painting, cat hellisen, art

A creative process is a personal thing, and it can take years to find the technique that works for you. It’s taken me a pretty long time to come to a place where I’m getting more comfortable with my artistic process.

I hope that my experience helps guide you to finding your own way and makes you feel better about any setbacks. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I’ve discovered that when things just don’t work – no matter that other people are having success doing the same thing – it means that process is not right for me.

Learn from others

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If you’re struggling with something, sometimes the best thing you can do is go watch a YouTube tutorial. You don’t have to do everything the same way as other artists, but seeing how they work can give you some “Aha!” moments. Those moments pave the way for you to get past obstacles in your work flow.

Enjoy the process of learning. I love watching painting process videos on YouTube and Instagram. Even if they don’t break anything down, it’s still fascinating to watch the work evolve and see little tricks and ideas and techniques that I can incorporate into my toolbox.

Deviantart is full of great examples of artists who share their process and have created tutorials for all kinds of artistic methods. It’s also a fantastic place to find figure models for poses.

I’ve had a Deviantart account for ages, though I keep neglecting it. One of my goals for this year is to get back into using it.

Trust Yourself

Sometimes things aren’t working for you, no matter what. It’s fine to let those things go and find new ways that compliment your personal process.

For me, it took a while before I realised that I hate sketching in Procreate. I like to draw with actual pencil on paper first, as it gives me a fluidity and mental space I find I just can’t get with the iPad.

By the same token, I hate painting on my sketched work because I’m so scared of messing up. This is where digital comes in to save me from myself.

So now I sketch first on paper, then snap the pic and use procreate to paint.


I was inspired by artist Yuko Shimizu, a Japanese Illustrator who hand sketches and ink brushes her work before digitally painting it. I realised if someone so successful, and who I admire so much as an artist, has this technique of blended old and new and it works for her, than I can also do things my way, whatever lecturers may have told me in the past.

Work at your best time, in your best place

Some artists get up and paint all day, some work at night, some, like me, work in the spaces between the rest of their life.

Find the time when you are at your best, and not when the world says you’re supposed to be.

Personally, I think every artist needs a place that is theirs just for the creative process, but I also realise that isn’t always feasible. I. Going to have to wait at least five years before I can have a room just for a work space. But if all you have, like me, is a desk in one corner, try and make it the best place to inspire your creativity. That potted plant, and that poster can make a difference.

Here’s my desk after I decided to stop moaning about not having a studio space, and making the best of what I had.

work desk, cat hellisen

Take a break, make time

While I do it follow the pomodoro technique to the letter, I’ve found that using the structure of setting a 25 minute timer, taking a 5 minute break, then refocusing really helps me slot decent chunks of work into my rather scattered day. I’m not in a situation where I have large unbroken chunks of time to work in, so I have to manage these little slots carefully and with focus. It’s way too easy to waste a spare 25 minutes on scrolling through Twitter, so getting used to working in these small units helps me get more done.

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

On the subject of breaks – when you think you’re done with a piece, take a break from it. For some people this could be a few days, for others a few hours. You need time for the art to ‘settle’ so you can come back with a constructive critical eye, and make the right changes.

Illustration and graphic design often have reputations of being “quick”, especially in this era of digital art and high speed timelapse videos. But the human brain is still working at its own pace – you need to respect that, and give your artist’s mind time to sift through problems and solutions before you make the final painting pass.

Find the fun

Art is supposed to bring us some kind of joy. If we didn’t enjoy making art, then why would we choose to do it as a job (or side hustle?)

Not every part of the creative process is fun, and getting stuck or making mistakes can be hella frustrating, but if all our energy is getting sucked into that, then making art is going to be robbed of one of its best aspects.

If art is making you upset, step back and ask yourself why.

  • Are you trying to art like other people because you think their style is ‘better’ than yours?
  • Are you using a medium or a technique that just doesn’t gel with you?
  • Is it time to put that project away and pick up something else for a bit?

I’ve discovered that there are certain things that make me not enjoy my art. I prefer to create things and if other people want to buy them, that’s great, but I rarely like taking commissions. That’s one reason I enjoy putting things up on Redbubble, as it gives me an online storefront. (Plus there is some awesome art up there, so I would definitely suggest digging around for prints, tee shirts, and items that are unusual and fun.)

I’m working on how I deal with promoting my art, because illustrators obviously need to take commissions if they would like to eat, but I’ve realised I need to be very, very clear about where my strengths are as an artist. If you’re looking for a hyper realistic portrait, for example, that ain’t me.

bird, painting, cat hellisen

I love drawing birds, so I’ll take any commission that involves feathers, but people need to understand upfront that this is my style, and I’m not going to art in a different one. Trying to be something I’m not takes out all the joy.

There are so many artists out there, and your style is your own. Don’t be distressed because your work isn’t like someone else’s, rather work on what makes it uniquely yours. You will start to enjoy your process more when you accept it.

Happy arting!

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