How to paint intuitively

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Hello my favorite artists! It’s Riet here and today I want to talk with you about something that over the months became a topic dear to my heart. For many of us, me included, painting means creating something beautiful, something that looks good or “right”. Something “perfect”. Will others like what we’ve painted, do they understand it? Is it worthy to publish it? All these questions make us attached to the end result of our art. There is nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t like polished art journal pages? Exactly, we all like to look at them. But there is another way to paint and that’s intuitively. Intuitive painting is difficult to teach because it doesn’t follow a technique. Only you know what your intuition will tell you. Usually when we begin to paint we start with a finished image in mind, with the result we want to achieve. It requires art techniques, skills and practice. Intuitive painting doesn’t need skills. The process is the result. It’s not important nor do we aim for a pretty outcome but for an authentic and real expression. When be begin we don’t know what will show up and where it will end. That’s a very disturbing thing for us humans because a) we love to have control and b) we hate the unknown. We hate to not know what will happen. I’m talking to you as someone with an anxiety disorder so I’ll say these two things are everything my nightmares are made of. That being said intuitive painting has been a big surprise for me, a revelation and discovery. At some point or another we all may have already painted intuitively. Every time you started a page with an intention and at some point the whole course of the painting changed without you even noticing? Every time you thought: “Where did this come from?” or “I didn’t even know that I wanted to express this!” are indications that you already had contact with your intuition. Think about the times you were fully involved in doing something – taking a shower, washing the dishes – when you were fully present and the mind shut down from somewhere a little voice popped up to tell you the solution to your problems. You know the problems you thought all the freaking time about but never got a clue what to do? Some of you who meditate will know this feeling. That little voice is your intuition. It’s there, all the time. We just overhear it because it gets muffled by our fear, worries and all the other loud noises in the mind. This approach can be the very opposite of all the pages you’ve ever done, a great contrast to your usual art. We might struggle to accept what wants to be expressed when we don’t plan things out. But let’s give it a try, shall we? This time instead of trying to make everything perfect we will let go of this urge. If we can quiet the judgemental parts of our brain (“This is good. This is bad.”) we can allow our intuition to take over our hands. Let’s call it an experiment because in an experiment there is no right or wrong, no failure. There is just learning and discovering. I suggest that you do this in a quiet time. No television, no phone, no music. We need the stillness to be able to hear the voice within us that tells us what to do. Sounds daunting? We will talk about fear later. Trust your voice. If your intuition tells you to pick up the blue paint, then pick up the blue paint. If it tells you to make marks in the right corner then make marks in the right corner. What feels right for you? What feels good? When we ignored this voice for a long time it will be difficult to hear it in the beginning. Be gentle with yourself. If it’s too difficult you can play music. I like instrumental music because I don’t get distracted by words and can dive just into the melody and “feel” the mood. But do what feels right for you. That’s important. Such a process is made of many, many little steps. Your intuition will guide you step by step. It won’t say “do this and then that and then that”, that’s already result orientated thinking. It will only tell you what is the right next thing to do. Right now. One step.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • A large variety of colors. The more the merrier. Pick up colors that you feel drawn to.
  • Different paint brushes in different sizes. Bonus points if you have fancy ones that you either never used or know how to use.
  • Different mark making tools like cotton balls or cotton buds, wine cork, credit cards, sponges. Let your imagination run free.
  • If you feel too precious about your art journal to make this journey into unknown land then I suggest that you just pick random paper. I also suggest that you go bigger instead of smaller.
  • Not necessarily needed but fun: spray bottle filled with water
  • Pens/markers for highlights and details if you wish
  • Your mantra. There are no wrong choices. Again: no wrong choices. Something wonderful is about to happen. That’s your mantra.

You will now watch me as I paint intuitively but keep in mind that this is by no means the way you have to start. It’s just one of many ways to give you an idea. This is not only my first tutorial video it’s also a difficult one because nothing about this was planned. I didn’t know what would show up nor did I know where this was going. It has a lot to do with trust. I needed to trust that I’d know what to do with what I had with me. Trust in myself, and that’s what you’ll need, too.

