How to Develop as an Artist

Annie O’Brien Gonzales is the Cloth Paper Scissors Artist of the Month for March! Annie takes over the Studio Saturday spot to give guidance on how to develop as an artist, and to offer a technique for creating an underpainting. Don’t miss our giveaway of Annie’s new book, The Joy of Acrylic Painting on the Cloth Paper Scissors Facebook page! ~ Jeannine

When learning how to develop as an artist, commitment, consistency, and a passion for creating are key.

Thoughts on Developing as an Artist

In the book A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen, renowned British artist David Hockney said, “The Chinese say you need three things for paintings: the hand, the eye and the heart. I think that remark is very, very good. Two won’t do. A good eye and heart is not enough, neither is a good hand and eye.” As artists we can translate hand, eye, and heart to mean skill, vision, and passion—this is how to develop as an artist. Here’s my take on these essentials:

To acquire skills as an artist requires a ‘no excuses—time at the easel’ commitment. There are no shortcuts to acquiring the skills needed, just as creating music requires playing scales. Development as an artist takes a commitment of your time creating by hand—not blogging, checking Facebook, or organizing supplies. Doing the hands-on work is needed to get there.

In The Joy of Acrylic Painting, Annie O’Brien Gonzales offers an enjoyable, streamlined approach to learning the basics and beyond.

How to develop an eye or vision for your personal style is a question on the mind of all artists. If you decided right now that you wanted to completely change your handwriting, you would have to work hard at it, right? Your signature style in art develops the same way over time, if you let it. Concentrate on learning the basic language and skills of painting, be open to experimenting, and find what resonates with you. If you do all of these things consistently, ultimately you will have developed your own vision.

Passion is essential to generate the energy and enthusiasm needed to put in the work required to become an accomplished artist. You must put your passion and heart into your work. The most difficult, frustrating day of creating must still be better to you than anything else you could be doing. You must be confident and bold and not let fear or rejection stop you. Remember, Georgia O’Keeffe said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Follow Annie’s techniques in the video Expressive Abstracts and discover ways to develop eye-catching abstract compositions.

Start Loose, Stay Loose: Expressive Underpaintings

In my workshops, people often ask me how they can paint more loosely. The following underpainting techniques will get your painting started boldly and lead to a looser painting style. Even though an underpainting may eventually get painted over entirely, beginning loosely establishes the character of the painting from the very start. These techniques are simple, but an important part of the process. They also solve the issue of confronting the scary white canvas. Those fears may create inhibitions about what to paint or how the piece will turn out. Get in the habit of starting your paintings with this loose approach, not thinking too much, and just letting go!

Creating an underpainting is a great way to take away the fear of facing a blank canvas.


  • Canvas or panel substrate, any size
  • High-quality fluid acrylic paints in colors of your preferred color scheme, including transparent fluid acrylic paints
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Scraping tools, such as a bowl scraper, plastic key card, or squeegee, dedicated to paint.
  • Paper towels
  • Water-soluble mark-making tools, such as Caran d’Ache Neocolor II crayons, Stabilo Woody 3-in-1 Colored Pencils, Faber-Castell Gelatos, or water-soluble colored pencils
  • Stencils (These can be purchased or made by hand.)
  • Acrylic matte medium
  • Collage papers

Tip: Turn on your favorite music to unleash your creative juices!

Try using some or all of these techniques for creating an underpainting to find an approach that resonates with your style. These are also helpful for learning how to develop as an artist.

1. Drip fluid acrylic paint onto a panel or canvas and quickly spread it with a scraping tool, creating random shapes.

2. Spritz water onto the painted surface. Tilt the substrate, allowing the paint to drip down.

3. Lay paper towels on the surface and blot some of the paint, but leave the patterns and shapes you created.

Some fluid acrylic paint and scraping tools are all that’s needed to get started on creating an underpainting on canvas.

4. Using different types and sizes of marking tools (crayons, colored pencils, etc.), randomly add marks, responding to the music that’s playing.

5. Apply additional paint with stencils, adding images and shapes randomly and freely across the surface.

6. Spread acrylic matte medium onto sections of the surface.

7. Apply pieces of torn collage paper randomly.

8. Allow everything to dry before starting to paint.

Drips, shapes, and color form a great beginning for a painting.

Note: Consider doing several underpaintings in one session. You can also use leftover paint from your palette at the end of a painting session to create an underpainting for your next piece.

Annie has fantastic ideas for keeping an inspiration sketchbook that she shares in this blog post!

Annie O’Brien Gonzales is a professional painter, teacher, and author from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her work is represented by galleries across the U.S., appears in juried exhibitions, and is collected by art lovers internationally. She is the author of Bold Expressive Painting: Painting Techniques for Still Lifes, Florals and Landscapes and The Joy of Acrylic Painting: Expressive Painting Techniques for Beginners, both from North Light Books. Annie also has three videos on expressive painting with Artists Network TV. Her online workshops can be found at For more on Annie, visit her website:


Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques


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