The Adventure of the Artist’s Life

By Carrie Lewis in Misc > Art Opinion

When I first started thinking about becoming a professional artist (and by “professional,” I mean an artist who creates art to earn a living) doing cloud portraits most certainly was NOT what I was considering.

Horses were my passion and horse portraits were my goal. My big dream was making a good living from portrait work, and being able to travel the country (yes, even the world) visiting and painting famous horses. The fact of the matter is that back then, I didn’t care if I never drew anything else.

That business plan worked for decades. Though the dream never materialized as envisioned, I loved what I was doing. Other than eventually concluding my landscapes needed to look as realistic as my horses, I really had no desire to expand my painting horizons.

I was using oils back then, and I was perfectly content. The thought of painting in that category for the rest of my life was not only acceptable; it was expected.

A paradigm shift

That all changed when I came to Kansas. My first glimpse of the Flint Hills inspired a desire to paint landscapes, even though that first glimpse came on a bitterly cold December day when the hills were shades of brown sugared by a thin skiff of snow.


The more I saw of the Flint Hills and later the Gypsum Hills, the more I wanted to paint them. They became my new passion. I tried them with oils and colored pencils. One year, I painted over 300 art trading cards, most of which were landscapes. That personal studio challenge produced some interesting work, but those paintings never quite lived up to my vision.

Another paradigm shift

A few years later, I rediscovered colored pencils. I’d used them before, doing an occasional horse portrait for a client who wanted something other than oils. But they were always a fall-back medium. Something useful, but not my primary medium.

That all changed in the early 2000s.


I don’t know what it was about colored pencils, but after I’d worked with them a short time, I started looking at the world around me through different eyes. Having spent my childhood in rural Central Michigan, I’d grown up with an appreciation of nature. Fields, woods, and streams were all pleasant enough to see and walk through, but never draw.

Now, all of a sudden, I wanted to capture them on paper. Horses were, of course, still important, but I started looking for more than just horse portraits. I wanted to draw horses in their natural habitat.

Then I just wanted to draw the habitat. My first tutorial for EmptyEasel was a small colored pencil landscape, and the successful completion of that piece cemented my desire to do more colored pencil work.

It also whetted a growing appetite for drawing landscapes. Over the next couple of years, I did several Flint Hills-based landscapes in colored pencil. I could see improvement from one to the next and that was exciting. It kept me moving forward.

But it didn’t keep me from looking for new and exciting subjects, and eventually I started looking up, in addition to out.

The sky’s the limit

I grew up in Central Michigan, in the middle of the “mitten.” With a huge lake within a hundred miles to the west and another to the east, weather happened. I remember some absolutely green skies, usually accompanied by high wind, heavy rain (sometimes hail) and hurried trips to the root cellar.

I always loved looking at the sky.

But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began thinking about doing cloud portraits. I had lived in Kansas for some time by then, and had seen even more dramatic skies than those in Michigan.


Towering thunderheads that were so big, their heads were bathed in evening sunlight while their bases were cloaked in shadow.

Cumulus clouds skimming across the sky.

Clouds dripping rain.

Lightning-laced night-time clouds and afternoon or morning clouds wearing rainbows. And, yes, green-tinted clouds

I’ve never found a more varied—and limitless—subject than clouds. If I lack for something to draw, I often have to do nothing more complex than look up. Yes, even in town.

Cloud portraits

More recently, yet another new and interesting idea has started taking shape. Why not do cloud portraits?

The was no end to potential subjects. Every season brings it’s own type of clouds. The favored subjects of years past no longer seemed quite so challenging, but there was plenty of challenge in drawing clouds. Clouds change so fast that even quick sketches can be present any artist with enough challenge to last a life-time.


Where will all this lead? I have no idea.

What I do know is that very few things in life are certain. Twenty years ago, I told people I’d be painting horses until I fell face-first into my palette.

Now? Landscapes and clouds are my favorite subject.

The bottom line is that as artists, we have the opportunity to go ANYWHERE our interests lie. Were I to continue to paint and draw just horses because that’s what I’ve always done, I’d be missing out on some fantastic potential subjects and cheating myself out of some pretty awesome challenges.

Maybe you haven’t experienced the sort of artistic adventure I’ve been on the last few years. But maybe you will! I encourage you to take a chance—don’t hesitate to venture out in new directions, even if you’ve “never done that before.” It could be the start of the most amazing journey you’ve ever been on.


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