(Sorry for the overexposure at some points. The sun came out suddenly and I couldn’t escape it but I don’t want to be ungrateful for sunshine so bear with me please.)

THE PROCESS

As you see I started by adding paint in different ways with different tools. Like I said there are no rules when it comes to intuitive painting but there are nonetheless a couple of things that you can keep in mind. For an example don’t mix warm and cold colors because that will end in mud. If you are just starting and aren’t sure about mixing colors directly on the page you are always on the safe side when you wait until the paint is dry before you change your color and add another layer. When I added the velvet paint I was screaming inside that I’m destroying the page, that it looked horrible and was a wrong choice- at some point you will think this, too- but keep going, remind yourself of the mantra. I always like to add contrast by layering dark with light colors. I like the yellow dots on the blue and pink or the green on the yellow. I only use black and white to make some areas pop rather than covering things up. Once I reach the end, when I feel like I added everything, when my intuition tells me it’s done with the layers, I like to look at the page if I recognize something. Do I see a figure or symbols? Sometimes I scribble with a light pencil until something pops in my mind or I start to see something on the page that I can contour. Take your time for this step. If I can’t see anything at all I like to go back to my repertoire of symbols that mean something to me. I didn’t need it this time because the velvet brush strokes (you remember the one I hated?) reminded me of lips and the beige circles I made with the wine cork reminded me of eye balls. I saw the Rainbow Fish from the children book written by Marcus Pfister. Funnily enough it was one of my favorite stories as a child but I didn’t think about it. It just came up from nowhere. I just remember when I painted the red lines that mixed with the beige the movement reminded me of water. The triangles are a sign for water,too.  Was I subconsciously thinking about the ocean? I don’t know. Do I know for sure what the fish means to me? No. Maybe I will find it out in a couple of months, maybe never. And I don’t need to know. We don’t need to know. Healing still happens.

For the details at the end I chose colors that showed through the triangles. There is still space for journaling but I feel like it doesn’t need words. The symbols tell a story on their own. Maybe even one I can’t put adequately into words. Once you become familiar with intuitive painting you can always begin to use different mediums. Personally I feel like it can be overwhelming to have so many mediums and choices that’s why I stick to one medium (acrylic) or two (markers,pens). You can always decide for your favorite things. Maybe you like ink better or oil pastels.

REPERTOIRE OF SYMBOLS

I got this idea from Tracy Verdugo’s book “Paint mojo” where she suggests a symbol reference sheet. I won’t go into detail as this is a whole other topic worth exploring but every time I don’t see any particularly things in my paintings but want to add depth I come back to my personal symbols. This way I can tell a story without words. They don’t need to have life changing meanings but make them yours by asking the question “What does this mean to me?”

HOW TO LOOSEN UP

To loosen up we need to lose control. It all comes down to less control because it’s freeing. Here are some ideas how you can achieve that.

  • Paint with your non-dominant hand
  • Hold your brush at the very end
  • Turn your paper/journal upside down in between the layers
  • Use unusual items to apply paint
  • Close your eyes or don’t look onto the page while you paint

THE MIND

I’m doing this since last year so I’m by no means an expert but for one thing I’m sure: tapping into your intuition doesn’t mean that your mind will be silent. Your inner critic goes along with you on this journey. That’s why it’s important to be prepared so we don’t lose hope and let self doubt win. I’ll share with you some of the thoughts that occurred to me hoping it will help you.

