

23. Think outside the box. Use materials you don’t think will work. Make them work.

24. Ask for help when (not if) you need it. Altered Artists are amazing people. We stand out because of our willingness to share and help each other. You’d be a fool not to take advantage of this.

25. You should see your hand in every piece that you make. By this I mean that there should be brushstrokes, doodling or drawing, something somewhere to show a person has been here.

26. Every piece should have at least one secret. You should never be able to see every detail all at once. There should always be a little something special hidden for your viewer to find. The best secrets take years to reveal themselves.

27. Everything is better with Texture. I can’t stress this enough.

28. Everything is better with layers. I can’t stress this enough.

29. Every piece should tell a story. You may not know what that is right away but if after working a while you still can’t find it see rule #17.

30. You know you have succeeded in a piece when you can’t imagine ever giving it away or selling it. And that’s when you should.

31. Allow others to find their own truths in your art. Only explain yourself when asked. and only if you want to.

32. Don’t be afraid to shock people.

33. Know your audience.

34. Take criticism but don’t live by it.

35. No one ever became famous by following the rules and playing nice.

36. Don’t buy into what everyone else is doing. If everyone is making art about Zebras wearing hats then become obsessed with Lions.

37. Speak your own truths.

38. Have no fear.

39. Find refuge with kindred spirits.

40. Live with intention.

41. Do what you love.

42. Break all the rules.

I bolded a few of the ones that are really speaking to me right now (although, really, they all do in some way or another), especially #36…everywhere I turn I see art with pointy hats and wings on practically every thing. Although I have done the pointy hat/winged thing (and still enjoy seeing some of the pieces created in this genre), I am working hard to move away from that artistic “clique” and find my own thing(s), my own voice, my lion in a pasture full of hat wearing zebras.

As for #39, this blog is my refuge and you all are my kindred spirits…and I am thankful for each and every one of you.

Oh, and for those of you that read my last blog post…I finally found my Zentangle journal! YAY!!! I had accidentally put it on the bookshelf with my ephemera books (old dictionaries and the like) so it didn’t stick out and I just kept overlooking it. DUH! Just glad to have it back so I can play in it here and there.

Take care, be kind to yourselves, and get out there-make some art and break some rules! *smile*

Peace & Love,


  1. I had forgotten about Sarah's list but as I started to read I remembered. Love that you printed it out and glance at it occasionally. I still have my little jar of 'ideas' that Sarah got me started on and I still use it too! Grab some paint and doodle on the edge of your zentangle journal so it can never be lost again ;)

  2. Thank you so much for this list I'm printing it out and tacking it to the top of my easel.

  3. Thanx my friend for this list of inspiration. I am going to print in and place it in my creation space.

  4. thank you much, sweet Barb, for sharing these valuable truths...i too embrace rules as a starting point, then, who knows from there! enjoy this snazzy day... ;)

  5. Warning, cancer!

    Someone in blog lands needs help, go to my blog and read about Marilyn,
    or just go to Marlyn's blog,
    Our you people in blog land as nice as you write on your blog?

  6. I like this one...and I know we have both applied it to our lives!!

    17. Piece not working out? Paint over it or tear it up and throw it away. You learned what didn’t work…now move on.


  7. Great list! I'm printing it out for each studio. Thanks for sharing. :)

  8. Excellent *rules* for us! ^-^


Thank you so much for taking the time to drop by. I am open to any comments, questions, suggestions, critiques, etc, so lay it on me...
Peace & Love,

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