5 Valuable Lessons From Figurative Artists

by Andrea Miliani

It’s been a year since PoseSpace’s blog was created. We have interviewed artists from all over the world and here are some of their most valuable lessons and thoughts.

I am not an art expert and I’ve never been good at painting or drawing. And I don’t intend to be an artist or an art critic any time soon. As I’ve read about, listened to, and interviewed artists as a social media manager and content creator for www.posespace.com, I’ve learned a lot over the last three years and, more importantly, it’s been a tremendously inspiring and educative experience.

When I started working for PoseSpace I discovered a whole new world. I never thought that nude photography and art models could be such a powerful resource for figurative artists. I learned that live drawing sessions with real art models are the most precious experiences for artists, but that not just anyone has access to live models. It’s expensive and limited.

Douglas Johnson, PoseSpace’s owner, has offered artists from all over the world the possibility to have an art model right in front of them—through books or on their computer screens—in their homes or studios. After I saw the fantastic artwork that talented artists could create based on these references, I became curious and proposed that we create a blog and send a questionnaire to artists that were users of the site. 

The result was very satisfying: we got amazing and inspiring stories. It’s been a year since Posespace’s blog started and we’ve interviewed over 25 artists and counting. Here I share 5 of the most valuable lessons that some of these figurative artists shared with us:

1) Never give up on your art 

One of the frequent responses I kept receiving from different artists had to do with what figurative artists regretted the most. I did not ask this question directly, but many expressed that they wished they had started their artistic career earlier, or that they hadn’t been discouraged by other people’s opinions.

When I asked Sladjana Buhovac—a figurative sculptor from Sarajevo based in Canada—what advice she had for young artists who had an interest in sculpting, this was her response:

“My advice is to never give up on your art. Don’t listen to others, follow what inspires you the most. When I studied fine arts in the late nineties, figurative sculpture seemed like a dying field. Everyone, including my classmates, were pursuing installations and abstract work and I felt totally lostI got a gift that nobody was interested in.  So it seemed at the time. I should have followed my heart long ago, but it’s never too late to start again.” 

Sculpture by Sladjana Buhovac

A few artists, like Les Satinover—an American figurative artist who focuses primarily on the male figure—have seen the benefits of having an alternate career that provides a solid economic backing:

“I retired from a 36year career in corporate retail design and went into my full time studio practice in 2012. I work entirely in service of my own vision without the financial requirement to make sales. Validation is an extra. What comes after, that is fate.”

Painting by Les Satinover

2) Work hard

Brian Smith, an award-winning graphic designer and art professor from Canada, has been teaching art students for over 20 years now. He has earned several awards for his paintings and his most valuable advice for anyone interested in creating art is to be persistent and work hard:

“I tell my students all the time to ‘Show up for work!’ The great thing about being an artist is that, if you want to be a better artist, you simply do more art. So, show up for work as often as you can—even if you are not working on “the big project”— just show up and work/play at your art.”

Michaela reclining” painting by Brian Smith based on model Michaela

3) Keep Learning

Talent can be expressed in so many ways and some artists seem to master several mediums and forms of expression. Italian artist Tiziano Gilardoni is one of those multi-talented geniuses: he can draw, paint, sculpt and take fascinating photography. His secret? He is constantly learning and finding new challenges:

“I’m convinced that art is a continuous flow: after a while of dealing with the same subject or the same technique I feel that I’m becoming self-referential, therefore I try to focus on a different topic, to experience something new or I even jump from sculpting into photography or drawing. And each project has its proper language that best fits it: one shall be expressed by drawing, another could only be represented by a statue, and a third can only be a black and white photo. In the end, I started developing some skills to find my way, now I try to learn new skills that could fit the ideas I have in mind.”

