As featured by the BBC

We asked artists to share their creative processes, here's what they had to say

Every artist we interview shares a fresh vision on their creative process.
Through our journey, we're going to document creative thought processes at a scale never attempted before.
I usually start with colors I'm drawn to work with then start with intuitive mark making and develop the painting from there.
Patty DelValle
When I select a subject to paint, I thoroughly enjoy the process of creating preparatory studies and sketches. I do multiple small "thumbnails" which allow me to explore separately: lights and darks, warm and cool, line and mass, and finally, the often neglected element of "edges," for each subject I paint. through this process, I grow to understand better why I'm drawn to the subject, and what will make my interpretation of it unique and original, the only such "view" of it in the world! What is most significant to me is that humble subject matter, whether an ordinary household object, aging barn, or neglected wildflower patch, can be elevated to the level of intense beauty, when given the focused intention of the artist.
Ann Litrel
Multi-media, currently watercolor with pen and ink.
I still think of myself as a writer/poet as much an artist. I have big feelings, and like a good English teacher, I find symbolism and metaphor in so many things, and my art usually expresses that in some way. I usually choose my color palette based on my mood (or sometimes what I *want* my mood to be). Then I start painting-- just laying the colors down however seems right. Once I've done that, I come back to the painting and usually just start drawing without a plan. Then I stare at it for a long time. Sometimes a poem comes to me, sometimes not. If it does, I'll play with the wording for a little while and then find a place to put it on the painting. A lot of time this process results in something that I'm glad I made, but don't particularly care for as an object in its own right. But sometimes it ends up feeling like a really lovely distillation of a moment in time.
M. Kemper Westbrook
My main medium is watercolor with micron pen, but I always love experimenting with other media as well.
My creative process usually begins with a reference. I could be out in the city or in the comforts of my bed scrolling through Pinterest. Once I see something so captivating, usually a person or place, my mind sees something different than what’s in front of me. It’s almost like a “what if” feeling. Other times I’ll have an idea that I piece together while I paint, which can be exciting cause I never know how the painting will turn out in the end. Once I know I’m ready to start painting I sketch the idea to the best of my abilities onto the canvas. If the canvas is very large I usually sketch the reference digitally first then use a projector, to save time. Overall, I try not to put too much pressure on myself for a perfect sketch because the real time and effort comes when it’s time to paint. When choosing what colors to use, I like to implement the idea that “anything goes”. Warm colors, cool colors, even tones of grey can work together. I try to challenge myself a little more with colors every new painting. Thinking of ways I can make my piece stand out to people while also making them stay awhile to observe the details, is my goal with every work of art.
I never start a piece with an image of what it will ultimately look like. The "Lady" emerges from the clay slowly. She may start out in one pose but as she begins to take shape, she will transform multiple times until the piece seems right. I love the "out of body" feeling that comes from discovering the personality created and the new life that is born.
Judy Robkin
Clay, watercolors, pen and ink
With a long career in sports medicine and sports performance, I have always been intrigued by the body, its form and the stories it tells. The relationship between my background in sports performance and my creative process is in honoring those stories. I am drawn to the fluidity of the human body. I am particularly interested in the female form, its grace and strength as well as its emotional and physical flexibility. The body is never mute. Through posture and gesture it sends out powerful messages of vulnerabilities, insecurities, courage and self confidence. My work gravitates towards this communication. It is highly rewarding to be able to be take something intangible and communicate it in a way that can be experienced by others. I find the process of creating cathartic. Often times I allow myself to start with a block of clay with no idea of what may emerge from it. I start moving the clay around until a form takes shape and pay close attention to what I feel until I have a vision of what it could be. And while the outcome is not yet known, I indulge in its potential. Once the work is complete, it is either fired and finished in acrylics or cast in composites or foundry bronze.
Dorri Buchholtz
Bronze Sculpture
My creative process is not linear. Creativity is like a tumbleweed constantly rolling on and picking up new ideas. I faithfully journal to capture these ideas and know they will inevitably begin appearing in my future work. I review my journals regularly, and often old ideas come alive again when viewed from a different context. When inspiration strikes, I focus on honing in on precisely what resonated within me. Once I understand the core message, I develop a story and begin planning composition, color, symbolic elements, etc. I pull from the information and ideas gathered along my travels and learned through life experiences. I combine them and consult my journal regularly to unearth forgotten thoughts and ideas. Building in layers, I assemble each portrait and work the painting until the desired emotional effect is sufficiently embedded into the work. Sometimes this means a completed and fully rendered portrait; sometimes, I stop along the way and leave the work partially unfinished. I want the viewer to be a part of the work - each piece resonates differently based on the viewer's own life experiences - this is where the connection happens. I do not take time to try to "cover my tracks" - I value the lively feeling of studio art. I want the viewer to see the energy that went into the painting - and the layers built up from under-drawing to layer on layer of paint.
Daniel Zimmerman
Oil Painter
I look at a lot of art on Instagram, then go and do the exact opposite of it! Sometimes it's colors, sometimes it's thumbing my nose at principles such as composition. I'm an anti- kind of person, so I just go with what my hand leads me to do. I usually end up liking/keeping about 66% of my paintings.
Cam Villar
Acrylic and mixed media, on paper and canvas
I usually take a think, pour some espresso or some whiskey depending on the time of day, and just kind of get started. Nothing too ritualistic here, as often as soon as I get an idea, it goes out the window if I don't get it down immediately. I blame it on my ADHD.
Jo Coyle
In most moments, life seems so fast paced but, when my mind can focus in on one unforgettable idea - I have an urge to preserve it by making something with my hands. I think there's power in multitudes so once I get an idea - a series of work will unfold in my mind rather than a single image. I tend to imagine paintings initially but I do consider what medium would best convey my concepts. I dabble in a wide variety of materials and love to combine them in collaged, overlapping layers. Admittedly, I get bored fast. I love starting things but without a deadline, I rarely finish them! This is why I seek out calls and grants so that I can have some accountability in my process. Once a series is complete, I seek out the right destination and share it with my community.
Julia Glatfelter
Mixed Media - Currently Gouache and Acrylic
Approaching my art, through deconstruction and reconstruction the work continuously evolves and with every new permutation offers a new message.
Nat Bradley
Mixed Media: Acrylics, Oil, Collage, Pastels
I use a fountain pen and draw from my imagination. I will pencil a draft if I need to make specific references. I often draw in journals. I try to keep my drawings fresh by drawing more from memory than using pictures as references, or drawing en plein air, although I will do both. I use alcohol based markers and watercolors to color in the drawings. I try to add as many details to keep folks looking and having fun with my drawings.
Zach Schoettler
Pen and ink, watercolors, markers, journals
I create artwork from themes that move me; Abstraction, Dance, Jazz, Portraiture, and Nature. In the theme of Abstraction, whether it is paint, collage, glass, or wood I create to play with the materials. With dance, I an trying to capture the strong, passionate, physical movement. While jazz is bringing back childhood memories, I also enjoy the music. Jazz is extremely diverse. It can be calmly flowing and then suddenly chaotic. Portraiture and nature helps me explore my love of people and the outdoors. I usually start my ideas in a sketchbook with graphite or Sharpie and then they morph into styles of Minimal Cubism. My studio space will be filled several different projects when ideas start flourishing in my head.
Barbara Joann Combs
Charcoal, acrylics, mixed media, printmaking
Prayer is a very important part to my process. Biblical scripture inspires me. Loving nature, the great outdoors , the simplicity and complexity of a flower or bud is magical, miraculous. Never to I tire of seeing birds nest in my hedges or flower pots!
Sandi Wilson
Encaustic , cold wax and oil, acrylic
My creative process frequently begins away from my studio. Inspiration comes while hiking through Wissahickon Park, visiting one of Pennsylvania's many gardens and arboretums, or even browsing antique shops and thrift stores. I take many reference photographs on these excursions, though I also paint from life whenever possible. When back in my studio and preparing to begin a new piece, I start with thumbnails or notans, as composition is always my primary focus. That said, not every element is planned, and I prioritize spontaneity in my underpainting and color choices. When work and other responsibilities preclude spending much time at the easel, I keep up my daily painting habit with small studies or practice pieces, and I frequently use these as inspiration for larger finished pieces when time permits.
Stephanie Jean Brown
Soft pastel
My creative process begins with browsing for inspiration and looking at my previous paintings to get ideas on where to begin. I also scroll through pinterest and my saved posts on instagram for more inspo. Sometimes just seeing another work of art reminds me that other shapes and marks exist, and I'm allowed to make up shapes too! When I'm painting I try not to approach with too much of a plan and let myself decide in the moment what feels right. I sometimes struggle trusting that a painting will eventually get to a place I like, so I try to remind myself to let go and trust the process-- and if it doesn't work, I can paint over it! Generally I start with covering the canvas in a nice base color, then mixing and applying globs of color until I get somewhere I like. I use a mix of materials and application methods to add depth-- acrylic paint, oil sticks, posca markers, palette knife etc. Ultimately I try to keep in mind that I'm not going for perfection, I'm aiming for a sense of play and freedom that I hope comes through in my work.
Jane Zweibel
Acrylic painting
My process is still somewhat of a mystery to me. I make a lot of work, both small and large paintings, but I tend to take the large paintings more seriously and feel more invested in them. I try and be as open minded as possible during the creation but eventually decisions have to be made and you have to move on. Starting with the circle has been helpful and I usually go from there. I often times attach strips of canvas or some sort of studio "debri" onto the paintings to disrupt my own mark making and thinking. I don't like to waste materials so a lot of it comes from an ethical approach to art making which can be a very wasteful practice unfortunately but this helps me reconcile some of these issues.
Matt Higgins
Oil, oil stick, flashe paint, acrylic and collage
I take photographs constantly and have a massive library of references. I am always focused on three things: light, color, and story. I am not limited by subject matter--I will paint a trash can if the sun is hitting it just right. I paint alla prima, which means "at first attempt." My paintings are done in one session, and I rarely go back. I am chasing after something fresh that plays with form and definition--what is the least amount of information the eye needs to make sense of this image? My goal is self-exploration and maybe self-explanation. How do I show the world who I am? How do I record my experiences? What mark will I leave behind?
Lucy Shaiken
Acrylic Paint
I usually begin a painting by building up layers of watercolor, fluid acrylics, various gessoes, gels and hand painted papers . It may start from a quick sketch or photo or an idea I want to portray, but, then let the painting take the lead and reveal where to go next on the canvas.
Kathy Robinson
Acrylic, watercolor, rice paper, canvas
I take long walks with my dog almost every day. I take a lot of photos of things that we pass. I, also, do this a lot when driving, working, and just moving the world. Naturally, I tend to focus on the shapes and colors made organically by the sun and shadows. I replicate the shapes that most resonate with me in my sketchbook. I try to identify the forms that echo the feelings and ideas I've been contemplating and find a way to combine them - often focusing on the ways that color and line impact the viewers experience.
Gwen Wiess
Digital drawing, Gouache, collage, colored pencils, graphite pencils
My process begins outside. On a trail, pack on my back, boots on my feet. It is where my journey quite literally begins. I hike often, snapping photos and taking watercolor or ink sketches along the way. When I get back into the studio, I may quickly glance at those references, but usually, I simply begin painting. Each painting begins as a simple painted sketch, worked into over and over until a scene begins to appear. That scene will change and shift over time as I strive to give way my control of the composition, instead letting the wilderness appear before me. As the composition takes shape, it may remind me of a certain place– the Olympic wilderness, the Lost Coast of California, the North Cascades, the Northern Rockies. But I strive to keep the space loose and abstracted enough for the viewer to be able to find themselves in their own version of wilderness.
Lesley Frenz
Acrylic and watercolor
I’ve learned to not overthink what I do. When I get caught up in the “rules” it takes away my spontaneity. While painting its best to step back and then decide what works and what doesn’t, not when you have your brush on your canvas.
Karen Crowell
Oil, Water Media
Michelle Joy Montrose
Oil, Collage, Fiber Art
I have always been preoccupied with the natural world, which continues to be the main subject of my artistic work. I find myself particularly drawn to the paradoxical issues of nature’s power and fragility, and its often-fraught relationship with humanity. This has led me to my current project exploring endangered birds and, more recently, birds that have become extinct in my lifetime and the lifetime of the Endangered Species Act. When I took on this project I started by conducting 6 months of research in order to create a database. I consulted the NAT’s Philip Unitt during this phase in order to verify that I was on the right track, and have subsequently been in touch with amateur ornithologists to better understand the challenges of tracking and recording species populations, particularly in remote regions of the world. I update this database on a biannual basis in order to account for the fact that this field is constantly changing. The impetus for this project came from listening to an NPR “The World” story called “In Punjab, Crowding Onto The Cancer Train”, by Daniel Zwerdling, May, 2009. The story centers on the Indian farm town of Bathinda. In post-Green Revolution there was a disturbing increase in the number of villagers getting cancer. The first sign of trouble was in the 1980s and ‘90s, when the Peacocks were disappearing from the fields. Excessive use of pesticides was killing the Peacocks and causing cancer in the population. This story started my project of researching endangered birds. I wanted to highlight how human activity has contributed to the loss of these species, not just to mourn the loss of a beautiful creature, but also to provide awareness regarding the implications these events have for humanity’s survival. Human consumption and waste are conspicuous threats to the environment, and for my project to have the necessarily pointed weight it was important to choose materials that would provide commentary. Thus, I have drawn my series of endangered birds on paper I made from junk mail delivered to my home. For my series on extinct birds I have drawn on reclaimed wooden rectangles that are tiled to form a mosaic – a fragmented image represented a lost species. I am also creating a series of Specimen Drawers, after the drawers of animal skins, eggs, skulls, etc. found in Natural History Museums. This series speaks to the future of these species if we don't act.
Stacie Birky Greene
Recycled Paper and Wood, Ink, Oil
Composition starts with the negative spaces. That doesn’t work some of the time so I end up with paintings that are not good. I paint average people and places of Southern and Central California
Weston Riffle
Oil Paints
Feelings are very important to me to initiate an artwork. I have to have a strong feeling about somewhere or something I’m going to draw. Doing a lot of research is always the first thing that I do. Once I know well about it and have enough references, I can start. First is the small pencil sketch to design the composition. Second, is the detailed pencil sketch on the real painting. Third, adding colors and lines. I won’t totally follow my original design during the process, changes are always made because sometimes new ideas occur to me.
Lulu Qu
Asian Gouache, Ink and Traditional Chinese Brushes
My process is one of passion and intuition. All artwork begins by exploring a theme and playing with color, pattern, texture and scale. All my paintings are created by hand using gouache and acrylic paints. For me, working on my art is a fun process where I get to have fun. It's very therapeutic and relaxing. When doing graphic design artwork, the process is quite different. I work on my Ipad Pro, and create my art straight there. Then it is reconstructed and reworked to be applied to artwork, clothing, accessories, housewares and timeless statement pieces. All pieces are designed with love, inspired by living bold and colorfully with the prints or Art as the focus.
Carolina Arrieta
Artist & Illustrator
My creative process usually starts with a walk outside or flipping through images of natural environments. Depending on where I am or the tools I have with me, I might make a quick little sketch in my notebook or snap a picture with my phone. I am usually documenting a color, shape, or scene that has moved me in some way. When I have the free time and creative head space, I will sit down at my desk and start some sketches on a smaller scale and then just give myself the freedom to see where it takes me. When I discover the right color palette or composition, I will then create a more final piece on canvas or handmade paper.
Lauren Bencivengo
Gouache and Acrylic
I create paintings on canvas that are modernistic and depict how I recognize the external world via the lens of what goes on internally. This could be heavy with emotion, my unstoppable thoughts, or a strange combination of the two. Being abstract with my work sets me so free that what I usually can’t communicate vocally, I can do so candidly on paper through color, texture, form and movement. I promised myself that no matter what happens in this career, I will be bold and trust my paints wholly to guide me to an area of strength and peace. Creating unique and visually complex images are something I constantly strive to achieve in my work. The only goal is to devise new realities to dance around in spontaneously and fully.
Ambika Thiagarajan
Acrylic, Oil, Mixed Media
I start each painting with a small value study. That is followed by a more detailed drawing and a small color study. After transferring the drawing to the canvas, I complete a value underpainting, either an open grisaille in brown tones, or a closed grisaille in gray tones. When dry, I begin a series of color layers, enhanced with glazes.
Sherry Roper
Oil Paints
I usually work with clients who commission a specific landscape that means a lot to them. They'll bring inspiration photos for me to work off of, then I'll sketch out an outline and pull some colors for the weaving. Once that's approved, I'll start by outlining the macramé, weaving in the wool roving and thick art yarn, and finish up the piece by cleaning up the back and tucking in loose ends. When I am developing my own designs, I tend to look to iconic Pacific Northwest landscapes, find inspiration photos that would work well with the medium, and ideate and sketch until the final product is complete!
Kristi Nakata
Macrame, weaving, and fiber art
My creative process begins with color: I get a general idea of what the pallet will be and that informs the rest of the composition. I then create sketch compositions that I believe look balanced and intriguing. Once I feel comfortable and have explored ideas on paper or in a sketchbook, I embark on the unforgiving journey with the elements. I do my best to guide the water as acrylic paint and ink mixes onto the canvas, but I do not always have the final say. I have found that these moments of unpredictability have become some of my most favorite details within my work. Once I have a solid acrylic wash, I will add pastel shavings or charcoal shavings for texture and patiently wait for each layer to dry before I add the next.
Claire Parrish
Acrylic, Ink, Pastels, and Collage.
Every piece of art starts with a series of sketches. Most never move beyond the pages of my sketchbook, but others I draw and re-draw until I'm happy with the composition. These are the ones that I transfer to a block of linoleum and carve. Before printing the final edition, I create multiple test-prints to check the design balance and block alignment, and to find the right colors of ink. It's a process full of troubleshooting and problem-solving, and I relish the challenge.
Lauren Nishizaki
My process is driven by emotion and impulse. I pick up the color and tool that best suits my mood and make little moves throughout the day. My studio is in my home, so I am constantly walking in and out looking and assessing, thinking and feeling the works. I will also take the piece around the house seeing the work how it looks outside the studio. When I have a grouping I'm happy with, I photograph and name. I try and release new works on or aroung the new moon. So before, when the moon is waning, I start reflecting on the process, the energetics and astrology and putting together insights that take on a larger meaning.
Jessalin Beutler
acrylic and collage
My hollow form vessels begin with a log. I use a chainsaw to cut a chunk of the log and ultimately reduce it to a 9 inch x 9 inch cube. I take the cube and affix it to my Robust American Beauty lathe and use sharp gouges to shape the outside of the vessel. I then flip it around and begin hollowing it out. When I have shaped and hollowed the vessel to the desired shape and thickness, I'll remove it from the lathe and set it aside to dry for a few weeks before I hand sand and apply a finish. you can learn more about my story and process through the following video on Youtube:
Perry Shaw / Shaw Studio
Wood--I work with storm fallen or diseased trees only
I often start with an idea, a memory or a dream. Then I translate the idea to a sketch where I flesh out the figures and add symbols and details into the scene. Once I have the sketch developed, I transfer the image to the block. I go over the drawing with pen and sharpie so I have a reliable guide for carving, and then I begin my favorite part of the process, carving the block. Carving the block usually takes me between a few days or a few weeks of work. After I have carved the block I print it by hand.
Elisa Dore
I am inspired by what I see- often when I don’t expect it- a sunset, the color of a leaf or the way the light falls on tree trunks. I take a lot of photos before beginning a painting, I do some pencil sketches and plan the colors. After this I lay out the main structures of the painting. It is a long process of layering and moving the panels that make up the scenes within scenes. I work on multiple canvases at once. Working on one work can give me insight into another. The texture comes in after I have the composition set. When the front of the painting is completed, I continue the scene around the edges of the gallery wrapped canvas so to further emphasize the fluid movement on the front.
Enid Smith Becker
Acrylic on Canvas

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