Learning to Problem Solve on your own

Pumpkin painting 8 x 8 panel by Julie Dyer Holmes, student and painter at Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia PALearning to problem solve may not seem consistent with being an artist. But, in fact, problem solving is exactly what being an artist is. Here I am writing again about characteristics of my teachers and classmates and many successful artists I have met.

I shared other virtues of artists in recent posts on commitment, punctuality and endurance. (Wait – really? Artists are punctual, committed and show endurance? Really?) Yes, artists are constantly problem solving, too.

In fact, problem solving starts the minute an artist puts pencil or paint brush to surface. In my first year at Studio Incamminti, we learned that ‘drawing is a series of corrections.’ How can you make a correction if you haven’t started to see that there is a problem in your drawing?

Now that I am in my fourth and final year of school (with  216 Days 7 Hours 59 Minutes 40 Seconds to go – but who is counting – woot!), instructors are focussing on teaching us this ability. What does this mean for me? I have a list of thoughts and questions I ask myself after I have written down my goal for the painting on a given day.

You can observe a lot by just watching

-Yogi Berra

Well, thanks for that pearl, Yogi! Ha!!! But I think there is a bit more involved than just watching. For instance, in the little pumpkin painting above, I wanted to show light shining on the top plane of the pumpkin. At first, I only showed a limited value range but my magnificent mentor, Natalie Italiano, kept encouraging me to show more and more light. I did this ultimately by being more brave with my paint application and comparing the other values in the painting to the top of that pumpkin.

So problem solving involves figuring out or defining what the problem is. Then, once that problem is clearly defined, developing a plan and having a goal, too.

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, you and I both know that there’s lots of brain power involved in this creative process. Right? What sorts of problem solving skills do you use? And, hey, even if you are not an artist, please share here! Why? Because artists use skills that many people use and we would benefit from your thoughts and experience, too.


  1. Beth Clary
    November 13, 2017

    Great post, Julie. I COMPLETELY agree with the problem-solving aspect of any creation. It all starts with this desire to communicate SOMETHING, right? So then, how does one do that – no matter what the medium.
    The thing that surprised me and challenges me with my creative efforts is the decision-making aspect. I’ve never considered myself a “good” decision maker. When pursuing my MFA, I was told over and over again that I needed to choose, to decide, which way best communicated my message. Now I have to embrace both problem-solving AND decision-making because aren’t there, in most cases, many possible solutions to most problems?

    • Julie Holmes
      November 13, 2017

      Hi Beth,
      It’s so true that decision-making requires a commitment that can sometimes feel overwhelming (to me anyway) in the creative process. But, once I am clear that the decision is the best way to go (which of course does not happen every time), then the drawing/painting can ‘flow.’
      I expect that might be what you experience with your writing process, too?
      Here’s to more decision-making and problem-solving!
      Thank you for reading and commenting, too.


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