“The Mermaid”, sculpture by Tiziano Gilardoni 

We also asked Roy Stanton, an artist and actor based in Florida, to tell us one thing he thought he knew, that he later turned out to be wrong about. This was his response:

“I think that would have to be the notion that there was an endpoint in growing as an artist; that the education would, at some point, be over. Completely wrong. To be honest, I find that each image, at its beginning, holds the same excitement as the first, and the same challenges. Will it work? Can I accomplish what I want? Granted, I have the benefit of experience to bolster me up when those concerns pay me a visit, but I have to say that getting that little bit of uncertainty definitely keeps boredom from setting in. Give me a new problem to wrestle with, a new challenge to solve, and I’m a very happy artist.”

“Bride” drawing by Roy Stanton

4) Don’t underestimate your life experience

Human experiences are at the root of figure drawing and figurative art. Meaningful artwork can tell real and personal stories that the audience can find beautiful, touching and close. Australian artist Dagmar Cyrulla shares such intimate moments in her artwork.

“I enjoy making work that captures some of the things I have seen, reflected upon and learnt from. I love it when the viewer brings their stories to my paintings and loses themselves and maybe has an epiphany of their own”

she told PoseSpace a few weeks ago. And you can truly empathize with this internationally recognized artist’s work.

“The Couple” by Dagmar Cyrulla, oil on linen 500 x 700mm (image shared by artist)

Sharing personal feelings and emotions is also Gwen Roberts’ strategy, but she prefers not to be too explicit. This British artist uses her pencils and the Photorealism technique to communicate, but remains cryptic to keep her audience entertained and get them curious:

“A bit like a writer writes about what he or she knows, I draw on what is familiar to me or interpret emotions I have felt from past experiences. However, I consider it is important to have some mystery and ambiguity in the work so that the viewer has something to ponder over or put their own viewpoint to. Therefore, if I were to reveal the experiences that have inspired the work it would leave nothing for the viewer. I much prefer to keep them private, as some are very sensitive and personal.”

“Twenty Four Seven” by Gwen Roberts using Oliviap046 as a reference

5) Use social media for inspiration not just for comparison

Modern artists also have to deal with daily lifestyle disruptors: social media networks. And just like any other tool, these platforms could inspire and help us, or frustrate and dissuade us. 

I’ve been impressed by how fast artists on social media can use the content we share to create almost instant pieces of artwork. We constantly see this on Instagram or Twitter: we publish a pose and a few hours later someone will send us a drawing or small painting of the reference we published earlier—and it’s so exciting! This is a great example of how social media can be beneficial and get someone motivated to create. 

American scientist and artist Davey Edwards is one of these social media enthusiasts: “I use other’s artwork on Instagram to inspire me. There are a lot of great artists around the world!” And Liz Gridley, a growing professional Australian artist agrees: “The problem with smartphones and instagram is I find new amazing artists to watch everyday!” However, Gridley also recognized that she has suffered the consequences of having access to so many talented artists’ work and lives: 

“I think one of the hardest lessons is how to deal with comparison against other artists. With Instagram and online communities it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed by seeing artists accomplish what you’re working for (a technique, an award, getting an opportunity) it’s part of being human, but you can’t let it stop you! So many people tell you ‘everything’s been done’ and ‘nothing is original’ –the hardest part is not believing that. Trusting that even if 20 artists all do the same thing, there’s no loss in making art, all 20 would still be unique to each artist. In short: no matter what, just keep making!”

Photograph of her painting “Withheld” exhibited at “Empathy, My Witness” (shared by artist) /Model: Chelle

Photograph of her painting “Withheld” exhibited at “Empathy, My Witness” (shared by artist) /Model: Chelle

Takeaways

Seeing talented and professional figurative artists struggle with common everyday battles, like Instagram’s unhealthy competition or negative opinions about our personal lives, has helped me feel more connected to each one and admire them even more. These artists have also taken advantage of the tools and services openly available online to build and create wonderful new works of art.

I believe that these lessons apply to any career, dream or profession, and not just figurative art. Perhaps understanding the meaning from reading the messages these talented artists have honestly shared with us, will be exactly the right boost someone needed today.

To learn more about these artists or to find more specific recommendations—regarding plein air drawing, sculpting, modeling for artists or even airbrush painting—visit our blog: https://figuredrawing.us.

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