Art and Paint, Layers and Life: Be Authentic

A guest post by Sue Pelletier

When you teach art to kids you don’t need to think about guiding them to find their authentic mojo; it’s all they know how to be when they are creating. They could be painting and decide . . . BAM! I want to put a penguin in the background because it is my favorite animal and I can make it orange . . .heck yeah. It does not get more authentic than that.



If I had the floor and a microphone at an adult art-teaching venue (like I did at Art Is You in Nashville), I would request every artist in the group be authentic. (I believe at Art Is You, I requested a Journey song . . .) When you create art, when you go about your daily business, when you write, when you dance under twinkly lights, what is your passion? If you have found that, you have found your authenticity.


Whatever it is that makes you crazy happy to paint—painting all day until you can’t hold a brush another second—that is what you should be painting and drawing; that is what your imagery should be.


I have taught many classes in which people try to recreate what it is I am doing, but sometimes I look at their doodles on the table and see something that is all theirs—be a it a quick sketch—and I say paint that. A few years ago I had someone in the same small mixed-media art circle tell me to switch my color palette. What? No periwinkle and slightly gritty pink? Change my imagery (everything was dresses, houses or had a bird on it)? I thought about it for a few days. I think I even attempted to paint a landscape or two. It just did not work for me; I felt like I was creating art for someone else. I believe I painted a dress in the landscape, and there was most definitely a bird in there. So I thought, Well this is not really working for me . . . and I went back to the imagery that meant something to me, the colors that made sense to me, that make me swoon when I mix and blend. I kept painting. I felt authentic. I have to be authentic, or I am not me. If I am not me, I may as well drive a minivan and wear sensible shoes. Guess what? I am still painting dresses, birds and the proverbial house. They are working for me because they are the essence of who I am as an artist. These things are what I am passionate about.


Here is the low down: It’s easy for me to suggest you paint imagery that means something to you, but I understand this means you might be having a great big blank white canvas staring you in the face. When I see that blank canvas, I begin with a layer of vintage pattern paper and matte gel medium, and suddenly there is no white. I usually work from a quick sketch when I do a painting, or often I create something like this grid of sketches.



Make Your Grid

Divide a large piece of heavy paper (I used 140-lb. watercolor paper) into several sections.

I have a go-to list of imagery that I draw upon to create—my tried and true; everything on my grid has meaning to me.

My Symbology

3 – me and my two kids are a strong tribe of 3
bulls-eye circles – self explanatory
bird – (perhaps over done, but not to me) nest, fly/soar
loose woman – hell yeah
dress – childhood
heart – always love, having love, being in love
ladder – climb
leaf – nature
shoe – childhood
house shape – home
crown – everyone should wear one
words – whatever makes you feel or swoon from your soul



No Pencil Sketching! (Not if you wanna be loose, and we do!)

I usually do my sketching with black squeeze fabric paint. (I use a new bottle with every painting.) I use this because it has you just go for it! You work quickly and naturally loose, or you end up with globs of black paint everywhere. Your sketches will have a fluidness about them. I will sketch words this way, people, just about anything that makes its way into a painting. If I absolutely cannot stand something, I let it dry and gesso over it and rework it. When the sketch is dry I go in with a graphite pencil and play around with a little scribbling, perhaps focusing a bit on the positive/negative space within each grid square.


I would take this grid and hang it in my studio to use as a reference when I was painting. Although the imagery may be the same (the dress, the shoe, etc.) by using this grid as a jumping-off point, I am free to play with materials and mediums as opposed to laboriously sketching something out first. It allows for my work to stay loose and fresh, even if it is a repeated image seen throughout my work.


So create, all day every day (or for 3 hours on the weekends). However, be authentic. It does not even have to be original. (I am still putting a bird on it.) If it has pure, strong meaning to you, it will come through in your work.


The previous paintings or sections of a painting are authentic imagery to me. So if you look at these pieces, you can see where I followed my grid sketch of simple shapes. Each painting however, has it’s own personal style and vibe. Simple authentic imagery allows me to focus and play with mediums, textures and materials.

Authentically yours,

Sue Pelletier


Her Loose Woman stencils are available on, her blog at and on Facebook.

Words, whimsy and humor inspire her art because that is how Sue approaches life. Drawn to collage and painterly surfaces, her art has naturally progressed into a combination of both. She works with images that are true to her—the house form, childhood toys, vintage dresses—because as an artist and a mother it is what she holds near and dear to her, her kids and the day-to-day journey of life. Sue’s work has been published numerous times in Cloth Paper Scissors and Somerset Studio. She has an MFA from Pratt Institute and teaches elementary school art. She is most happy walking around in paint-splattered clothes, drinking an iced coffee. She has two teenagers, Harly and Connor, who make her laugh each day. She lives in an antique farmhouse in New England with purple shutters. Sue has two painting DVDs from Interweave: “Textures for Collage” and “Preparing to Paint.”

U2856_stArt_cover.inddExperiment with your personal images in the stART Journaling workbook.






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