In today’s art podcast, we’re going to delve into the topic of being a self-taught artist and all of the self-doubt that comes with it. We are chatting with Carrie Brummer, creator of the Art Fundamentals Course – Self Taught to Self Confident Online Art Programme. It’s a course to teach you how to become an artist without going to art school.
Carrie Brummer Artist and Teacher
Carrie is an accomplished artist and art teacher. After chatting with a number of her online students she discovered that many of them felt embarrassed about being self-taught artists, as though it made them a lesser artist in comparison to those with a formal art education. Carrie wanted to do something about this perception, not only teach people the fundamentals of drawing but also make them feel confident in themselves as an artist regardless of whether or not they went to art school.
Free Art Foundations Masterclass
You can check out some of the work produced so far by her art students and sign up for a free masterclass called “How to master art foundations without going to school: 3 strategies for the self-taught artist by going to Kickinthecreatives.com/Carrie (scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up)
Carrie discovered many self-taught artists have self-doubt
Carrie didn’t realise at first that being self-taught was a pain point for people. She was clueless of how many people felt that being self-taught was something to be ashamed of. She only realised the problem when she began calling students on the phone from her community, Artists Strong. Almost everyone that she spoke to, used the phrase, “self-taught” like they were confessing to something which they found embarrassing.
Tara: I must admit, when I hear the words, ‘self-taught’, I think, wow, you’ve taught yourself to do this? It’s such a positive thing to me.
Our art school experiences
Carrie’s Art School Experience
I went to a liberal arts university, which meant that they offered focus and things like mathematics as well as art. And I chose to focus on art and art history. I was exposed to materials, so I would take a printmaking class and they’d show me how to use the tools, but there was never a conversation on how to practice in a way that would help you grow your skill, or about skill development, it was like, ‘here are techniques that you can use.’ There’s a lot of exposure to techniques, but I don’t feel like we discussed skill development.
So when I left school, I felt like I wasn’t fully qualified as an artist, because I didn’t go to a school that only focused on the Arts. I still felt like there was a gap in my own learning, and I even wondered, can I get any better? I practice all the time, I’m making art all the time, but is this all there is? And maybe that’s something I need to be at peace with. So I think we all can have that insecurity or questioning of what we’re doing with our art. And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve gone to school or not.
Tara’s Art School Experience
I went to art school. And I did a two-year Art Foundation Course. But I was never taught how to paint. And the only practical art skills was a bit of life drawing, where they taught you about negative space and how to look at things. But beyond that, it was very much a case of just being completely experimental. I can see the benefits of going to art school for that reason, but I wish I’d had learned some art fundamentals too.
Sandra’s Art School Experience
I went to art school, but I very quickly realised that it wasn’t for me, I didn’t complete the course, because my sole reason for doing it was to build my drawing skills and learn how to paint. I wasn’t just disappointed, but I was also shocked that there was such a lack of information on technique and skill. And almost all of the focus was just being put on being loose and imaginative. I just couldn’t believe that they didn’t put much emphasis on the basic fundamentals of drawing.
I remember having a conversation with my teacher about it. And I asked, when will we get to the bit where you teach me how to paint, how to mix and use mediums? I wanted to learn how to do all of that. He said, “well, that’s not going to happen. that’s not what art school is all about. We want you to forget about all that stuff, and just ‘be creative.’” And I thought, Well, if that’s all I’m going to get from art school, this is not for me.
I can tell you that I learned more in the first month of learning by myself, than I did in the first six months of art school.
I did feel like a bit of an imposter for a while, because who am I to call myself an artist? I haven’t got that piece of paper to tell me. But I think I’ve overcome that now. I can call myself an artist, and I don’t have to apologise for it.
How creativity and art fundamentals can work together
Carrie: So creativity is a skill in itself and I don’t think we talk about that enough. It’s become this go to word in the business world, and schools say they need to foster creativity in our students. But we don’t really talk about creativity as a muscle that you need to practice, and that it will grow with your effort and play.
When you come from a place of confidence, you’re more likely to take risks, you can bounce back more easily from mistakes you make working in a new medium where you’re not as skillful. So you feel like there’s a drop in your skill for a short period of time, you’re willing to stick with it to keep going because you’re curious. And, you can figure that skill part out.
I feel like if you have these art foundations, it’s really about confidence in the long run. So many people have told me that they feel like they have a learning gap. Then they use the term ‘self taught’ to talk about how they don’t have that official piece of paper to say they’re an artist. And I say, well then let’s do something about it, right? Let’s get you out of that mindset and help you so that you can start exploring and taking risks.
You can’t be creative without taking risks. You have to try new things. You have to test ideas out and they often don’t turn out well the first time. Part of the creative process is toying with ideas that you have and following them down whatever rabbit hole they lead you to. Then deciding if it’s one you want to stick with and dig your heels in on and really give it a go, or if you want to try something new.
How can you break the rules of art when you don’t know what they are?
