• Isla

Art Takes More Planning Than You Think: Here's Why

Updated: Feb 28

The muse may visit, but it's your job to do the work.

And the work includes planning.





I was under a very strange impression until very recently. I firmly believed that artists felt the spirit of creation move through them, and somehow they magically created these works without any planning for the colors, composition, or style. They simply CREATED.


How ridiculous is that?


It was one of those secret beliefs I held but never spoke out loud. I thought something was wrong with me. I thought I just wasn't good enough as an artist do it right. But really, I just hadn't learned to plan yet.

“I thought something was wrong with me. But really, I just hadn't learned to plan yet.”

There are a million different ways to do things. I'm still learning how to do this, so I'm sure it'll change as I go, but for right now, here's what I've learned.


Why plan?

I've written six books to date, and each time I learn to do a little better. I used to fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants when I wrote. I was what the writers call a "pantser". But each time I write a book, I do a little more planning, and the writing gets a little bit easier. It was common sense. If you're writing a 90,000 word thing, you need to plan a little. 90k words is not a manageable amount if you don't know what you're doing.


Yet I never applied this basic tool to painting. Why?


There's a culture attached to painting. This culture of connection to these spirits that move around us, allowing us to find these colors and shapes that appeal to our very nature, drawing the eye in and sending shivers up your... It's all very "Colors of the Wind", but it's not realistic.


This is a practice palette I did to see what colors I wanted to use in my new collection. It's taken so much weight off my shoulders. I can't recommend it enough.


How to plan


What I've found, talking to other artists, is that everyone plans a little differently. Everyone is a little combo of a "pantser" or a "plotter". Some choose their color schemes before a collection. Some choose their shapes or their theme. Some choose an emotion or an idea and center their work around that.


I'm still trying to find the best way to do it, but my theory is that if you plan out the thing you are least confident about, you'll have an easier time with your collection.


Focus in on a weakness


I struggle with color schemes. It's either too bland or it pains the eyes. So recently I went through the saved images on my Instagram (I save anything and everything that inspires me for safe keeping) and found I kept returning to the same color scheme: peach, pink, and teal.


I know myself well enough by this point to know that once I get started on a piece, it's easy for me to become reactionary (ooh that looks weird, cover it up. now that looks weird. cover that up.) instead of seeing the piece as a series of steps leading to the final product. So I planned that out too with a simple idea (layers starting small, gradually getting larger, then back to small for details).


I wrote out my instructions, step by step, and trusted myself in the process. The result was this collection:

I love how it turned out.


The colors go well together. The composition is interesting. The pieces are clearly siblings.


I didn't have to waste time panicking about composition. I didn't have to question every color choice and have to worry about what will work and what won't.


The planning allowed me to work intuitively and truly put my emotions and spirit into my work.


These pieces are full of such joy, wonder, and pure curiosity, because I had the energy to actually feel that during the painting process.


There are many different ways to plan, and some ways might work for one person and not others. One way may work for one collection, but not others. Allow yourself to follow your instincts. Find pieces of your art process that do not need to be spontaneous. Find those processes that make your head hurt or stress you out, and attack them head-on before you put paint to canvas.


Doing this will allow, your work to breathe. I promise.



I plan out every color scheme (usually with three simple colors that blend well) before I paint a new YouTube tutorial collection.



This way I know it will look good, and I know it will be doable for people.



“Doing this will allow, your work to breathe. I promise.”

Whenever I teach my Zoom art classes, I do a ton of prep work. I want our class to flow easily, so I take an idea (mountainscape), find reference photos I like (clouds, mountains, and lake), piece them together (now I have my composition), then start planning out my colors by painting a mini version. This gives me a chance to see if my composition and colors are successful without wasting a ton of time, energy, or paint.


I also write down step-by-step instructions so I don't have to worry about memorizing the right order. I can just flow from one step to the next and have my mind free to answer questions as they come up.


By doing it this way, when I hit snags in the class, I already know I have a beautiful composition and my colors are ready to use. The rest is up to me.


It only takes an hour or two of my time (the prep usually takes more time than the class), but it's worth it to make it a more enjoyable class that runs smoothly.


And so I don't look like an idiot.



The Takeaway

You don't have to plan every part of every piece, but you might find planning one aspect of a collection can ease your creative burden. After all, we're only human, and we can't be expected to do every single thing perfectly all at once.


We only have so much brain power.


Try planning these things, and see how it works for you:

  • color scheme (have these recipes written out and ready)

  • canvas sizes (all one size/different sizes)

  • collection size (number of pieces)

  • composition (size and shapes)

  • materials (paint/ink/watercolor/brushes/etc)

  • shapes and patterns you'll include


This is a color and composition scheme I'm using for my current collection. I like to plan out the colors and then try them out in different compositions to find my favorites.



If you take nothing else from this blog post, please take this:


The act of planning does not reduce creativity, it allows it to bloom.



Happy planning, everybody.