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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!