A short walk through my intuitive art process

A short walk through my intuitive art process + a free ebook with instructions if you'd like to try it yourself

To introduce you to my intuitive art process, I’d like to take you on a short walk through the process of a painting.

I’m a self-taught artist, so the techniques I use are made up, experimental or accidental.  It’s a very free way to make art, without the pressure of an intended outcome.

Technically, as an untrained artist I don’t know the “right” way to make art, so it follows that I can’t get it “wrong” either. There’s so much freedom in that.

I’m not a fan of perfection in any part of my life.  I believe that imperfections reveals character and interest. To me, this is true of people, trees, and ART, and a whole lot of other things that I won’t bother listing now.

The painting below is called Mermaid Tears.  It’s a 50 x 40cms intuitive mixed media painting on a stretched canvas from ETH Canvas.

Mermaid Tears - intuitive mixed media painting in progress
A few shots of the various stages of this painting.

A short walk through my process

I work with acrylic paint, a very forgiving and fast drying medium that suits the way I paint, and is non-toxic (and doesn’t involve toxic chemicals to clean the brushes, just good old soap and water).  

I start my work with paint, various colours, either what’s already on my palette, or I choose a colour I’m feeling particularly attracted to at that moment.  

The beginning of a painting is loose and free.  The point is just to cover the white on the canvas, and play around with the colour.  I like to mess around with my hands, chopsticks, brushes, trowels or a piece of cloth.  

Once the first layer is down, I give the painting a break to allow the paint to dry.  But because there are no rules, sometimes I just carry on with the next layer and let the colours mix on the canvas.

After the first few layers, and once there’s colour all over the canvas, I often see something in the painting that informs me of the direction that the painting would like to take.  Sometimes I see a shape of someone or something there. At other times it’s just a feeling, rather than a seeing, that there is face or figure there that would like to be teased out of the colour and be born onto the canvas.

I use a Pitt oil-based pencil, oil pastel, paint or drawing ink to form lines around the shape I’ve seen or the face or figure that wants to be revealed.  Sometimes it’s just a pair of eyes (or more than one pair) that I find peering out at me from the canvas.  Sometimes I see the  shadow of an ear, or a tail, or see some legs or wings that form the starting point of a figure in the painting.

Once the painting has its direction (or theme), it work within a process of adding and subtracting from the painting with paint and the other media I like to use.  During this part I don’t think about what I am doing, but rather feel my way into the colour and line and symbols that reveal the complete story of the painting.

A painting lets me know when it is finished.  The energetic balance of the painting feels right and the message is clear.  If there’s a part of the painting that doesn’t feel right, I paint over it.  If there’s only a tiny corner of what I’ve done that feels right, I keep that and paint over the rest.  Sometimes that means working on the same piece for years, but in the case of the painting shown here, I finished it over the period of a few days.

I work on a number of paintings at any given time, rotating through them and spending as long as I feel I want to on each one.  Sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes 1/2 an hour, eventually I finish them all.

Mermaid Tears - original mixed media painting by Tracy Algar
The finished artwork.

My environment inspires me

Mermaid Tears is one of a number of mermaid paintings that I have painted since moving to the beautiful Overberg region of South Africa.  It’s also called the Whale Coast, because it’s one of the best places in the world for land-based whale watching.

As you can imagine, whales feature prominently in local news and interests, and being in this environment has inspired me to paint more ocean themed work, and the mermaids that feature heavily in my internal symbolism.

What mermaids symbolise to me

I see mermaids as protectors and messengers of the oceans, from the depths of the seas and the depths of my soul.  They bring messages to me in my paintings about the state of the oceans, and the state of my own watery depths. Mermaids remind me to care about the life in our seas, and the life in my soul. They remind me to go back into my deep places to find my sacred calling and intuitive gifts.

Would you like to learn more about intuitive art and try it for yourself?

I have put together a FREE ebook outlining the fundamentals of my process, what you’ll need to try it out for yourself, and a set of prompts to help you get started, follow through, and complete your artworks.  Go here to download your copy.

A short walk through my intuitive art process + a free ebook download with instructions so you can give it a try

Sketchbook timeline

Sketchbook Timeline - Tracy Algar

Looking back over some of the sketchbooks from the first few years of my artistic endeavours, I have pieced together a timeline of how the drawings represented each stage I was going through on my personal journey of transformation.

