Advice From Mary Whyte: 3 Things You Need To Become An Accomplished Artist

Mary Whyte is a historian.

Her watercolor paintings (mostly portraits) tell stories of Americans whose work and traditions are fading into the past, but not before she documents their existence in artworks that could strongly stand on their own even without the meanings behind them. The ideal composition, color, and balance are there without question, but so are the individuals–the subjects, if you will. Look at them and you’ll see culture; look closely and you may see yourself or someone you know.

Above: Artist Mary Whyte’s Labor of Love, from CBS News

I recently asked Whyte, “when someone comes to you and wants to learn how to paint, what’s the first thing you tell him/her?” She was kind enough to share some valuable tips.

Advice From Mary Whyte: 3 Things You Need To Become An Accomplished Artist

Acorn (2004; watercolor, 39×37) by Mary Whyte is featured in the e-magazine, Essential Lessons in Watercolor Painting. Private Collection

“When beginning artists come to me and tell me that they want to learn to paint, I tell them the very first thing they must do is learn how to draw. Drawing is absolutely essential to becoming a successful artist. (Agree with this? Tweet it!) So draw as much as you can, especially from life! Take a small sketchbook with you everywhere, and sketch everyday observations–your family, the dogs running at the park, the people in the waiting area at the dentist’s office, or the clutter on your kitchen table. Your sketchbook will become your daily journal, and bring you up the learning curve to becoming an artist faster than any other means. Drawing from life will hone your eye for proportion, perspective, composition, shape, line and value, and give you a greater understanding how form is described by light.”

Great advice! Whyte added that she tells her students that they need three things to become accomplished artists:

1. Something to say
2. The ability to say it
3. The courage to do it

I couldn’t agree more. If you’re inspired by Whyte’s paintings, learn how to paint from her with this special offer:Watercolor Portraits of the South with Mary Whyte is included in North Light Shop’s 50% off sale (scroll down for an extra 10% off coupon, plus free shipping details).  As a special bonus, watch the above video coverage on Whyte and her story-filled portrait paintings. It’s from one of my favorite TV shows, CBS Sunday Morning.


Cherie Haas, online editor
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