How To Find Your Own Authentic Painting Style

authentic painting style graphic

I had a bit of a breakthrough yesterday!

Over the last few years I’ve had a big problem with my paintings. I’ve been trying to learn to paint like other people – people whose paintings I admire immensely. But it just leads to complete frustration. I’ve learned so much but I can’t paint like them and I probably will never be able to. Why? Because I’m NOT them. This might seem obvious to some of you but I’ve been trying so hard and I always felt like I was failing. I couldn’t find a ‘style’ that fit.

Yesterday the solution finally clicked into place. I had been working on a small canvas and I just got to a point where I was so stuck that I didn’t feel like I could finish it because I didn’t really know how to. I was trying to paint a vase of flowers in a semi-realistic style. This, despite knowing that I don’t do realism. My favourite type of art is abstract, and I enjoy doing that. I wasn’t enjoying this semi-real style at all and that’s because my skills don’t match up, which led to me feeling really unhappy with it.

(I’m actually embarrassed to post this photo, I dislike it that much! Plus the lighting’s bad and the photo is grainy…)

2015-04-14 00.50.45a

My daughter observed that I didn’t care about it enough, and she was right!

So I painted over it, and had a complete rethink. I sketched out what I wanted to paint on paper. This is something I never normally do.

sketch vase flowers

Then I sketched the same thing out onto the canvas. And then I knew. All of a sudden I knew that THIS painting would be ALL ME. This painting would be in my own style. This painting used a simplified but visually-similar style (the doodled flowers) to the very first canvas I ever painted (below), which lives on top of a bookcase here at TFT HQ.

believe in yourself wm

My first ever canvas painting, not for sale.

The new painting is not fancy or overly technical, but it’s bright and bold and pleasing to the eye, and most importantly, it’s authentically ME. It combines zendoodling (my first love) with acrylic painting.

vase flowers small wm

Summer Blooms #1: in my Etsy store now

I’ve come full-circle. I’ve found my own style, by going right back to the beginning. This is very satisfying! No longer will I try to paint like other people. From now on I am only going to paint in my own Zoe Ford style. Because nobody does Zoe Ford style like I do Zoe Ford style 😉

vase flowers detail wm

Summer Blooms #1: detail

I think for my next one I will put some more texture into the background, but I’m happy enough without it. I also really like the flat 2D style; it reminds me of illustrations you might find in childrens’ books.

If you’re learning to paint and struggling to find your own style, I highly recommend going back to the first paintings you tried, the first one you did that made you feel so happy. I’m confident that your own unique style can be found there.

Have you had any breakthroughs lately, either in your art or your life?

Zoe Sig

Why I Love To-Do Lists

why i love to do lists

{This is List #2 in my ‘52 Lists‘ series}

While browsing Instagram the other day, I found a new listing challenge set up by Instagram user @TheResetGirl. She has a free list-prompt challenge called #ListersGottaList and it looked like my kind of thing so I decided to join in.

I quickly whipped up a new hand-bound mini journal out of 140lb watercolour paper and adapted the first prompt slightly to suit me better, then got to work, and here is the first page:

I’ve briefly set out why I love to-do lists there, but to expand slightly: The Aspie in me appreciates the list because although I can be hyper-focused if the task is something I’m really interested in, the mundane stuff doesn’t really get thought about, so if it’s not on my list, it’s unlikely to get done without me being prompted by someone or something. This is due to impaired executive functioning which is common in those of us with Aspergers / Autism Spectrum Disorders:

“Executive function… is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions and monitoring of actions.” – Cynthia Kim, Musings Of An Aspie

Executive function can cover many things, but one of the things we might find difficult is organising our daily schedules and remembering things, and that’s where to-do lists come in! And to-do lists don’t have to be boring, either… If you saw any of my Documented Life Project posts in 2014 you’ll have seen that I’ve been to-do-listing for quite a while, and combining it with art journaling. For 2015 I decided to separate the to-do lists from the art journal and have a dedicated Moleskine book just for the lists.

