An ode to learning a new style

Every Tuesday since July, Ive been taking an abstract art class at Art on 30th. I’ve been loving it, but I would be lying if I didn’t mention how extremely humbling it has been to learn a new method to painting.

Art on 30th teaches abstract art and if you’ve ever ventured into creating your own abstract art, you can imagine how difficult it would be to teach. However, they do a fabulous job and the owner Kate is God’s gift to the arts community in San Diego.

The first class I took was Beginner Abstract Expressionism. It’s all about putting shapes of paint on a canvas, layering, taking away paint, adding more paint, making textures, making wild marks, using expressive brushwork, glazing, using fluid matte medium, laying down bold colors, and creating rest areas.

This is NOT how I was taught how to paint. Even now as a designer, I see how my designer mind influences the way I painted before this class began. I’ve always started out with a basic plan, a sketch and then fill in the details. Occasionally I’ll come up with some expressive brushwork but that’s only after I’ve meticulously cut out satellite images, layered it onto my photographs and got a general composition down. (See this post on my process).

In the beginner class, we did what any artist learning a new style does: get inspired by artists you enjoy and copy their work. This helps the artist to focus on technique & composition. It helps to see how people pair colors together and how they layer. It’s basically like being a detective or simply using training wheels. I really liked the examples I chose and was pretty surprised by how they were made.

By Artist Heather Day

By Artist Heather Day

My copy and interpretation

My copy and interpretation

I really enjoyed the “copying” process as one of my strengths as an artist is color mixing and copying in general. That’s actually how I learned to paint in Junior High. However, I knew the challenge would be once I was coming up with my own marks, colors and composition.

Now that i’m in the intermediate class, I’ve felt tension with wanting to incorporate representational imagery into my abstract paintings…trying to blend this new approach to art making with one i’ve done my entire life. I’ve come up against some rigid habits in my creative process that are fighting against the free flowing wild child I’ve been learning to release. She’s crying out but I need rules! concept! structure! ah!

I’ve painted and repainted paintings…mostly because I have learned through this entire process to not fear the outcome, to embrace failure. To simply, keep painting and never give up. Keep adding more layers and see how each layer adds depth to the next. However, I find frustration to be near at hand and haven’t learned when to just..stop.

These paintings below? Ya…they are all painted over with white paint. LOL.


Basically, I’m learning how to die to the pride of my style I’ve been focusing on for the past 3ish years. I know that might sound dramatic, but I have grown so comfortable with it. Almost stagnant because it’s what the “masses” enjoy. I’m not saying I’m abandoning it, but I am saying that I won’t be the same artist when I’m done with these classes. A new portal has opened up for me - one of freedom and free flowing paint. The act of painting itself has brought new levels of joy to me I’ve been missing for so long.

So do I consider the paintings above to be failures? I guess so. Am I bummed about that? If this were me before these class began, I would have said hell yes and probably quit it all together. But now, I liken these failures to being just another step in my creative process.

I love that I’m able to be in a place of unleashed creativity and allowing failure to happen. In our Instagram obsessed culture, we see all these incredible artists and designers and think we are not living up to our potential and we want to be good like yesterday. What we don’t see are all of their own failures and years of practice. Because I’m not on Instagram anymore (not saying it’s bad), I see life in a much slower way. It’s just little by little that we build our portfolio of work and it’s not going to be “instant” like it may seem sometimes online. Like Thomas Edison says: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” I’m still learning, growing. stretching and allowing myself to not being very “good” at this right now.

What a lesson in life itself.