Being a guarded artist is the norm for most painters. Actually I would guesstimate the number to be around 95%. If you're curious what I mean by guarded artist it's someone that paints safe. They have a certain skillset and routine that they stick to and never venture to do much else.

I can't blame anyone for painting in this manner. After-all what lurks beyond the safe zone often means taking risks. And with any risk there's a chance for failure.

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When the 'f' word is involved most stop right there!

Why risk failing? Why should anyone opt to see what awaits behind curtain number two when they can sit back and enjoy a happy little session?

But let's be honest, safe can often be boring! Guarded art is mostly predictable, often trite and never exciting. The painting is usually done before you begin. All you have to do is put some paint on a palette, grab a canvas and some brushes and start the routine.

Artists get caught painting this way because of fear. The sheer anxiety of not painting a lovely piece of art with their precious supplies will spoil any attempt of venturing outside the safe zone. Most would rather paint guarded art than risk failure.

I know this is true because I see it all the time!

You would think that most of my teaching experience is wrapped up in helping others learn ideas and methods for painting loose. But here's a confession. I probably learn more than most students that sign up. Not necessarily from my lessons but from their attitude, approach and paintings.

This is not an attack on their work per say. It's more about their willingness to actually try. To put forth the effort and trust the process. When students approach learning this way their art tells the story. The bottom line is they're not willing to put their ego on the line. The attempt is usually half-hearted!

The journey for the average student goes like this...

  • They're unhappy with their art, or want more from it.
  • They desire to loosen up.
  • They're excited and eager to learn!
  • They sign up, or purchase a course.
  • They watch a handful of videos.
  • They probably skip right past the core of the lessons because it involves pencil and paper.
  • Suely those lessons are for newbies and not them.
  • Plus, they want the end result. A finished painting!
  • They become inspired and start slinging painting.
  • Things don't go their way.
  • It's all too confusing and their art is getting worse, not better!
  • They begin to think the lessons aren't geared for them.
  • A week, or so, later they cancel their subscription and return to being a guarded artist.
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Here's where they went wrong.

  • Their expectations were too high.
  • They didn't respect the amount of skill painting loose requires.
  • They had misconceptions about how much effort they would need to put forth.
  • They didn't realize that learning new ideas means taking a few steps back.

Yes, to get better you need knowledge and new ideas. However, incorporating new ideas into your workflow means regressing! No one likes to move backwards. But it's a fact! You must regress to see progress. It's a necessary evil!


Growth is all about being uncomfortable. It's not unicorns and rainbows. You have to be willing to;

  • take time to learn
  • acknowledge that regressing is part of the journey
  • stay dedicated and trust the process
  • and following through on methods until you start to see a shift

If you find yourself in a 'happy place' all the time when you are creating then you are in the 'guarded artist' zone. It's okay to spend time painting safely but be careful how much time you spend there.

I suggest that you balance your sessions. Spend time doing both safe and risky art, or dedicate certain days for exploring outside the comfort zone. Develop a system that works for you and go for it.

Just know that the evolution, or the next level, of your journey awaits outside the happily bubble. Not inside!

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