Art, Life, Painting, & the Beautiful “Mistakes” of Both…

Q.   So I know art is your “job” but I think we could all argue that there is something very therapeutic about art, in fact a lot of hospitals have implemented art therapy programs in to their treatment facilities. What do you think it is about art that is like therapy for you?
I’ve been painting my whole life and always knew innately that it was therapeutic (i.e. getting in “the zone”). However, it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I really started to see a clear link between my life lessons and my art. Whenever I have something that I am working through, I always seem to get guidance and answers through my painting process. For example:
On Mistakes: “Mistakes” in a painting often turn out to be my favorite parts of the finished piece. I almost laugh giddily now when I “mess up” a painting, knowing that it will likely be a jumping off point for a new technique or that spark of interest that makes the piece unique. The same goes for life. If you really think about it, all of those “mistakes” have likely led you to beautiful places. 

On Letting Go: When my son was about 6 months old, I started doing these abstract watercolor paintings (see additional story details in the exercise below). Around this same time, I was navigating a difficult marriage and having to lean into my faith and trust that God/The Universe had my highest and best good in its hands. While doing these abstract watercolors one day, and watching the paint puddle and dry in ways I hadn’t planned, I had an epiphany: Time and God are amazing orchestrators of beauty and it’s usually better if I pause, take my hand out of the work for a moment, and let the painting unfold before me. I try to remind myself of this daily.

On Starting Over: My high school art teacher Rosie Paschall said, “You’re not a real artist until you can take a painting that you’ve done, paint over it and start again. Otherwise, you’ll always see your art as too precious and you’ll never be able to take the risks needed to grow as an artist.” This idea of letting go and starting over has shaped the philosophy of both my art and my life dramatically. As scary as it is, especially in life, starting over has never once let me down.

Q. So lots of people have taken up a new hobby during these last weeks/ months-  could you give us a few tips on an easy to do art practice that someone could incorporate in their weekly routine?

Well, the other day, my son (Ward, 4yr) posed with his tongue out, arms awkwardly cocked in front of him and asked me to draw him like a zombie. His critique on my finished piece: “Blah. Not creepy enough.” So, I don’t recommend that exercise. I do, however, think that the following art activities could be fun: 

30 in 30: This is an exercise I did in a class in college. We were asked to draw 30 drawings in 30 minutes (it may have actually been 60 in 60, but 30 in 30 should do the trick). The purpose of this exercise is to loosen up your drawing skills (and your self-doubting perfectionism) so that you can see an object more holistically and not obsess over the details. Those first few drawings are going to FLY by and you’re going to likely say “No, I need more time! It’s done done yet!” But, the purpose of this is to help you see the beauty in the undone and to just . keep . going. All you need is a table with 1-30 objects (you can draw the same item 30 times and see how it evolves or draw multiple items for some variety—I’d try it both ways on different days to see which you like best.), a pen or pencil, an art pad or a large stack of printer paper (cut or torn into quarters if you want to be environmentally friendly), and a timer. Simply set the timer for 1 min and each time the time goes off, stop, go to the next piece of paper and hit start on your fresh minute. Again, you will likely want to keep drawing your same drawing after the minute has ended, but challenge yourself to move on to the next drawing (“Let go!” “Start over!”)—that is where the growth occurs. Remember, this is about making quick, fresh strokes and not perfection. And who knows, maybe you’ll just love the way that one of your little drawings turns out and you can pop it in a frame for your bookshelf! 


You Are What You Eat: When my son was about 6 months old, like many insane first-time parents, I decided that making homemade baby food was the only way to ensure that my son would ever read, ride a bike or go to college. One day, I decided beets were most definitely imperative to my son’s intellectual, social and spiritual development, so I roasted them, cut them into tiny pieces and proceeded to dye my child magenta. Although I swore to never make beets again, as I was cleaning him up, the color of the water was incredible and I thought, “Hmm, I wonder if I could paint with that?” So, once he was down for a nap, I proceeded to paint with the hot pink water and created my first abstract watercolors. I’ve always been a fan of Mark Rothko’s colorfield paintings and so I used his simple division of space to loosely inform these subtle strips of color. Since these initial paintings, I’ve moved onto painting them in watercolor; however, I think it would be a fun challenge to see what other “pantry items” you could paint with. My friend Whitney Stoddard in Charleston stains her paper with tea—so beautiful. So, the exercise is: find something in your kitchen that you can turn into pigment (crushed up spices, yesterday’s coffee, last night’s red wine) and then do an abstract painting with it. I think the work of Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Kline and Cy Twombly are always inspiring, but do a little google search of abstract expressionism and see what catches your eye.


Shadow Painting: If you have the ability to go outside, tracing shadows is really meditative. Simply place a sheet of paper on the ground and trace around the lines of a shadow. I prefer light filtering through tree limbs or the shadows made by other foliage, but it could also be the shadow cast from an object in your home by a lamp. Once the shadow is traced, you can keep it simple and color in the shape with the marker or paint of your choice. However, if you’d like an extra meditative challenge and you’re not more than two glasses of wine in, use an x-acto knife to cut out the shape of the shadow and layer it over another piece of paper for a 3D collage effect. You could use just printer paper for this or even old paper bags.



Q. Could you give us a little shopping list of a few basic things to buy online that we could use to get started on the project referenced above?


The projects above could basically be done with items from around the house; however, once you get inspired by your new found artistic talents, you might try the following supplies:


Paper: While you can certainly use any paper you have, there is something about cold pressed watercolor paper that makes it feel extra special. This is great pad of paper. This is a less expensive but still good one. Or, if you want to get extra fancy, google Arches 300lb Cold Press paper (Plaza and Jerry’s Artarama are great art supply stores).


Watercolor: If you’d prefer to paint with actual paint vs your groceries, I am particularly fond of these QOR watercolors. You can buy them in sets depending on your budget. You really only need the primary colors though (red, blue and yellow) and you can make basically any color you’d like. Note: these are liquid watercolors that get squeezed from a tube. They are highly concentrated so you just need a tiny bit of pigment that you then mix with water. These should last you a while!


Palette: You have two options here, disposable or reusable. I honestly get the disposable pads because I like having a large surface area to mix and I sometimes have multiple palettes going at once. However, if you’d prefer, this would be a good reusable starter palette. Or, you can always use a dinner plate; it just may never be the same.


Brushes: If you want to paint big/put a lot of paint on the paper, go with these. If you’re more of a detail person, go with these. Or get them all and go wild.

Thanks so much Amanda! We can’t wait to get to do some of this LIVE and IN-PERSON soon!


Margaret & Sherri

Amanda Norman is an American artist living in Nashville, TN.

You can find more information and see/ buy/ commission Amanda’s work here: