If You're a Perfectionist Artist Then You Should Probably Read This...

Laurel Greenfield

If you follow along with my paintings on Instagram, you might've seen a post late last week where I shared an abstract painting I was working on.

I was getting really frustrated with how the painting was coming along and was about to put it away for the day, when I realized something....

For a long time I've approached painting (and so many other things in my life) with the mindset that I "should" just be able to do it easily. And if I couldn't do it easily then I must've been doing something wrong and I needed to figure out what that was...

If I only had 20 minutes to paint instead of 5 hours, I got upset and carried that disappointment with me the rest of the day.

If I couldn't figure out a certain painting in the amount of time I had to paint, then I got angry.

If I hated what I made, I felt stupid and frustrated.

But I finally realized something... and I think I realized it as a result of hearing it from teachers and coaches over and over and over...

I realized that "bad days" and short painting sessions were valuable.

I realized that practice is supposed to suck sometimes.

I realized that it's not about what masterpiece I created that day, it's about the fact that I painted at all.

Some days painting is easy and some days it sucks.

Some days I have 5 hours to paint and some day I have 30 minutes.

Some days I love what I make and some days I hate it.

I used to think that days when it was difficult were proof that I’d never be the painter I wanted to be, but I’m learning that the sucky days are valuable even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

I wanted to share this with you because whether you're a painter or not, I think it's worth reminding yourself that sucky days are valuable and the idea that you should always be able perform at your best is your perfectionism talking.

I hope that this little Monday pick-me-up resonates with you somehow! If it does, let me know!

I'll be sharing more like this in between sharing new paintings as I navigate my own inner perfectionist monster so stay tuned!


The Number One Thing That's Helped Me Move Forward as an Artist

Laurel Greenfield

As an artist, I’m pretty clear on what inspires me: color, joy, nostalgic food memories, etc. A couple weeks ago I told you about how my gastronomy masters program at BU helped me realize just how much food memories meant to me and how I could capture them in my paintings. You can read that post here.

While my inspiration is strong and clear, something I had been taking for granted was my actual skill set as an artist. Learning to paint was so painful and frustrating that I more or less decided that I was done learning art technique. I felt like I went through enough the first time around. I knew my sense of color and design was strong so I just didn’t think I had more to learn, at least consciously.

But I also occasionally felt held back while I was painting. I wanted to add more depth to my work, but I didn’t know how. I wanted to increase the vibrancy of my colors, but I didn’t know how. I could tell that there was something keeping my work from being purchased at the prices I was asking, but I didn’t know how to figure out what it was. It was extremely frustrating, but I didn’t see any obvious solutions and just settled on the idea that my work was good enough to just keep going.

At the same time I was super focused on investing in my business skills. I took classes and started working with a coach and knew that educating myself was the key to moving my business forward. I figured if I could gain enough marketing knowledge, my painting challenges wouldn’t matter.

But what I was missing was that I needed to apply this same attitude toward educating myself to my paintings!

Over the last 3 years since I started working toward becoming a full time artist, education, mostly in the form of online courses, has been the number one thing that has helped me move forward and know what to do next.

I’ve spent every dollar of every tax refund I’ve received in the last 3 years on online courses and have taken the risk of relying on my credit card to get me into courses my tax refund couldn’t cover. The best part? Every course has moved me forward and I’ve made back the money I’ve spent multiple times over.

It’s so silly that it took me this long to realize that I need to be educating BOTH the artist and the businessperson in me!

As luck would have it, Amira Rahim, one of the artists who led the Portugal retreat I went on in January, launched her first in-depth abstract painting course Better Than Art School in April. I joined the class (with my 2018 tax refund!!) and jumped back into being a student again. I’m actually still in the class as I’m writing this. And I have to admit, my memories of how hard it is to learn to paint were correct! IT IS HARD! BUT, I finally feel like my technique and my style is moving forward again.

I realized though that I haven’t been sharing much of what I’m working on aside from a few work in progress photos here and there. I think it’s because I’ve been a little hesitant to share all of these paintings together because I’m worried that they “don’t make sense” together.

I’m in this weird transition period with my paintings where I’m learning new skills and techniques that I plan on weaving into my food-focused paintings but I’m not quite there yet. I’ve been working on abstract paintings that let me work on color, movement, and composition in ways I never have. I love them so much but I wasn’t sure how they fit with the rest of my work.

But I realized that it all boils down to color and joy and that these abstracts are just a different method of capturing joy and happiness and nostalgia in vibrant color, which is what I’ve always done!

So while I’m still in transition and getting where I want to go as a painter, here is where I’m at right now! This collection is a mix of abstracts, ice cream, and pastry displays, but it’s really a collection of joy and color and happy moments! And it is the physical representation of everything I’ve been learning! To not share them with you would be to leave you out of my artistic journey, which just doesn’t feel right at all! I cannot wait to see where my new skills take me and I cannot wait to keep sharing it all with you!

Which one of these new paintings is sparking your joy?!

Loving these new paintings so much you need to own one to bring more joy into your home?

CLICK HERE to purchase yours!


Loving these new paintings? CLICK HERE to purchase yours!

How Not Going To Art School Brought Me Closer To My Greatest Artistic Inspiration: Food!

Laurel GreenfieldComment

Last week I told you why I decided against art school. You can read about that here if you missed it.

It was actually my decision to not go to art school that helped me figure out why I was so drawn to painting food. I would sit at my desk or on the floor of my dorm room and paint pictures of donuts, cupcakes, burgers, and ice cream cones, but if anyone asked me why I was obsessed with painting food I didn’t really have an answer beyond, “because I like those things!”

At the end of my sophomore year of college, I settled on a major in Hospitality Administration, but it was in my senior year that I discovered that if I did one extra writing assignment I could earn 8 credits toward a Masters in Gastronomy and then continue straight into that program after graduation.

I had read about the Gastronomy program as a freshman and was intrigued by the class list. There was food history, cheese studies, history of pots and pans, food anthropology, and so many more. I tucked it in the back of my mind and low and behold, it popped up again right before graduation!

I didn’t know exactly what it would be like or what I might do with this kind of education, but I was hoping that I might somehow be able to combine it with the art I was making. I told several people this and got the classic “yeah ok…” look, but I knew I would figure it out. It just seemed like such an obvious fit.

I started with some introductory classes and was immediately excited to be in rooms full of people as obsessed with talking about food as I was. There were students with history backgrounds heading toward PhDs, students who worked in marketing for food companies, students interested in food policy, and so many other food-obsessed classmates. I felt like I had found my people.

I learned too much to recap here, but what really spoke to me were the lessons and readings about food memory, identity, and nostalgia. The most classic example is Proust’s madeleine. If you haven’t read that portion of “Remembrance of Things Past” I highly encourage you to read it here. But the gist is that Proust takes a bite of a madeleine dipped in tea and is instantly overcome with joy and nostalgia for a moment in the past that he can’t quite put his finger on until he accepts that he might not be able to remember.

A more contemporary example of this same thing is the end of Ratatouille when the food critic Ego takes a bite of his ratatouille and is instantly transported to his childhood.

Through lengthy class discussions about food and memory and culture and identity, it occurred to me that this overwhelming sense of joyful memory and nostalgia triggered by food is EXACTLY what was inspiring me to paint food all along. It wasn’t about the food at all. It was about the joy and the memories. I just wasn’t able to articulate that before!

It has been 3 years since I graduated from the Gastronomy program, but I’ve been using what I learned as inspiration ever since, even if just subconsciously.

Gaining a deeper understanding of my creative inspiration helped me tremendously to keep going and keep paying attention to the things that really inspired me to paint. Being around other people who loved talking about food as much as I did also validated that food and nostalgia and memory are worth talking about!

There are still days when I wonder what my life as an artist would be like if I had sucked it up and gone to art school, but I think pursuing my interests and letting them inform my art was a better decision for me.

Artistic technique is definitely important, but I think that a love for your subject and inspiration helps you make better art than technique alone can.

What gets you excited as an artist? What subjects appear over and over in your work? What feeling are you most often trying to convey?

Tell me in a comment below!

Why I Didn't Go To Art School... And What I Did Instead

Laurel Greenfield

Last week I told you all about the emotional beginning of my journey as an artist. If you didn’t see that, you can read it here.

After those long intensive classes, I had to make a decision about what to do for college. Did I want to go to art school and keep learning and pushing myself in a similar environment? Or did I want to go the liberal arts route and just see if I missed painting enough to come back to it?

After several promising portfolio reviews and being accepted into the College of Fine Arts At BU, I decided I couldn’t do it. The stress and comparison was too much for me at 18. I’ve always been a perfectionist and I didn’t see how I could make it through art school if there was going to be the same level of expectation and fast pace.

On the one hand, I was relieved that the pressure was off, but on the other I really missed painting. So I didn’t stop!

I carried a sketchbook everywhere and I painted on the floor of my dorm room whenever I could. Here are a few photos of some paintings I made in college.

As you can see, I was maintaining my food obsession! I was so obsessed in fact that I decided to major in Hospitality Administration because when I told an academic counselor that I just wanted to talk about food all day, she steered me in the direction of restaurant management, which spoiler alert, is NOT where I ended up, BUT that recommendation lead me one step closer to the program I had no idea was my perfect fit…

Sometimes I wonder where I would be if I did choose to go to art school and sometimes I beat myself up for not just pushing through it and getting an art degree, but my mom always tells me that every step along the way is leading you somewhere and looking back, she was definitely right.

