SPECIAL FEATURE: “Your Art Will Tell Your Secrets” by Angela Fehr

I’ve always loved language. Finding exactly the right word to describe something gives me a bit of a thrill, or perhaps, a “frisson.” I share this love with my family and we’ve honed our vocabularies over many games of Scrabble. I actually had to ask to be removed from our family group chat about Wordle because the competitive trash talk was a daily distraction! 

I’m also an avid reader, and a perfect turn of phrase will often linger with me all day. So it’s not surprising that, when I’m painting, I’ll often carry a word or phrase in my mind to savor, and I can’t help but think that this linguistic lingering influences the mood and message of my paintings. The painting I created while tasting the words “free to fly” looks like a beautiful bird of paradise, and I didn’t even understand the meaning of the phrase “deep calls to deep” when I read the phrase and carried it to my studio to explore in watercolor. I love the way the words take on visual form, and when I sold the painting “In Flight,” and the buyer asked me for the painting’s story, I had a message I could share eagerly. 

In Flight, watercolor by Angela Fehr

Using Language to Develop an Artistic Practice

I also carry words that describe my artistic practice, and these I hold very closely to my heart. The words and phrases I’ve chosen to define me as an artist are words that remind me who I am, what I value and where I want to fix my gaze. A few years ago, I wrote a “fearless artist manifesto;” statements I chose to define my artistic identity – values I wanted my art to represent. It was easy to write and aspire to, but the living it out is the challenge. How do I choose to be an artist who is willing to be all these beautiful things? How do I step forward in courage with vulnerability and a willingness to be open to change? 

As I’ve continued to develop a mindset that helps my creative practice to thrive, I’ve found areas where I don’t fit my own criteria. I’m impatient. I’m fearful  of rejection and I place far too much weight on the approval of others. I’m not that willing to lean into the unknown. I doubt myself. I take myself too seriously and forget to have fun. But my manifesto helps me to remember what matters. It steers me back when I leave the path and lose sight of my stated values. 

Making Space for Growth

Lately, a new word has been ringing, bell-like in my head. It’s taken up residence in my studio. Expansive. 

What does it mean for an artist to have an expansive practice? How should that look for me? 

When my art practice is expansive, it means I have permission to enter my art space with a mindset of freedom. It gives me room to grow, to move and try new things. An expansive practice isn’t in a rush; there’s time to develop further and dig deeper into ideas and concepts. Expansive offers a permission slip to change and stretch my boundaries beyond where they are currently.

Blooming Desert, watercolor by Angela Fehr

What I want isn’t always what I do.

From the very beginning of my art practice, I have struggled to reconcile my desire for approval with my longing to be known. This is the tension of the artist’s life. If I paint from my heart, share what truly resonates for me, how is it going to feel if what I have made is criticized, scorned or ignored? And out of that tension, we develop habits of perfectionism, self-judgment, or simply fear that holds us back. I am learning that in an expansive practice, I have to give myself permission and space to make bad paintings and to fail, because they go hand in hand with new discoveries and breakthroughs. And an expansive practice also makes room for me to be misunderstood. And that’s okay too. 

I chose the prompt SPACIOUS for July 15 because a creating spacious art practice is so important to me. My goal is to make room for the unknown. I want to allow myself to exist in this tension of vulnerability and imperfection while also seeking growth, beauty and skill. The art journey is never static; whatever I’ve achieved now will be diminished in light of what I will better communicate in a few years with the growth I will have achieved. Should I let that color how I feel about my art today, or let it keep me from sharing what I am making now?

Your art tells your secrets.

Whatever the subject you are painting, the values you are living out will be reflected in your art. In fact, your art can be a great diagnostic tool for understanding your mindset or facing up to some limiting beliefs! When I was perfectionistic and fearful of exposure, my art was hesitant and pedantic, obsessed with fixing mistakes and I have to fight to keep that from creeping in to my practice even today. When I’m feeling free and playful, my paintings dance with life, encouraging others to embrace their own childlike joy! (I think this is one reason Charlie’s paintings are so lovely; they reflect his love of life and how he savors simple pleasures.) I think that’s why so often, the paintings we do on the back sides of paper, in a few minutes with no plan or expectations, are often more full of life than the paintings we labor over.

I try to pay attention to my heart every time I start a painting session, because in creating an expansive practice, I need to welcome whatever my heart has to offer to each painting session. I want to offer permission to myself to make space for growth, freedom and beauty, with hope, trust and patient love. That’s my manifesto in a sentence.

I’ve used the prompt “SPACIOUS” in today’s watercolor lesson on YouTube. You can watch it here: 

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #worldwatercolormonth and #worldwatercolormonth2023 when you post your art on social media in July!

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials, World Watercolor Month

4 thoughts on “SPECIAL FEATURE: “Your Art Will Tell Your Secrets” by Angela Fehr

  1. Angela, your ‘fearless artist manifesto’ is wonderful! I was just reading that stating an intention and having a clear goal is a great help to seeing it come to pass. I’ll never meet all the criteria (I doubt anyone ever would) but just having something like this is a step to coming closer to it.

  2. It wasn’t til I started doing art that I saw all the kerfuffle (another word for you Angela) that surrounds it. People worry too much although I am often scared to mark up the page.

    Your works are stunning and I love your “Blooming Desert” which holds all my colours particularly red and orange together. “In Flight” caused me to forget I don’t like blue — now that is awesome.

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