I was a ‘Shadow Artist’

I got thinking about: being creatively ‘stuck’, and not taking the leap into creating your own work, which led me to think of what Julia Cameron said about ‘Shadow Artists‘ in her book The Artist’s Way.

Self-Defeating Self-Help?

I can definitely relate to this. It’s also why the self-help industry is huge. We want to keep reading variations on the same wisdom in the hopes of filling in gaps we missed – or getting that final combination of ‘secrets’ that will finally give us the confidence we need.

The Shadow Artist

I first became aware of it when reading Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s way‘. The author introduced me to the idea of the ‘Shadow Artist‘. I suddenly realised that I was one! Instead of actually making my own art, I was voraciously reading books about art & artists – and painting technique. I was almost an art historian, but producing nothing. I read biographies and diaries of artists –  hoping it’d inspire me, or rub-off. But I think really, it was an easy substitute for doing the work – taking a risk. It was procrastination.

People also like to talk about their great novel – which they haven’t written yet.


I finally – actually – painted something, instead of just talking about it. ‘The Florentine’ c.2004

Taking Action: Art Classes

When my wife finally pushed me to do art classes, I started reading a lot less about Art – and watching less art documentaries – because  I was more interested in doing my own art. I was no longer a ‘Shadow Artist’. What I did read, and look at, had real purpose. In-between painting, I was studying the work of people like Lucien Freud and Velasquez, and trying to apply it to my own work.

I honestly can’t recall the last time I read a book about art now, and I rarely visit galleries anymore. But when I do visit – I love it. Back before I started painting, the daily visit to a gallery at lunchtime or late on Thursdays was like a ‘fix’.


life-oils-male-florentine-detail-1-300wWhen I’d ended up working in the overly technical and future-looking world of I.T., the lure of the old was so strong. As a relaxing antidote to code and tech and computers, I bathed in old art and history, like the Renaissance. I loved my holidays to Venice and the rest of Italy. I also read and read and read about art. John Ruskin became my hero.

One day, my friend Padhraig Nolan mentioned Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ book – and I dived into it during tea and lunch breaks at my Web Design job. It definitely created a change in me, and when my wife encouraged me to go to Life Painting classes once a week at the National College of Art in Dublin it was a very healthy thing.


Inspired by Lucien Freud – who could paint an old leather chair, or  filthy sink ad make great art.


Re-focusing my Creativity

There were a few years in which I did lots of painting classes and produced quite a lot of life studies, but these days, I do virtually no painting at all. But that’s OK, because I’m concentrating on my comic art – made on paper and the computer. I’d always wanted to do that as a kid anyway, rather than being a fine artist. In many ways, it was unfortunate that Art College, between 1985 and 1990 made me a bit snooty about popular culture. And I think I got worse after I visited Italy! I neglected my inner geek for too many years when I could have been doing lots of fun comics and modern illustration instead.

I hope I’m making up for that now! And who knows, my geeky comics work of the last 2 years may help me to get into a new career in the Irish Animation industry. I was obsessed with animation when I was in college. It was one geeky interest that survived my art education. After a hiatus of decades – I might be returning to it!



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