Carrie: I’d rather people consciously break the rules of art so that they can feel confident in their choices, than unknowingly breaking a rule that maybe isn’t serving their art, because they haven’t thought about it before, or they didn’t even know. You don’t know what you don’t know. Right? You don’t need to be obsessive about the rules. For example, there are multiple rules of art composition that you can explore, but there’s no one right rule of composition. People have used many different approaches, but knowing what those are when you approach your painting, you can say, well, do I like one of these? Or do I want to try something different?
How Carrie became a confident artist?
Carrie: I’ve been making art since I was in middle school. But I have dealt most of my life with perfectionism as a problem. And I, I know a lot of people use that phrase as a backhanded compliment for themselves. But I know that it’s a fault. It’s held me back from taking risks and doing things with my art.
I also had this tied up notion of talent. I’d practice so hard and there’d be these periods in my life where I felt like I just wasn’t getting any better. And I didn’t understand why. And so it made me start to think, well, maybe you are born with a certain limit, and this is all you get. And I felt that way, even when I was starting to teach high school students because I did that straight out of university. I wanted so much to help them. But I couldn’t always figure out how to help them see the things that they’re not seeing right now. So I got really interested in research on developing our skills in any discipline.
I moved overseas for some time, and I was teaching at an American School in Dubai with international students. I had students who as children had schooling in South Korea. In their curriculum, everyone learns draughtsmanship. So those students that had that schooling, their skill was much higher than their peers, and the other students were like, wow, why can you draw so well? If people were looking at this from the outside, they might have assumed that these students were born with this talent. But it’s simply that their curriculum included this information. So that was a piece of the puzzle.
Then I read a book called Peak by Anders Ericsson. He did 30 years of research into expertise and how people who are the best of the best at whatever they do have gotten to that level. He found that it’s about practice, but it’s the right kind of practice. So combining some of these experiences and resources, like the famous Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I realised, okay, I have a system now. It made me realise I really can just keep improving. And once I had that knowledge, my insecurity fell away, because I know, I have a choice
Carrie’s tip for how to study art on your own
Carrie: The first thing I would say is, you need to be able to practice the way a musician practices. So, if I play the flute, I’m going to warm up; I’m going to play some scales. And the way I play the scales, the pacing of the scales, the timing, even the scales that I choose, all of that helps me play the other piece that I’m working on.
We don’t think about doing that with our art. But having warm-up activities, for example, doing things that help us train our eye, like contour drawings. Make that part of your daily art-making experience, because you can do a warm-up in two minutes. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time if you commit to two minutes every day to doing some contour drawings, blind, as well as modified. Think of a contour drawing like a colouring book, you’re outlining an object. A blind contour drawing means you don’t look at the paper either. I want to make sure I’m emphasising that this is practice, because we all get judgy.
As soon as we put art on a piece of paper or canvas, we think it has to be this finished artwork we hang up. But the practice is in having lots of things that are unfinished, that we’re just using as a way to help train our eyes. So giving ourselves permission and space to do that can be impactful on your larger works.
Carrie’s Online Art Fundamentals Course: Self Taught to Self Confident
So it’s a course that when people invest in, they get lifelong access to. There are six core modules, and then there are several bonus ones.
Each week I go through different topics. So the first one is all about this discussion of mindset, understanding how perfectionism gets in the way. Understanding that if we put too much emphasis on talent we can limit our growth, because we don’t push ourselves in certain ways. I use the formula that Anders Ericsson talks about in his book, ‘Peak’, as a structure to help people understand how to practice efficiently and effectively so they can see results.
You don’t make finished artworks each week, but you’re doing a lot of drawing. And we’re talking about things like light, and composition. And we’re looking at it across genres of things like still life, landscape, and people so that you can see how all of these things intersect no matter what you’re drawing or painting.
Then we wrap up with something that’s about how you measure your growth. So you have this assessment for yourself. It’s not a grade, so to speak. So many people compare themselves to others, when really, they need to compare themselves to the artist they were before. This helps them understand where they’re going and what they’ve learned. So they can decide what they want to learn next. We dig into that as well.
Then we wrap up with content that’s about the medium that they prefer to work in. So, say that you want the drawing foundations, but you’re really a painter. That last module goes into activities and ideas of how to apply what we’ve learned to your medium so that you can start working on that voice development.
Find out More About Carrie
Carrie’s Free Masterclass How to master art foundations without going to school
Sign up for Carrie’s free masterclass “How to master art foundations without going to school: 3 strategies for the self-taught artist
The previous art podcast we did with Carrie
If you want to learn more in-depth about Carrie you can also find an interview we did with her on our podcast Episode 37
Books Carrie Mentions
Peak by Anders Ericsson
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
Take the Beginner Artist Quiz
Take Carrie’s 60-second quiz to find out which beginner drawing mistakes you are making
Please note that Kick in the Creatives are an affiliate of Artist Strong (Carrie Brummer). If you decide to purchase any products from Artist Strong via our links, KITC will get a commission which will help us to continue doing what we do. Thank you for your support.