(You can read more about the timeline of how I started making art for the first time in my forties here.)

Rivierzicht sketchbook by Tracy Algar
Once I started drawing, I took a sketchbook, pencils, pens and watercolour paints everywhere with me.
I made a decision to love my body the way it was and started dancing again.
Great Aunt Zilla 2, graphite
I explored my family history, especially the women, who’s stories are not always told.  And found inspiration there… and in the wonderful book Woman Who Run With The Wolves.
Dark dancer
I danced some more.
I explored myth and story, the world’s and my own.
the wolf without a voice
I cried and howled at the moon.
I was feeling overwhelmed by city life and always being plugged into something.
I felt overwhelmed by the pressures of city living and drew my way through it.
And I had a sinking feeling that I couldnt shake.
I explored my depths and rocked the sad parts, soothed the scared parts, heard the wailing ghosts on the wind.
I made a decision that I wanted a simpler life.
I made a conscious choice to change the way I lived and interacted with the world.
And chose a life closer to nature...
While I waited to see how my new life would become real, sometimes I pulled my hat down over my eyes to block the world out.
Sometimes I pulled my hat down over my eyes to block the world out.
At other times I went to the park to lie under trees and draw seed pods.
At other times I went to the park to lie under trees and draw seed pods.
And starting a small vegetable garden was very satisfying to my soul.
Then I started a small vegetable garden and dreamed of a bigger one.

That was a few years ago and things have changed.  I have a bigger vegetable garden, and I’ve escaped the city.  I attribute my ability to change my life to my creativity, once dormant, now raging like a torrent.  I am more able to see opportunities for what they are.  Rather than obstacles too big to face, each difficulty along the path is a lesson.  Endings and beginnings.  Each change I make in my life, a daily and continuous process, is an opportunity to grow and move into my power.  To make good conscious choices for myself, to trust my intuition, and to have a meaning-filled life.

Sketchbook Timeline - Tracy Algar

How I became an artist

How I became an artist by Tracy Algar

My story...

I started painting in December 2012 at the age of 41.  Since then I have become a full-time artist and have sold my art to collectors around the world.

But I came to art along a winding route.

I had a creative childhood.

My mother taught me crafts like jewellery making and macrame, and I learned needlework at school.  In the 80s, when I was a teenager, I collected jacaranda pods, bought some enamel paint and made some bright, bold and BIG earrings that I sold at the Windhoek Saturday Morning Market.  It was the first time I sold my handmade work and it was a very good feeling.  

But once I got into my last year at school, and then in the years that followed, there wasn’t much creativity happening.

I began to work in the travel industry.

Mauritius in the 90s
Mauritius, early 90's
Goats on a farm near Kimberley, South Africa 1994
Playing with goats on a farm near Kimberley, South Africa 1994

Years passed… jobs changed… I moved from Windhoek, to Cape Town, to London, to Cape Town, to London, to Cape Town…

Back in South Africa in 2008, I had a small part-time job blogging gig for two green lifestyle websites. I’d just landed back in Cape Town after thirteen years in England and I connected with a few local green lifestyle bloggers to get to know some people doing similar work to me. I followed their blogs and entered their giveaways, and there was this one time that I got very, very lucky.

I won two sessions with life coach and Passion test facilitator Russel Brownlee.

Russel guided me through making a series of lists and comparing each thing on the list to each other. After the first session I was blown away.  I was starting to figure out what I really wanted to do, and it was unexpected and scary. As the second session ended I had a map for the different life than the life that I was living.  Very different.

The thing that featured at the top of my list was that I wanted to make a living making art.

A shocker, yes! But I could see a path appearing in front of me and I stepped out on it with determination and enthusiasm.

I had some impossible dreams that were starting to look possible.

I began reading Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, my second attempt at reading it. The first time round about fifteen years previously I had been put off by the first chapter and given up. This time I was hooked… I finally understood and consciously embraced the importance of creativity in my life. I learned about setting boundaries and doing important work for myself.

