Developing my artistic self

betty ming liu Art, Inspiration 25 Comments

When I was a little kid in grade school, the teachers used to tell my Chinese immigrant parents, “Betty is such an artist!”

Of course, this comment made Mom and Dad very unhappy. What they wanted to hear was: “Betty is such a medical doctor!”

So the idea of pursuing art didn’t surface until recently. It was only two years ago that I got serious about taking weekly painting classes. These explorations on canvas led to long talks with my shrink about self-expression. Now that the paintings are piling up in my house, I’m taking a marketing course for artists. The whole process has been thrilling because I’m recovering another long-lost piece of myself.

But can I really get out of the box? Can I actually find joy in doing something I love — despite my parents’ disapproval? They would’ve pooh-poohed art classes as impractical (and expensive). Besides, the field has a very low success rate (with “success” being defined as the ability to become a multi-millionaire).

You might wonder why my folks’ opinion still count. Hey, just because I’m 54 and they’re deceased doesn’t mean that they’re out of my head. At least, not yet. And now that I’m feeling fulfilled, maybe they don’t have to leave; they just have to behave.  ^_^

But enough about them. Here are some of my recent paintings. The orange on the plate is a 10-inch square canvas. The small ones are six-inch squares.

This spring, I found myself attracted to circles, especially the juicy shapes of round fruit. They also cast such interesting shadows.

I only work in delicious oils. Orange is my favorite color. Greens get to me too. When the paint is applied really thick with a good brush, the experience is totally yum.



Now what about exploring YOUR creativity?

Since painting and writing can be so solitary, I really value having community. I love my Friday all-day painting classes with Karen O’Neil at the Art Students League of New York. She teaches on the gorgeous Vytlacil campus in Rockland, County, N.Y. It’s a lovely 20-minute drive from my house.

I made four videos showing the kind of demos that Karen does during class. I enjoy watching them now on YouTube. They constantly remind me to stop and notice the beauty of simple moments in daily life. By the way, being around Karen has made me a better journalism professor. I’ve become more effective at spotting and developing the unique abilities of each of my students.

The four videos all follow the format of this one. I took a bunch of photos (on my old, junky camera) and turned them into animated shorts. Here’s Karen, painting a flower:

The other videos are:

How to Paint a Glass Object

How to Paint a White Object

How to Paint a Pear

As for the business of being an artist, I am sold on Alyson Stanfield, the genius behind She thinks that the notion of a starving artist is a lot of crap; why shouldn’t creative folks know how to make money and market themselves?

While I meet many painters on her site, Alyson’s advice and tips would work great for writers and anyone else who needs to understand entrepreneurship. But unlike too many business sites, hers is pretty — yeah, that matters to me!

I started by reading her blog every morning. Now I’m taking her month-long, online “Blast Off” class. For the price of $97, I get a new lesson every day that I can learn by either reading a pdf or listening to a podcast. Worksheets and get-yourself-organized activities have been helpful too.  And there’s always a chance to interact with the other students on the private class blog. I’ve gotten insight on practical tools that will keep growing me as an artist.

So, this is my happy blog post for today.

Sometimes, I actually don’t have anything to complain about.   ^_^


Comments 25

  1. Post

    oh my goodness — who knew you would all feel so strongly about the content in this post??! i just got home for work and have papers to grade. but i need to respond….

    chuck, please, please, please buy that diner. i’ll fill it with food paintings for you!!

    skye, i’ve been wondering about doing an online class involving skype; how’d you know?! it’s just a vague idea at this point. as for family stuff…even though your parents were awful, you write about them with such kindness. that goes a long way.

    ingrid, you are so wise! my shrinks always reminded me that my parents couldn’t t give what they’ve never experienced themselves.

    marcie, i TOTALLY get what you’re saying about chinese families. i’m just wondering if they’re more difficult to deal with than other asians or other immigrant groups.

    toby, thanks for making me smile. your mom sounds like fun. :)

    anna, how great that you went on to do your own art thing!

    deborrah anne, so great that you are pursuing your dreams.

    madeline, thanks for the link to that blog — i’m now gonna follow that guy on twitter!

    and judy, you’ve never been a tiger mom. you’re just a great mom!

    rosa, thanks for the idea. clearly dreams and art are hot topics for this crowd. ^_^

  2. Rosa’s idea is great!! For Toby, celebrate! Be glad with what you’ve had…you can show others that being a great parent is possible. Parenting can even be fun!

    I’m thankful for everyone sharing their joys or hang-ups here. Just writing about art heals.

  3. Betty, speaking as one who has a degree in Fine Arts: your painting is wonderful! I am delighted that you are developing your artist self. I love to see people have the courage to be creative.

    I did not want to go to college at all, I wanted to apprentice with a professional horse trainer. But my mother, who aspired to the trappings of a higher “class”, insisted that I go to college. I was fortunate in that she was fine with me majoring in Art. As difficult as my mother was, she was proud of my artistic ability.

    Art school (such as it was at a midwestern Land Grant university) was an experience I am glad to have had. But many people, just as you are doing, seek formal art training later in their lives with excellent results. My father-in-law teaches a community water color class, and most of his students are retired people who have never before had any coaching. It is remarkable how their skills develop.

    Back when my kids were small and we were living in Pennsylvania, I enrolled my daughter and myself in classes at the Art Association of Harrisburg. That was a really good experience for both of us and gave us memories to cherish.

    Something I wish I could get over is the fine disdain I have for my own work. Through the years, I have destroyed most of the art I have made. Some of my work remains boxed up in the basement, where aside from perhaps getting mildewed, it is safe from my spells of self hatred. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed that I feel compelled to grab a sledge hammer and pound the crap out of something I have made.

  4. I know I am so late to this party but I want to chime in and tell you that I sincerely love your paintings. I am inspired to run off and grab my brushes right now.

    I also have to add that I lived in Europe for awhile and my charming-yet-evil bf at the time would say, “Your mom is halfway around the world, why does it feel like she is right here in this studio?” The power of parents is strange.

    Keep painting!

    1. Post

      never too late, amantha! and thank you for the feedback. means a lot to me because you’re such a lovely painter too. btw, your evil bf is right. those moms don’t ever really go away! and when we’re in a good place, that’s okay.

  5. Re: “….they’re deceased doesn’t mean that they’re out of my head.” I totally agree with you, Betty! Our parents planted the “old seeds” deep inside our brain. We have to work very hard and deal with those issues even they are not here!

  6. BY the way, I really enjoy looking at your paintings! You made “orange color” very outstanding and stylish!

    1. Post
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