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Intentionality: It’s a Process

'Tentative' & 'Just Around the River Bend' by Tara Cress


If you had asked me a few years ago what the key to my artistic process was, I would have likely tried to say that practice makes perfect, or something similar. Now, after a bit more time and introspection, I look back and cringe a little at my answer. Let me explain why…

It feels like a cop-out, and frankly, a bit of an empty answer. It doesn’t give other artists who are listening anything to incorporate into their own approach. So, let me use this moment to describe, to my fellow artists and curious art lovers alike, what I think is truly essential to my process.

While there is some truth to the saying practice makes perfect, it doesn’t paint the whole picture. While practice is an important part of developing an artist’s skill and confidence, it won’t get you very far without intention.

What do I mean? Well, intentionality is the quality of your mental state and the direction of your thoughts as you work. It’s the type of focus that unlocks your ability to impress your own self. It’s practicing with a goal in mind, increasing the likelihood of success in achieving it. When I realized this for myself, I began to understand how to take advantage of my time and make better art.

As an artist whose work is primarily very detail-oriented wildlife, it can be all too easy to get into a monotonous repetition, an auto-pilot if you will. It’s tempting to make assumptions. For example: assuming that fur is thousands of lines going in the same direction will actually prevent you from obtaining realistic texture. While you may wind up spending a lot of time drawing the fur, your intention turns into drawing lines instead of drawing the texture of the animal.

It took me one poorly executed drawing to realize how a lack of intentionality affected my own work, and it took about a year of observing artists who work in other genres and media to see that intentionality has a profound effect across the board. Intentionality has become my driving force; it lets me know when to put the pen down, reminds me what the point of each mark/series of marks on the page is for, and what the overall focus of the artwork is meant to be.

Does intentionality manifest itself the same way for each artist? Not likely.

Does it take a long time to identify where it’s best applied to your own work? It may.

Should you consider new ways of intentionally approaching your artistic practice? Without a doubt, yes. While this is both a broad, yet very specific piece of advice, it has the potential to help you understand yourself and your art even better.


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