Level up! 5 ways to upgrade your artistic skills

Level up! 5 ways to upgrade your artistic skills

As artists, we inevitably hit a plateau in our creative journeys. But we do not have to stay there.

By Sonia Luhong Wan

So here you are: an artist confronting the infamous plateau, or an artist not satisfied with just being ‘good’. Either way, you’re thinking that there has got to be other ways to enhance your artistic skills, other than regular ol’ practice. You are right, and here are five ways to do it.

1. Join a workshop

Art workshops provide an opportunity to learn from experienced art practitioners who can provide both valuable insight and hands-on guidance on techniques and various fundamentals, to name a few.

It is always a good idea to look out for expected learning outcomes so as to ensure that the workshop fits your current needs. Do you want to learn the basics, or something more advanced? Additionally, do not hesitate to contact the workshop organiser even before the workshop to clarify any doubts you may have; knowing that you have a communicative and responsive facilitator will ensure that your workshop experience will be a helpful one.

Creative spaces like Me.reka Makerspace (Kuala Lumpur), HAUS KCH (Sarawak), and Kota-K (Sabah) for example, host workshops from time to time. Thanks to the internet, you can even join online courses and workshops on platforms like Schoolism from the comfort of your own home!

A woodcut printmaking workshop conducted by Rico Leong, a Kuala Lumpur-based artist from Sabah, at HAUS KCH in 2017. Courtesy of Sonia Luhong Wan.

2. Join an art residency

Art residencies have bloomed globally to become inclusive, strategic programmes open for artists across a wide range of experience and disciplines to research, reflect, and create in a different environment, while engaging with another culture and art scene. With a growing emphasis on fostering cultural exchange and social discourse, it is no wonder that residencies are widely recognised as important contributors not just in the art world, but in society as well—and as a valuable addition to an artist CV.

Usually lasting anywhere from two weeks to a year, ranging from self-paid to fully-funded, you can choose to do your residency locally or abroad. Read the T&Cs and pick one that you feel suits your current needs.

Res Artis provides a good list of art residencies that are available worldwide. Some residencies available in Malaysia include those organised by Rimbun Dahan (Selangor), Hin Bus Depot (Penang), and Tamparuli Living Arts Centre or TaLAC (Sabah).

Launched in 2016, the Tamparuli Living Arts Centre (TaLAC) also hosts various art events. Courtesy of Tamparuli Living Arts Centre.

3. Join (or form!) an art community

Some of the most enriching experiences in one’s artistic journey can come from being part of an ‘art family’. Whether it’s through creating our own, or joining an existing one, connecting with people of similar interests over the same cause provides a safe and supportive avenue for artists to flourish. More established groups can also connect their members to a network of contacts that has been built over time.

Local art collectives such as Kapallorek (Perak) and 9Lives (Sarawak) have made an impact on their respective art scenes. Through its art space, Kapallorek hosts exhibitions, artist dialogues, and short-term art residencies among others for both local and international art practitioners, emerging and experimental. 9Lives on the other hand, focuses on grassroots support through various methods of art education and highlighting emerging young artists from Sarawak as well as surrounding areas.

Representatives from 9Lives posing with fellow participants at the 2018 Borneo Arts Festival in Labuan. Courtesy of 9Lives.

4. Explore, experiment, expand

Don’t lose the curiosity of a child—play with as many mediums as you can, even if you feel that you have settled on a favourite. Sometimes, all it takes is breaking out of our comfort zone in order to be better artists—sometimes, breaking out may even help us approach our favourite medium in a different manner.

And why stick to just one artistic discipline, or even to the arts itself? Feel free to take a cross-disciplinary approach towards your work; consider Kuala Lumpur-based Nur Amira Hanafi and House of Natural Fiber (HONF) from Indonesia, whose works explore the creative, and inevitably exciting, fusion of art and science.

A DNA-extraction workshop by House of Natural Fiber (HONF) using household items, during the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture in Kuala Lumpur. Courtesy of Sonia Luhong Wan.

5. Ask for feedback

After hours spent poring over our artwork, it may help to have another fresh pair of eyes look at it. What would you like to know, and who should you ask? Non-artists may give experiential feedback, such as what feelings your artwork evokes in them. Artists on the other hand, may be able to give more technical feedback, such as adjustments to colour or form to further enhance an intended message.

Popular contemporary artists such as Mark Maggiori also sometimes resort to social media to seek follower comments before making certain decisions—goes to show that no matter where we are in our artistic journey, feedback is still a valuable tool!

Suffice to say, we can upskill ourselves as artists in more than five ways. Applying for art grants like those offered by CENDANA, the Artist Grant, and the Asia-Europe Foundation can help you further invest in efforts to advance your practice, including participating in workshops and art residencies. As long as you are armed with curiosity and a thirst for learning, the sky is the limit—maybe even beyond!

A Sarawak-based artist, Sonia Luhong Wan’s foray into the art world began early on in life with colourful scribbles on encyclopaedias, and she has never looked back since.