‘Stepping into the not knowing… *’

‘In art often you have to start before
you know where you are going.’ **

 Today I came across both these sayings from two painting mentors I greatly admire. And it made me think about the last workshop I gave at Cuckoo Farm Studios where we were exploring mark-making following a couple of demonstrations.

I was not at my best, that day so instead of attempting to do a finished piece, I had decided I would only do as many different marks as I could think of on a large sheet of paper, working with different colours as well as neutrals and B&W and use the finished piece as an illustration chart of possible marks. I stepped into the unknown and produced what I had been struggling to do – unsuccessfully – for several months!!

The conscious me did not know what I would do. The unconscious me leapt into the opportunity given and produced what I had been trying but couldn’t do.

To be successful in art, you need to be brave enough to step out into the Unknown.

It is very easy to stay comfortably in your known expertise. I can do this so I will carry on…doing it again and again and again. Receiving a pat on the back from your supporters. This is always nice. But stayin your comfort zone …and slowly your work becomes repetitive, mechanical, safe…and without realizing it you’ve stopped developing.

Resting on Your Laurels’ and you’ve stopped growing.

This is so important that over the years a number of clichês have arisen pointing at this.

This is why it is important to always take a risk. Go for that unknown approach. Try what you have not been able to do before. Change the formula. Consider the ‘What if?

What if I change my format, medium, size, subject, brush, colour…

Bravely go…where you have not explored before. Another clichê. But that is because this IS the path to doing your greatest work.

Looking at some of the work produced that day…looking back I see that this was produced by those not quite knowing what they were doing…they were just following their instinct.

These tentative efforts are exciting. There is a raw energy which you can feel. And sometimes the more knowledgeable you are, the more difficult it is to simply let go and explore.

Picasso once said that he had spent his whole life trying to learn to paint like a child.

Challenge yourself to do this! Everytime you sit down at your artwork or prepare to work at your easel. Look at what you have done and ask yourself…

what can I try out today?

It may work…

It may fail…

But even if it fails it will give spark to a new idea.

That didn’t work….but what if I try it this way?

And slowly you are on a new pathway …towards a new direction.

Don’t wait until you have the whole route in sight for then you will be limited by how far you can see, and by what has come before.

Step into the Unknown and discover what it still ahead of you!


  • * Dr Nancy Hillis
  • ** Nicholas Wilton

Coming Next: Using Structure&Design to Map your Steps

One thought on “‘Stepping into the not knowing… *’

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