Simplify Your Life. . . Simplify Your Art

By Stede Barber in Art Business Advice > Motivation

I don’t know about you, but my response when friends ask how I’m doing lately is usually—”I’m exhausted!”

Maybe you can relate. If so, let me ask you: “How does that affect your art?”

For myself, I know that I need to be fresh and alert when I approach the easel or drawing table if I want to do my best. Sure, I believe that I should show up and go about my work, regardless of how I’m feeling that day—but it’s simply good practice to be well-rested and ready.

To that end, over the past few years I’ve been working on simplifying.

Simplifying my habits, simplifying my living space, simplifying my needs and expenses, and even how I spend my time.

When I took Feng Shui training I heard phrases like “space clearing,” “decluttering,” and “if you haven’t used it in the last 6 months, give it away or toss it.” Those philosophies have helped me make more time and space for my art, as well as given me principles to apply within my art.

For example, this piece, entitled Monsoon Sky, is all about space and distance.

Monsoon Sky for websitejpg

I’ve still got a ways to go, but I feel as though I am on the verge of another level of participating with my art—moving past just having “good ideas” of what my work habits could be, into simply showing up, relaxing, and letting my work flow. I have slowly been shifting from “pushing” into allowing.

Which brings me back to my opening sentence. Why am I still tired? Where is my energy going, especially if I have simplified my life to such a great degree?

The answer is that there’s more to it than just simplifying my life by getting rid of things. It’s now time to focus on the quality of my life. The quality of my waking moments, of my thoughts, of my time at the easel, of my rest.

I’ve been rereading Willa Cather’s works lately, and I love her writing style. Someone once said that her sentences are clear and uncluttered, yet rich with levels of meaning, opening worlds of understanding.

I see that applying to art as well. . . a painting will almost always be improved just by simplifying the colors, composition and content.

Our goal as artists should be to leave the viewer with the essence of the subject, a window into a specific, beautiful world—nothing more. If it takes an entire painting to do that, so be it. If it takes just a small sketch. . . that’s fine too.


Simplification is a powerful tool worth learning. Explore what strengthens your piece, and what is unnecessary. Be willing to play, practice, observe, learn, and simplify.

And let your life mimic your art, whenever possible.


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