Over two or three years, I made a few changes:

  • joined an evening class to learn to draw,
  • turned my hair into dreadlocks,
  • started to paint  and
  • opened an Etsy shop.
Getting dreadlocks was a statement to the world that I was finished conforming to other peoples ideas of who I was.
green(wo)man by Tracy Algar
Green(wo)man was the very first painting I sold on Etsy in 2013
to an art collector in the USA.
Ink & Watercolour workshop with Janet Botes in 2013.

When I started making choices in the direction of my dream, I began to notice synchronicity all around…

  • I started meeting artists everywhere!
  • Collectors were finding and buying my art from my Etsy shop
  • I was offered free studio space to work in
  • I was offered exhibition space at The Millstone Farmstall & Cafe
  • I was given all manner of reclaimed things to paint onunfinished school woodwork projects, old shelves, pieces of wood…  etc…
  • I was offered a home on a farm, close enough to a popular tourist route for me to sell me art at local art markets and festivals.  It is also close enough to the nearest village to allow easy access to the post office for me to post my art to buyers.
millstone market 2013
2013 Millstone Sunday Market, Cape Town
Millstone Farmstall, Cape Town. Art by Tracy Algar.
Exhibition space at The Millstone, Cape Town 2014
Stanford Street Festival, South Africa 2014
Blue Moon Farm
This was where I lived at Blue Moon Farm from 2014 - 2017.

 Over the past year I have embraced country living in the Overberg.  Wonderful people continue to come into my life and help me along my artist’s path.  It’s not always easy, change is uncomfortable and there is uncertainty in any new pursuit.  Life is quieter and less demanding here on the farm, I have more time to paint and  I have adjusted my lifestyle to fit my income (which is also not easy, but definitely worth it).  I love being an artist! 

Here’s something to ask yourself every time you have an important decision to make:

“Will this decision take my life in the direction of my passions? Or not?”

2015 - 2018 update:

In 2015 I began exhibiting some of my work in local exhibitions. This is some of my work at Stanford Harvest.
Hermanus Art In The Park, 2015
Mooiloop TV on Sanette du Toit's stoep in Stanford
I felt officially one of the Stanford artists after appearing on Mooiloop TV's feature on Stanford artists in April 2016.
Stanford River Talk Article Tracy Algar
I started hosting pop-up gallery exhibitions at Blue Moon Farm and was in the local magazine, Stanford River Talk.
Works in progress at Moon & Bird Studio intuitive art workshop
In 2016 I taught my first intuitive art workshop at Blue Moon Farm. They have been successful and I have had students from as far away as the Northern Cape and Cape Town.
Mother Nature exhibition, Stanford 2016
Mother Nature Exhibition, Stanford 2016
Tracy Algar | self-taught intuitive mixed media painter
Towards the end of 2016, I cut off the dreadlocks.
Stanford December 2016, selling art on a fence with a friend.
Altered Book Journal Challenge
I created my first intuitive art challenge in 2017.
Moon & Bird Studio on Bagatelle Farm 2017
My home and studio from 2017 - 2018
The NEW Moon & Bird Gallery
Coming soon... Moon & Bird studio & gallery IN Stanford.
How I became an artist by Tracy Algar
How I became an artist by Tracy Algar


Beginnings... the most important part of the work

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” — Plato

I saw this quote on Twitter (via @MaggiePamplin and @predictfilm) and it struck a chord with me.  Beginnings have featured prominently in my personal and creative life over the past few years and I have taken big changes of direction that have been scary, exciting and ultimately massive opportunities for growth in many areas. Beginnings are scary, so they can put us off before we even begin.  Each painting starts as a blank canvas, I have no idea of where it will stop, how it will grow, or who will look at it.  The most important thing is to start.  Put the brush on the canvas and make a mark.  Everything else will flow from there… Here are the beginnings and the end results of some of my work:
Dark Bird by Tracy Algar
Dark Bird – mixed media on masonite
Strikes Twice by Tracy Algar
Strikes Twice – mixed media on masonite – FOR SALE
Flowerhead 6 by Tracy Algar
Flowerhead 6 – mixed media on masonite – available as a print in my online shop
Rainking by Tracy Algar
Rainking – mixed media on watercolour paper
Beginnings... the most important part of the work