One of the Secrets to Growth as an Artist

Hi and welcome back to another week on the Chrissie Murphy Designs blog.   When I first started drawing, one of my greatest desires was to improve!  It fueled just about everything I did, and even after 6 years, it’s still there.  It’s a desire to grow.  I’m convinced that every artist longs to grow, regardless of how long they’ve been at their craft.  So, this week I’m going to share one of the secrets to growth as an artist.  I know you’re keen to improve, otherwise you wouldn’t be here… so lets stop waffling around and get into it.

Before we begin, I want to acknowledge your desire to hear something mindblowing…. the thing is, this isn’t going to be mind blowing. I’m here to talk truth.  I’m not into sweet talking and selling you stuff that sounds great. Doing that is about as useful deodorant in a sauna…. I’m going to bring the truth, as boring as it might be, because it’s helpful and useful for you as an artist.

And here it is, one of the secrets to growth as an artist is building a catalogue of reference material

What do I mean by building a catalogue of reference material? Well, a catalogue is a collection, a display or a list of things. As an artist, you want to be working towards building a catalogue of reference material. It will be something you build over time, because it won’t happen overnight. But without a doubt, your greatest asset in growing yourself as an artist will be the catalogue of reference material you have behind you.

Collect Reference Books

Why? Because growth is a bi-product of PRACTICE and STUDY

I came across Lindsay Bugbee from The Postman’s Knock a few years ago. She is an artist and calligrapher from Kansas in the USA, and I’ve purchased a few of her calligraphy courses over the years. I’ve really come to respect her authority when it comes to calligraphy. Lindsay knows her stuff! And I believe that’s happened because of her commitment to PRACTICE and STUDY.

There’s a post Lindsay released in May last year where she recommends 8 books to jumpstart your creativity. Her list included a lot of calligraphy and lettering books. But, it’s clear from this post that Lindsay has amassed a catalogue of reference material over the years. She has researched and studied a lot and you know what? Her work looks like it’s been shaped by years of study.

Every now and again Lindsay shares pictures of her calligraphy from when she first started. She does it to encourage calligraphers and artists to stick with it, because you can visually see her growth and progress as an artist. Her growth has come from PRACTICE and STUDY.

(Editors Note: I’ve blogged about the importance of PRACTICE in developing your art already. You can read that post here if you’re interested.)

It’s more than just amassing reference books though…

Building a catalogue of reference material is more than just amassing reference books. The other thing Lindsay has done well is capture her own different calligraphy styles. She actually sells them as courses, but nevertheless, what they are is another catalogue, this time of her own reference material.

Create a catalogue of Reference Material

Out of all the artists I admire, Eni Oken has done this best. I’ve been a fan of Eni Oken for such a long time. I was over the moon when she agreed to do an Artist Interview with me last year. You can read it here if you missed it. Eni is meticulous for keeping records of her work, as well as indexes for the various elements that are used in her work. Hands down, she has the best catalogue of her own reference material that I have seen anywhere! You’re going to have to take my word on this.

Eni does a lot of zentangling, and her catalogue of reference material includes a folder where she keeps a sampler of every different zentangle pattern. They are shaded and then sorted under some common themes. This is her own work, and I have seen, first hand, how much this improves your work.

How does it improve your work?

Up until recently I’ve used the catalogue of zentangle patterns below as my guide. It’s an official guide that’s released each year by It’s been great having this as a reference behind me, however when it comes to zentangling, I like to add my own flair to patterns. Enter cataloguing my work like Eni and Lindsay…

Zentangle Patterns Guide 2015

I decided to start my own catalogue of zentangle patterns. They will be shaded the way I prefer, and sorted in a way that works for me. Already I feel like this has opened up an entirely new way of creating for me.

Let me explain how…. there’s been times when I’ve been a bit of a slump. I haven’t known what to draw, so I flick through my old sketchbooks and folders looking at work I’ve previously done. Every now and again it will spark something and off I’ll trundle to create some new work. It’s as though looking back through my catalogue of work has reminded me of a pattern, or a technique or style I’d forgotten.

This is exactly what a catalogue of your own reference material does

It reminds you of what you’re capable of, and what you might have forgotten. So now when I sit down to create, I look at my catalogue of patterns and I put something together easily. It’s also caused me to look at the patterns with new eyes, so I’m seeing ways they can be altered everywhere! I intend on creating a catalogue of zentangle pattern variations next.

Create a catalogue of Reference Material

Is the catalogue of your own reference material meant to trump reference books from other sources?

Absolutely not! It’s meant to compliment them. Remember what this blog post is about – it’s about one of the secrets to growth as an artist. Building that catalogue of reference material, from your own and other sources, will cause you to grow as an artist because you’re studying.

Study is defined as “The effort to acquire knowledge, as by reading, observation, or research“. Reference books, as well as a catalogue of your own work, ticks the box for acquisition of knowledge. The reference books you buy are read in the pursuit of knowledge about your craft. In many ways, the catalogues of your own work are a record of the research you’ve undertaken previously.  They are an observation of what you’ve already learned.

And all of this is study

This kind of study is different though because it’s alive.  It’s something that should be happening naturally for an artist. I think that when many of us think about studying, we think about studying something for a particular amount of time to achieve a particular purpose – like studying for an exam. But the kind of studying I’m talking about grows you as an artist because it becomes part of your life. You’re always studying, because you’re always observing and learning.

So it’s time to build your catalogue of reference material

It’s time to take a fresh look at studying. Now is the time to recognise you’re always observing and you’re always learning. It’s a part of who you are as an artist. I have no doubt that you will already have some reference books behind you, but do you have a catalogue of your own reference material?

This is the component that many of us are lacking. I’d encourage you to look into developing something, a place that you can go to for reference time and time again. A place that reminds you of what you can do, and what you love to do in your own style.  A place that’s recorded all your previous research and highlighted your observations.  It’s the place that’s gonna lift you as an artist.

Want to be more Expressive?

Join my Expressive’s List to begin to learn ways you can start to express yourself creatively. There are no moulds or limits with the Lord, just possibilities and the promise of one day unearthing who you were created to be.

Expressive Subscribers receive an email each month that contains creative inspiration and ideas, links to helpful resources and a month’s worth of journal prompts to stimulate creative expression. These prompts are a great way of learning to express yourself when you’ve never really tried it before. Fill in your details below to sign up.

Until next time, listen to your heart and sharpen your coloured pencils. A masterpiece awaits!

Bless you my friend

Chrissie xx

4 thoughts on “One of the Secrets to Growth as an Artist

  1. Chrissie, WOW, thank you for the shout out on your article. When I first saw the title of the post, I was immediately curious — I wholeheartedly agree that studying and keeping great reference materials is fundamental. What a surprise to see not only that our thoughts are aligned and that you reference my work and methods. I don’t know if I am THAT organized, but keeping methodic records of what you like and what you are capable is really VITAL. Thank you for posting such a useful article!

    1. Chrissie Murphy Designs February 8, 2019 — 7:22 am

      Oh Eni, yes you are that organised! I have followed a tonne of artists over the years and your referencing is impeccable. I really love how you pull a tangle to pieces to explore its potential and you capture the entire process. This should be a “must do practice” for any artist. 2019 is the year that it’s going to be for me, I’m getting serious about the work I do, and I am so grateful to you for being such a shining example.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close