Next week I’ll tell you all about where this food obsession led me and what program ultimately helped me articulate what I was trying to say with my artwork!

How I Learned to Paint (and the time I tried to quit painting forever!)

Laurel GreenfieldComment

I get asked a lot about when I started painting and whether or not I went to art school so I wanted to revisit my early days of learning to paint.

It’s really easy to look at the work of artists you like and somehow believe they were born with all their abilities, but it's powerful to know that the people who may seem “ahead” of you now were once in the exact same place you are! And let me tell you, my early painting days were painful! 

About 10 years ago, I was just starting to really focus on learning how to paint. Before then I always loved making art. It was my favorite subject in school and I could emulate the teacher’s projects with ease. I did some drawing and painting for fun and had a few introductory classes under my belt, but I wanted to get better.

After my junior year of high school, my mom signed me up for summer classes at a place in Poughkeepsie, New York called Mill Street Loft (it’s called The Art Effect now). The class, unbeknownst to me, was a summer intensive designed for kids considering art school, which wasn’t even on my radar. The course consisted of a few hours of painting in the morning, an hour of photography, and a few more hours of painting in the afternoon. A long day for someone who had never done more than one hour-long class in a day!

Each week, there was a theme for a painting assignment so we had to think about the concept, make sketches, and complete the painting in 5 days. In between painting sessions, our instructor Todd would pause for lessons on composition, color schemes, and show us examples of famous paintings to illustrate the lessons. In the beginning, I stayed quiet and tried to absorb these knowledge bombs.

Very shortly after we started our first project – a painting about “things your mother told you not to do” for which I painted myself eating two bananas because for some reason the ONLY thing I could think of that my mother told me not to do was eat two bananas in a day (food has been my theme for a while now) – I had a complete and total meltdown. I cried for hours, first in class sitting on the floor behind a drawing board and then even more when I got home.

 I literally thought I was going to die. I was 17 and feeling very dramatic, but I really did not see how I was ever going to make it through this class. I had never heard of a color scheme, I didn’t know the difference between acrylic paint and oils, I didn’t know the names of more than 3 famous painters, and everything we painted had to be painted from real life, which meant no photographs, which meant my self-portrait had to be painted while I was hunched over in this weird position looking at myself in the mirror.

I tried so hard to drop out of that class and to drop out of the second session I was signed up for later in the summer. I begged my dad to call the art studio and tell them that I just couldn’t emotionally handle it. If I didn’t know how to paint now, I thought I never would.  

I must’ve put on a good waterworks show because my dad, who was always against us quitting anything we started, ended up calling. But Todd told him no. He wouldn’t let me quit. I was so angry and so upset, but I had no idea that his “no” would be the best thing that ever happened to me as an artist.

So I went back.

There were still tears and there was still frustration, but I finished every project and every session I was signed up for. And I learned so much about painting that my head nearly exploded by the time I was done.

The two things that helped me get through it (aside from great teachers of course) were choosing projects that I could get excited about and exploring the bright, bold colors I was drawn to.

It won’t be surprising to you, but to make each project be something I could get excited about, I squeezed food into the theme whenever I could…


Things your mom told you not to do?

Obviously not to eat more than one banana a day!

Millstreet Loft - Steampunk Self Portrait.jpeg

Steampunk self-portrait?

Clearly this needs a cupcake!

millstreet greek painting.jpg

Greek Goddess week?

Who else would I be but Demeter, Greek goddess of wheat and agriculture?!

(Bacchus the god of wine was the first choice but seemed inappropriate for a 17 year old…)

I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but I was choosing to paint food because food is wrapped up in so much joy and nostalgia for me. It means something beyond itself and it was the subject that lit me up inside even back then.

I became a strong painter because the technique was steeped in my own stories. For the most part those stories were about joy and nostalgia. There was something really powerful about learning along the way instead of focusing on techniques out of the context of a painting.

Pardon my French, but learning to paint is fucking hard. It involves leaving your comfort zone, accepting failure as part of the process, and trusting that productive practice really will make you better. But when you’re painting something that lights you up inside, the difficulty becomes much less painful.

I am so grateful that I wasn’t allowed to quit even though every fiber of my 17 year old being wanted to. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t go back to that class.

If you’re an artist and you’re still learning, I hope this resonated with you! Learning anything new is hard but pushing through and finding a way to make it less painful is so key! Finding my favorite subject made the whole process less painful for me! It’s no secret that food is the subject that brings me the most joy, but what about you? What subject or memories bring you the most joy and nostalgia?

Next week I’ll be sharing what happened after these summer intensives and my decision about art school! Spoiler alert: I didn’t go!