Adding the extra ‘something’ to your art

Do you wish that your work had a little something extra? Do you feel that you’re not quite giving your best to your art? If so, you’re not alone. Even when artists have found a style that they’re happy with, are making time to create art and are generally finding that the art in their life is pretty good, they often talk about feeling that something is ‘missing’ in some way, and wish that they could somehow add that extra element.

In some ways, this is different for everyone – each artist has things that they personally find challenging, or that perhaps prevent them from really concentrating on what they’re doing, or is in some other way a source of frustration. These areas are as diverse as are artists, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer. But there are certain things you can do that might help you add that little bit extra.

Sit down somewhere quiet and try to identify what you’d like to add to your art. You know your work better than anyone else does; try looking at a number of recent pieces to work out if the feeling applies to all of them, or just some, and what might be causing it. Try to work out if anything has changed to make you feel that way.

Be honest. Often, the real crux of the problem is that you’re not really putting all of yourself into your work. For some reason, you’re holding back. Is there an issue you’re avoiding tackling? A technique you’d like to use but are scared to try? The most powerful work is usually the most honest work, so it’s important to be open with your audience. Aside from anything else, even if no one looking at the piece could tell, if you know that you’re hiding something you’ll never really appreciate or respect your work in the way that you should.

Sometimes the issue is a technical one. Maybe you favor watercolors, and have found that they give you the greatest fluidity of expression, but you are aware that you’re entirely self-taught in that medium and you’d like to get some formal training, see how other people use it? Go for it. There’s never any harm in admitting that you don’t know something as well as you’d like. You might well find that you prefer your own way of dealing with it after all, and that the things you learn are intellectually interesting but not of practical relevance – that’s fine, because now you know that, and you can stop worrying about it. On the other hand, you might learn something useful.

Consider the materials, colors and forms you’re using. If you’re sculpting, perhaps you’d really like to be using wood or stone with a finer grain? Or metal with a different kind of finish? If you’re a painter who usually works in muted tones, is there an extra level you’re not using, or a color you could bring in to add something new? You can try to experiment in a small way first, and see how you go, but don’t let fear of changing a familiar pattern hold you back from potentially improving what you create.

Think about your studio. Are you happy with the lighting? It’s an often overlooked factor, but good lighting – not too bright, similar to natural light, and no flickering – can have an enormous impact on both your work and how you feel about it. Artists are generally very aware what a big difference it makes to the scene they’re painting on the canvas; remember that it can be just as important in the place you’re painting in, too.

You say you’re comfortable with the way you work – but are you too comfortable? Sometimes that nagging feeling is a sign that you ought to be moving on. The change you need might not be dramatic, it may only be a slight shift in emphasis or method, but sometimes developing what you have, and not feeling bound to something that you know works, is the only way to truly flourish as an artist. You don’t need to leave the old way behind, but trying out new things can be a great way to ensure that you avoid becoming static.

What are your tips for putting that extra something into your art? Share them in the comments!


  • Julie Reggeti Lander

    Gracias por el excelente articulo.
    La meditación y la respiración nos conectan con la esencia de la creatividad y nos fortalece. Aun en las circunstancias que pudieran parecer adversas. Es bueno recordar la importancia de estar alertas. Para mantenernos en nuestro Paz… Amor y … sabiduría interior..De este modo nos podemos renovar en cada obra. Encontrar nuevos enfoques. Enriquecer con nuevas técnicas..Y crecer en nuestro proyecto como artistas.

  • Oil was always my primary medium and realistic, representational subject matter was my interest. Up until I lost enthusiasm with my art process and eventually my subject matter. I discovered I needed a complete change. I began to paint from my spontaneous imagination. In time changed my medium and subject matter after seeing an retrospective of a egg tempera painter Tom Forrestall at the Owens Gallery. I fell completely in love with this medium and knew I had to learn. I have been using egg tempera every since over the past two years and now have a renewed passion for painting and it shows in my subject matter and application of the medium. Every one has there own approach but this worked for me. The greatest most significant result was finding my own voice as a painter, which I believe is essential in adding the something extra.

  • I usually take long drives or go for a run. When I get frustrated (which is often), I need to run away from my painting completely. Then I’ll usually be out somewhere thinking about something random when an idea hits me- or rather a solution to the problem I was facing. Then I get excited to get back to my piece to figure it out with my new experimental idea. Sometimes this can happen the same day, and sometimes within weeks or even months.
    I also need a deadline. Deadlines make me finish with a solid goal in mind. They also force me to face my painting problems with a purpose 🙂

  • To me, art and music are inseparable. I paint to a wide array of different styles of music. As an artist, whatever medium it is you are using, go out and find some new or different kind of music and be inspired by the change. Take the risk! You’ll be amazed at the happy accidents which may result!

  • I originally got into painting because of my love for the Rebel Painters of the 50’s and found myself years later painting in the style of realism. Although I admire realist painters, I still have this overwhelming desire to break free and do something different. I have my little blog of realist paintings and after reading your article it dawned on me, why not do two blogs – one for realism/representational and one for abstract expressionism? That way it would force me to experiment. Sometimes making a public commitment even when no one in the world will see it forces you to take that leap. At least I hope:-)

  • Sounds great, T.J.! Good luck – I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

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