Draper Fine Art

Building a Powerful Artist Statement

Lisa Draper
Detail from “Wave of Change” by Lisa Draper

Detail from “Wave of Change” by Lisa Draper

Building a Powerful Artist Statement

Lisa Draper
In partnership with Landmark Artist


Have you ever visited a gallery and read that beautiful little blip about how an artist breathes, moves, and feels in relation with their work?  Did it feel so effortless, like seaweed moving in water? Orrrr….was it dreadfully long, boring, and full of typos? Like...painfully so??? Gritting your teeth and wondering why the gallery owner didn’t notice?

Well folks, you just learned the basic differences between a good artist statement and a poor one.  

An artist statement is a paragraph written to convey to viewers (and hopefully collectors) why an artist does what they do, what is significant about their art, and why people should notice.

To write a strong artist statement, you must have a good idea of all the above yourself!  Often, that really is the problem….artists simply don’t know enough about themselves or their art to promote it.  At least...they don’t know how to convey their knowledge and understanding into words.

Therefore, to begin writing a strong artist’s statement, it’s imperative that you sit down and get to know yourself and your work a bit.  To do this, I recommend writing out full answers to a list of questions about yourself and your work.

My favorite list of questions comes from Alyson B. Stanfield’s book “I’d Rather be in the Studio!”, where she dives even deeper into this topic, and expands on how to effectively bring your statement to life.

-Why do you focus on your style and subjects?
-What/who inspires you to create?
-How do you begin your artwork?
-Why do you choose your materials?
-How do you make your work?
-What would you like people to say about your art?

…..I love that last one especially, because YOU get to put in the angle that you want to!  

Sit down, and write answers.  Then take what you feel is the most inspiring, interesting, and essential out of that, and pare it down to a paragraph.  

Overwhelmed still?  That’s ok! Let’s work through an example.

Initial poor statement:
“The oil work you see on the wall was made by the one and only John James Jones!  He lovea to take long walks on the beach, so sometimes he paints waves, like the ones here.  He hopes that you like them enough to feed his starving belly.”

Though not overly long (thankfully) and somewhat snarky and humorous, this statement is overly-generalized, and not professional.  It also doesn’t help us to gain any special insight into the process, materials, or emotional meaning behind the art.

Let’s go through the process of building a better statement with our imaginary artist John James Jones.  

Step 1: Answer Essential Questions
Taking the fabulous questions from Alyson B. Stanfield’s “I’d Rather be in the Studio!”:
-Why do you focus on your style and subjects?
I enjoy the beach.  The sounds of the waves and the swirling foam are beautiful and I could sit on the beach (and have) all day.  They take me to another place and calm me.
I use realism because I like to bring the feeling of the beach home with me.  All the way here in Utah, I miss the beach, and finding details in my works is still mesmerizing, even if it’s not the same.

-What/who inspires you to create?
I enjoy the ocean.  The sounds of the waves and the swirling foam are beautiful and I could sit on the beach (and have) all day.  They take me to another place and calm me.
I’m also inspired by Drew Brophy, Wyland, and Andrew Tischler.  Though each style is different, I strive to bring beautiful and interesting color like Brophy, some marine life like Wyland (if I can get away with it), and endless detail like Andrew Tischler.

-How do you begin your artwork?
I look through photos of my latest favorite beaches around the world.  Sometimes I paint from life, but I’m landlocked, so that’s rare. When I find a photo I love, I work to match colors, then sketch out the scene roughly, and try to add as much light and ethereal beauty as I can.  If I can put in an animal without it looking “too cute”, I do.

-Why do you choose your materials?
I use oil because I can get color mixing and details from the medium that I struggle to with quick-drying acrylics.  I also like the sheen at the end.
I paint on board because it’s more cost effective and durable than stretched canvas.  It also allows me to have tiny details I struggle to achieve with the rough canvas tooth.

-How do you make your work?
I mostly work from reference photo.  Ideally one that I’ve taken myself, but sometimes through work from a photographer I admire.  
I generally spend 15-25 hours on a large, realistic beach scene.  I work a day job, so this usually takes me a month if I’m really focused.  

-What would you like people to say about your art?
I would love it if they said it was beautiful, realistic, and stunning.  Also that it made them think of their favorite beaches, and gave them a feeling of calm.  Mesmerizing is the word I like to use, too.

Step 2: Identify the the captivating/unusual
With all this information, let’s pull out some essential parts, that are captivating.
-The sounds of the waves and the swirling foam are beautiful and I could sit on the beach (and have) all day.  They take me to another place and calm me.
-I use realism because I like to bring the feeling of the beach home with me.  All the way here in Utah, I miss the beach, and finding details in my works is still mesmerizing, even if it’s not the same.
-I paint on board because it’s more cost effective and durable than stretched canvas.  It also allows me to have tiny details I struggle to achieve with the rough canvas tooth.
-...and try to add as much light and ethereal beauty as I can.  If I can put in an animal without it looking “too cute”, I do.

I left out the medium, as his choice of oils is fairly straightforward.  I also didn’t talk about how he usually paints from photos (often from other photographers), because that’s not exciting.  

Step 3: Whittle it down, over and over
Now to mine what IS exciting even further.  From the information above, we’ll whittle it down even more.  This is where working on a computer is very, very nice. It makes it easy to create, copy, paste, do, undo, redo, etc.

-The sounds of the waves and the swirling foam are beautiful….. They take me to another place and calm me.
-I use realism because I like to bring the feeling of the beach home with me...here in Utah, I miss the beach, and finding details in my works is still mesmerizing, even if it’s not the same.
-I paint on board because it... allows me to have tiny details I struggle to achieve with the rough canvas tooth.
-...and try to add as much light and ethereal beauty as I can.  If I can put in an animal... I do.

Step 4: Rearrange as needed
-The sounds of the waves and the swirling foam are beautiful….. They take me to another place and calm me.
-I use realism because I like to bring the feeling of the beach home with me...here in Utah, I miss the beach, and finding details in my works is still mesmerizing, even if it’s not the same.
-I paint on board because it... allows me to have tiny details I struggle to achieve with the rough canvas tooth.
-...and try to add as much light and ethereal beauty as I can.  If I can put in an animal... I do.

Step 5: Edit and Beautify
I highly recommend avoiding double-using the same descriptors.  When you find you use one frequently, google synonyms and scatter those throughout your statement instead.

For as long as I can remember, I have been captivated by the ocean.  Its powerful waves and swirling foam inspire me. Living far from the water’s majesty has been difficult, so I convey the exhilaration I miss in every way possible.  Though the soothing sounds and smells are missing, ethereal colors and painstaking details still manage to thrill. I treasure the sense of connection to the sea that I gain through my art, and hope that you will also find tranquility in this exhibit.

Step 6: Leave and refresh periodically
You’ll continue to gain an understanding of how you relate to your art, especially after you go through this exercise.  Periodically (every 6ms or every time you enter a big show) review and refresh your statement. Use better words. Add in new techniques.  Give note to what you’ve noticed makes you unique.

We continue to develop and grow as artists, and the paragraph to describe our work should, too.

Thank you for joining me today.
I look forward to meeting all of you out there in the art world.
May your day be full of beauty and creativity!

~Lisa Draper
Owner, Draper Fine Art
Director, Landmark Artist