  • “’I’m feeling scared, stressed, blocked, etc” The urge to make something perfect or good enough can be deep rooted. Parents, teachers, the media, our own mindset. No easy business to shut these voices down. Like Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Perfectionism is just fear in really good shoes.” You can always start in little steps, maybe it’s even important for you that you start by painting a little and wait until the feelings that come up can be processed. You don’t have to handle too much at once. But it’s important that you push through this, take your time, but don’t quit. Your authentic and true self is already perfect.
  • “I finished the painting but I don’t like it. It looks ugly.” This stage can be very uncomfortable. It’s one of the many stages of fear that come along with self doubt. I perfectly understand this. Here is a trick: look at your page. Do you find spots that you like? Do you like how the paint drippings went over some marks? Is there a spot full of marks that you find interesting? Did you accidentally create a cool pattern? Look close enough and you will find beauty. Choose a couple of spots that you like or that make you happy and cover the rest up. Choose your favorite color or two and paint over the rest, leave your favorite spots free as if you would look out of a window. Want to know something else? You wouldn’t find these pretty spots now if you didn’t push through the stages of fear. You created these because you kept painting even if the big picture wasn’t yet visible or made sense.
  • “I don’t have time.” With everything going on in everyday life it can be difficult to find time to finish such a layered piece of work. Don’t go for finished. Work in stages. You can always return to your marks. Having a break can help you to return with fresh eyes.
  • “I don’t want to share or show it.” I won’t lie to you. I still didn’t share much of my intuitive paintings online because I feel like it’s too easy to look out for the outward acceptance and likes that make me strive for “successful” paintings. Intuitive paintings must come from a place of tenderness and trust. Yet I shared it with you today and that’s what I recommend to you, too, if you struggle with this. Decide with whom you want to share your pages. It can be friends or family, a little group of people that “get” you (like Messians *hint,hint*) or you can simply decide to post a photo of just a detail that you love instead of the whole page (my favorite way). It’s important to make sure that we don’t paint for our Instagram feeds. Always remember that art is still art even when not shared on social media.
  • “I feel a lot of joy and I’m strangely proud.” I believe that this will very likely happen at one point or another for everyone. Maybe not in the beginning but if you keep painting intuitively you will feel a joy that may occur for the first time in that extend to you. That’s because the artwork will utterly be yours and just yours. It comes from within you and you will recognize the honesty. This will possibly awake a lot of emotions. Let it happen. Open the gate.

There will be layers that are pretty; pretty enough that fear of losing them will come up. I promise you, you won’t want to destroy them by painting over or covering them up. Maybe you will even think: “Oh, it looks so pretty, I will leave it like this. That looks nice, painting is finished.” Yeah. Been there, done that. Push past that. That’s fear, not your intuition. Don’t get attached to any marks happening in these layers. Don’t be afraid to cover something up or to lose something. Always trust that the next layer will hold even more truth for you. Now, we didn’t talk about the rewards, did we? Spontaneous creating, discoveries, playfulness, honesty, rawness and knowledge. You are teaching yourself to listen, to heal and to check in with yourself. Trust yourself while painting and that trust will evolve in any other areas of your life. Trusting yourself means also accepting that not every painting works out but it’s part of the process and your growth.

MORE INSPIRATION

Action Steps

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Paint a page with 15-20 layers. Count one color as one layer. Make use of the ideas under “How to loosen up”. Search for tools around your house to make different marks.

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Choose 2 personal symbols and incorporate them in your page

Riet

Riet lives with her husband near the coast in North Germany where she enjoys capturing her memories and feelings in journals and albums. If she isn’t covered in paint and glue she writes stories or photographs the nature outside her door.

25 Comments

  1. Katie Smith

    Whoa, This post is wonderful, Riet! So much good information and thoughts!

    • Riet

      Thank you so much, Katie! I put many thoughts into it and I’m glad for everyone who feels inspired or more aware!

  2. Melody Willoughby

    Once I started reading I could not stop. So much wonderful information and feeling in your post. I feel so inspired to try your ideas and I also feel I know you a little better.

    • Riet

      You definitely do, Melody! This is so honest for me but I feel like I shared it in a safe environment! I’m glad you feel inspired!
      Thank you!

