Creative U: Do You Make Sticky Art?

Mentoring for Artistic Success by Lesley Riley

There are three essential ingredients for making sticky art. Glue is not one of them. Neither is peanut butter, nor jelly.

Sticky art is art that attracts closer inspection and when it’s out of sight, it still sticks in their head. You don’t just “see” sticky art, you experience it. You are drawn in. You want to know how it’s made, how thick the paint is, how the parts create the whole, and how she created the je ne c’est quoi appeal that drew you in. Sticky art is art you want to touch, to caress perhaps, and to own. Sticky art is the piece that makes you say, “I wish I could do that.”


Well, the good news is that you can. You already have all of the necessary ingredients to create your own sticky art. Chances are they are way back in the corner of the cupboard and haven’t see the light of day for years, or worse yet, have never even been opened. Some ingredients you may already be using but they may need more time to develop, much in the same way that yeast needs to proof and dough needs to rise.


Recipe for Sticky Art


One message

Consistent style



1. Have one message. Make it clear to the viewer what this piece is about. That almost sounds counter-intuitive to what we’ve been taught about making art, so let me explain.

When there is too much going on in a piece or your visual elements are unrelated, you send mixed-signals. A confused viewer walks away. If you are not clear on what you are doing, it shows in your work. Tentative brush strokes, “filler” elements in a collage, technique for the sake of technique—all of these things work to dissolve the sticky.

Your message can be subtle, even hidden. The sticky factor is created by ensuring that every element, every image, dab of color or glitter, belongs and contributes to your message.

Your message should create emotion in your viewer. The stickiest messages stir emotion and emotion is the stickiest ingredient out there. Stick it to them with the delight of color juxtaposition, the surprise of a hidden element. Make them swoon by capturing the beauty of a sunset or the story behind a lost love letter. Tap into universal emotion as a part of your message and the art is sure to stick.


2. Repetition is one of the key principles of marketing. Marketing communication is stickiest when the same message is repeatedly brought to the attention of your target market. For an artist, that means working in a consistent style.

If you want your art to be noticed you have to create work that has a consistent look. The stickiest artists are those that have developed their own style. There is only one way to get that sticky style and that is create lots of art. Your style, just like your signature, cannot help but emerge if you create enough art.

More importantly, you need to focus on one type of art and limit your materials. If you do an 8” x 8” painting one day, an art quilt the following day, then move on to a mixed-media collage and wrap up the week by trying your hand at polymer clay, you’re missing out on the glue that will create the sticky recognition you are looking for.


3. YOU are the ultimate sticky ingredient. You must be 100% present in your art. YOU is the missing ingredient in all the non-sticky art out there. It takes courage to put yourself in your art, to make your soul visible. Art that looks like it could have been made by anybody is not sticky art. In order to really stick you have to give it the one ingredient that no one else has – you.

What is this you I am talking about? It’s how you see the world, how you feel about what you are creating, how you interact with the materials and make your mark. It’s not being afraid to be different, to paint a blue sun in a yellow sky.

Here’s a true story Cathy Martin—one of my newsletter readers—shared with me and gave me permission to pass on:

“Our son is an artist. In elementary school, they were told to look out the window, write a short story about what they see and draw a picture about it. It was 4th grade. I got a call from the teacher to come in about Jerry’s work. A bit surprised, I met with the teacher.

“Jerry had drawn the leaves on the trees in green, blue and yellow. The bark on the tree was tan, blue, black. He had a kid peaking around a tree in the background. His story was about a kid that skipped school and then went to school and looked in the window and saw all the fun they were having inside the classroom.

“The teacher told Jerry that leaves were green and bark was brown [and it was wrong to skip school] and he, of course told her, ‘Was I supposed to draw what you see or what I see?’ When she told me this, it was exactly what I thought too.”


You must have the courage to say and draw what you see and pay no nevermind to what others may think. The reason the YOU ingredient is so effective, so sticky, is because when you put you in your art, people see themselves. Mirroring what others think and feel is the stickest stick of all.

Follow this recipe each time you enter the studio and you’ll be a sticky success. Unlike sticky buns, sticky art is calorie and fat free, but still has that sweet smell that will keep them coming back for more.


Lesley Riley is an internationally known artist, teacher and author with a passion for spreading the magic of art. Though her company, Artist Success, Lesley provides resources, creativity management, coaching and mentoring to artists, enabling them to achieve their vision of success. For more information and resources, visit

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One Response to Creative U: Do You Make Sticky Art?

  1. nbales says:

    I thought this was a wonderful article as it was both interesting and very thought provoking. I would have to agree with you about limiting the number of medias you work in. What is that old saying about doing one thing well rather than many poorly. I hadn’t thought about it, but it makes great sense. How can one create a message, a style if you are trying to do everything we see in the popular magazines. Thank you for giving me so much to think about.