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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

What I Learned From Professional Painters at an Arts Festival

Updated: Jan 19

And What I've Learned as a Self-taught Painter



When the pandemic took my job as an adjunct professor of religious studies and my courses on spirituality and healing, and world religions, I reinvented myself and started playing with acrylic paints. July will mark two years since I began painting. I paint nature scenes and memories of our adventures and hikes in national parks. Always seeking knowledge about the art world, I recently attended my first arts festival — the Rittenhouse Arts Festival. The festival was outdoors and free.


Learning from Professional Painters


I went to the festival to enjoy the art and creations, and to learn from artists along the way. The first artist booth I visited was Rachael Newman’s booth. She was talking to potential buyers about her art. The paintings displayed were stunning bright and serene views of water, skies, clouds, and sailboats.


I learned from her husband that Rachael is a self-taught artist. Excited to know that she is self-taught, I told him that I am too. I took the opportunity to show him my paintings on my website on my iPhone. He was complimentary. He gave me Rachael’s business card, encouraged me to keep painting, and invited me to visit her website and to reach out to her with any questions that I have.


I continued to seek more acrylic artists and came across a booth exhibiting paintings that reminded me a bit of my paintings. I was drawn to the landscapes and nature acrylic and oil paintings by artist John Maurer. His paintings are colorful, vibrant, and rich in texture. I told him a quick history of how I began painting and that I’m self-taught. He said half of the artists at the festival are self-taught. I showed him my paintings on my website. He was also complimentary. I asked him for painting advice, how to go about exhibiting in art shows, and how to price art.


He inspired me to keep painting and gave me good advice — “Draw what you want to paint first. Keep at it. Even though some art shows are hard to get into, apply to exhibit. To price your art, study what others are selling their paintings for.”


I asked for his card so that I can contact him on his website. By now, my husband Jon had parked our car and joined me and a potential customer stopped to admire John’s paintings.


Jon and I continued admiring the work of many more artists, including Jerry Brem, Victoria Jackson, and Beth Palser. The creations of these three artists are beautifully very different. I learned so much from all three.


I collect and rescue books and have over 1,300 books in our home. Jerry’s abstract paintings of books on bookshelves excited me. I also liked the simple wood frames around his paintings. He shared with us the type of wood he uses and how he frames his paintings. I’m going to use his inexpensive idea to frame my forty-nine paintings, so far.


When I shared my paintings on my website, he commented on my painting of the sunset at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. He said it had a Georgia O’Keefe vibe. What a great compliment!

Sunset at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. 16" x 20." Painted August 17, 2022.

Next, Jon and I visited Victoria Jackson’s booth. She paints landscapes and abstracts. She’s a fourth generation artist and loves to paint clouds. I told her I struggle painting clouds. While we were talking, a young couple expressed interest in purchasing one of her paintings but weren’t sure they could afford it. Victoria asked how much they had to spend. They had a $3,500 budget. Victoria said, “I’m here to sell.” Jon and I said good-bye to Victoria so she could attend to her art collectors. We hope she made a sale and that the young couple walked away with the painting they fell in love with.


At the last artist booth we stopped in, I found myself admiring and studying a painting of a brick house. I’m still learning how to paint bricks. Watercolor artist Beth Palser asked if I had any questions. I told her I liked her depiction of bricks. I stared at it some more. She’s a trained artist and has been painting for thirty-five years. She asked how long I’ve been painting. I told her I started playing with paint almost two years ago and that I’m self-taught. We shared a bit more and talked about listening to music while we paint.


I learned from these generous artists who shared their enthusiasm, inspiration, passion, and encouragement. It was good to know that half of the artists at the festival are self-taught. I look forward to attending more art festivals and to learning from more artists.


I look forward to having my first art exhibit and to selling my paintings at an arts festival one day.


Still Learning and Creating


As a self-taught acrylic painter, I am still learning. Attending art festivals and speaking to artists are great ways to learn about the art world and to enhance my art.


The more I paint, the more I learn, the more I discover about myself. In the last two years, I have become creative in ways I hadn’t imagined. I like to use dirt and pebbles to create texture in my paintings. I have the patience to paint. I enjoy the process; it’s very meditative and calming. I have spent from two-and-a-half hours to six hours painting a nature scene or a national park memory. I paint by intuition.


I’ve been told my paintings are “soothing” and “calming.” Of my paintings, I have my favorites and least favorites. But each one has been instrumental on my journey as painter. And on my journey I finally experienced my first painting “failure.” I didn’t intend for this painting to be my acrylic painting no. 49.


My unintended abstract. 16" x 20." Painted June 14, 2023.

I set out to paint my third painting challenge from my professional artist friend Caroline Constable in UK— a scene of a beautiful waterfall in the woods. But it was not to be. I struggled with this challenge. I struggled with the waterfall.


And so I did what I’ve never done with a painting. I began painting over it with white paint with the intention of creating a new blank canvas. But somehow creativity took advantage of my “failure.”


In the process, a new unintended abstract painting emerged. I am pleased with the end result. On Instagram Caroline commented, “Out of the ashes rises a phoenix. I love the calming quality it has. That waterfall is tricky, but abstracts are even trickier so this is a great outcome.”


And speaking of ashes, this was Jon’s response when he saw the painting — “Oh, wow! You painted smoke from the Canadian fires.” I explained that it wasn’t, but if that’s what he sees, sure, why not. Jon interpreted his own meaning of the painting. And that’s a good thing.


As French artist Edgar Degas once said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Brené Brown is right — “There is no innovation and creativity without failure.” And the best part of my “failure” — no paint was wasted. While I was disappointed that I was unable to complete the painting challenge, I was pleased with the final unforeseen reveal on the canvas.


I actually like it. Like Andy Warhol said, “Art is anything you can get away with.” Now, what shall I name this accidental abstract painting?


© 2023


Originally published in Medium.

See more of My Paintings


I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. My journey as a self-taught painter makes an appearance. You can order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.



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