  3. Ella G

    Such a great post! I think I do a lot of intuitive painting but always just until I say “This looks nice, I’ll leave it like that”. But you inspired me to go one or two (or a dozen) steps further. Thank you for your thoughts!

    • Riet

      Try it and trust your feeling! Thank you!

  4. Sasha Zinevych

    What a wonderful post, Riet! As of lately, intuitive approach to painting has been my go-to. I just find it so freeing and meditative! So, thank you for sharing this deeply personal process with all of us! <3 The tips that you give are great!! I couldn't sit still and just watch, so I created along side you! 🙂

    • Riet

      Ah, it is, it is! Letting go can give us a taste of freedom! I’m so happy you created while watching, that’s perfect!
      And yaay for creating intuitively, it’s powerful and I’m sure we will see magic happen in your art journals!

  5. Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

    There is so much to explore in your post Riet. Thank you for all these ressources

    • Riet

      I had to stop me from adding more! It’s just a topic worth to explore! xx

  6. karen davis

    It was a long post….. but I enjoyed every bit of it. Thank you.

    I really appreciated your reminder that ‘Our authentic and true selves are already perfect’

    • Riet

      Thank you! Always good to have a reminder, we forget it too often!

  7. Misty Granade

    I was mesmerized watching you work! Thanks for that fantastic video!

    • Riet

      Honestly? Me, too! xD
      There is something about watching someone making all those marks! If you see the beginning you would never think how you get from there to the end result!
      Thank you so much, Misty!

  8. Clare Davis Etheridge

    Love this! I have a couple of layers down and now I have read the post again, I am ready to go! I am one of those ‘oh no I can’t add more, I will ruin it’ people, so this will be a good exercise for me. I am photographing each stage, so you can see how I did. My kids loved the Rainbow Fish!

    • Riet

      I can’t wait to see the different stages, Clare! They tell a story on their own! Thank you!

  9. CIndy Jacobs

    I just LOVED this Riet!!! Thank you so much!!

    I’m pretty comfortable with intuitive art and most of my stuff fits into this category. But you’ve shown me some wonderful new techniques, and I really appreciate the encouragement to keep going – more and more layers. I found after about 6 layers I finally felt grounded and embodied. Interesting I had been trying to “go simpler” but with this technique I get there by pressing on rather than stopping.

    That’s a whole other bit of reflection to understand the importance of carrying on! 🙂

    Thank you – I’m sure I’ll be using this a lot!

    • Riet

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Cindy! I’m glad it was helpful for you! You are right; there is much to reflect upon! Isn’t that a beautiful side effect? It’s not just an exploration on the paper, it’s also in the mind, body and soul!
      I hope I will see some of your artworks created this way!

  10. Rachel Phillips

    Wow! This is amazing, Riet. So honest and helpful. I’ll be re-reading this many times. Thank you!

    • Riet

      Thank you, Rachel, this makes me very happy!

  11. Alexandra merlin

    Wow, so many layers! Watching you do it has inspired me to dare more. It’s beautiful and thank you for all the information in this post, so many things to try

    • Riet

      It makes me so happy to hear that it inspired you to be brave! Thank YOU!

  12. Divyam Bernstein

    Thank you so much, Riet, for this incredibly rich and beautiful tutorial! I loved watching the video of the whole process and there are so many inspiring things to explore in what you have written. Now I can’t wait to have a go and see what will emerge! xxx

    • Riet

      I loved seeing what emerged Divyam! Your mermaid is beautiful and I hope that many more things will come to you and reveal their truth! Thanks, dear friend! xx

  13. Sherry-Lynn Agcanas-Wolf

    The depth and insight in this post and process is life-changing. Now I have an explanation to why I love to “throw paint around”. Developing a page without an end result seemed sort of pointless but I loved doing it. But then I had all these pages that just seemed like backgrounds to me. What I have realized from this post is that I need to take these pages a few more steps further – cover the pretty and build a story from the paint and marks. Thank you for sharing this process, Riet!