Breaking Boundaries: Ways to Push Yourself as an Artist

By in How To


As artists we often settle in our comfort zone. It is especially easy to do so when your work is selling well, the feedback is strong and you are facing less obstacles. How long should we stay in that comfort zone before things start getting stale? When should we think about mixing things up and how can we push ourselves in new directions without breaking our integrity or losing heart?

Sheila Marlborough - Breaking Free (mixed media on canvas)
Sheila Marlborough – Breaking Free (mixed media on canvas)

You’ll know when things are too safe. You may grow bored of your work, you may be fighting fresh ideas or you may find yourself drawn to work of other artists whose work is very different to your own. Sales or interest may be starting to dwindle. Here are a few tips for breaking boundaries and rediscovering yourself as an artist.

Don’t force it

If you’ve realised that you need to freshen your work up a little, whether it be for your own sanity or for professional reasons then the last thing that you need to do is force the change. Don’t jump on the bandwagon of fads and trends, don’t opt for what you believe will sell, don’t try to be controversial and certainly don’t try to be current. Great art can reflect a current climate or situation but it should also feel timeless and permanent, rather than fleeting. Great art comes from a place of great integrity.

Ed Nash - Breaking Through (acrylic on canvas)
Ed Nash – Breaking Through (acrylic on canvas)

Immerse yourself in inspiration

This doesn’t have to be art. In fact it would be much better if it wasn’t art, especially anything that is similar to what you do. Throw yourself into the theatre, film or dance. Visit a different country and enjoy the difference in culture. Try new experiences, explore new areas and fill up on things that are just…different.

Break your routine

If you always go to your studio straight after breakfast and sketch until lunch, then stop doing that. Get outside and paint. Spend some time in a communal art space and see what you create there. Interact with other artists, work in their medium and encourage them to use yours.

James McNulty - Dark Sea Breaking (oils on wood)
James McNulty – Dark Sea Breaking (oils on wood)

Take a class

Taking a class may feel like a step backwards for an artist, but it is a great way to not only pick up tips but also to try a different medium without having to invest in everything before you commit. It also takes you out of your usual working environment and will allow you to connect with like-minded artistic types.

Set no end point

After a while we tend to stick to what works. Creating art that we know we can do well, or that will be well-received. Allow yourself a day, an evening, a weekend or even a week where you indulge the desire to experiment. None of the work needs to be marketable, none of it needs to ever be seen again, you will not have to exhibit it, it is purely a learning curve. Try new themes, new media, new approaches and keep evolving and developing. You may unlock a whole new style, you may simple soften your frustration or find a particular shade that you don’t usually use. Whatever you learn from it, it can only enhance your artistic abilities.

Kezia Noel-Paton - Wave Breaking Against A Rock, Sunset (oil on board)
Kezia Noel-Paton – Wave Breaking Against A Rock, Sunset (oil on board)

Above all, you should only try to break artistic boundaries when you feel like you are being held back by your own limitations. Art doesn’t always have to be about breaking out from your comfort zone. Let go of the idea of breaking boundaries and let yourself try these ideas. Before you know it, the boundaries will tumble down and new, exciting work will emerge.

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