As you can see, I have dividers for each month and that’s where I put tasks that I’d like to get done some time *that month*. Then the daily to-do lists follow. I don’t make these lists every single day. In fact you can see in the following photo that I skipped a whole week! Sometimes that happens (usually when I’m not feeling well enough to do much other than drag myself out of bed).

My to-do list book helps me to develop habits. Each day there’s an item that says “make bed”. I always make my bed and this no longer needs to be included in my lists because it’s become an ingrained habit now. But it didn’t used to be and that’s why it got put in there in the first place. I decided to keep it there because that way I can always guarantee at least one thing will get checked off each day 😀 Also it reinforces the habit because due to the impaired executive functioning, I could still forget to do it.

It’s a rare day when everything gets checked off, but I feel a sense of accomplishment when half or more of it is complete. And that’s important. I might not function quite so well as other non-spectrum adults but I can still have pride in myself for what I do get done. And that’s all down to the mighty to-do list.

Do you make to-do lists too?

Zoe Sig

November Art Journal Pages

I’ve just been flicking through my junque journal and realised I’m close to finishing it, and will soon need to build a new one. However, I am miles away from being finished showing you the pages! I started working on this journal in October 2014, and I’m only just now showing you the November pages!

choose happy art journal page

Reading through, you can see I was starting to get really concerned about my health and this was about the time I was gearing up to go and see the doctor.

100years art journal page

The tiredness was a really big clue to my illness (but I didn’t know that until months later). I was, and still am, falling asleep a lot during the day for an hour or two, sometimes more, every day. It feels very much like my eyelids are made of lead and I get really freezing cold and then it feels like my body is starting to shut down and I have to sleep. I wish I had known I had Hypothyroidism before it got this bad!

barriers art journal page

Language barriers: Five of my cousins are French and don’t speak much English, while I’m English and don’t speak much French. So that makes things quite interesting when we try to converse on Facebook. Thank goodness for Google Translate. But that’s no good at slang or getting across true meanings, and on the occasion I journaled about above, I had to enlist the help of a French-Canadian friend! Thank goodness for her, because I got really stuck and it got embarrassing.

silly cat art journal page

Silly cat: Our cat, Oscar, is 3 years old and very, very silly. He does such funny things! I’m so glad we rescued him from the shelter because he has brought untold amounts of joy to my life. We had cats when I was a little kid, but then I wasn’t able to have one again until Oscar. From now on, I will always have a cat.

At least one.

Preferably two. Or more.

I’m well on my way to being a cat lady and I don’t care.

clarity art journal page

I really like the lettering on this page (above). Someone told me something once, and her words are the single-most important words anyone has ever said to me. They brought such amazing clarity and fundamentally changed me as a person. Sometimes I can get quite worried about specific things, but then I remember her words and it really does make me feel relieved of a heavy burden.

quote art journal page

Here’s a page (above) with a quote by author Stephen King that I really love:

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.” Tweet this quote!

doodles art journal page

Lots of personal stuff blurred out in the spread above. But the best part is where my daughter told me she had witnessed me laughing in my sleep 😀 She used to do that herself when she was a baby (and grew to walk, talk and watch TV in her sleep…but that’s a whole other story!)

zendoodle art journal pagesAnd here we have the last page spread of the month and the beginning of December. Behind the ’04’ is a flap, and underneath it are our tickets from that day when we took ourselves off to the zoo for my husband’s birthday. I swear, winter is the very best time to go to the zoo because there’s hardly anyone else there and it’s like you have the whole place all to yourself (well…apart from the animals!)

I have to say…I love that zendoodle on the left there.

Come back soon for December’s pages!

Zoe Sig


On Health & Art

zendoodle zoe ford

A month ago I received the news that I have autoimmune thyroiditis which has caused hypothyroidism. Basically, this means that for a number of years, my immune system has been attacking my thyroid gland and I’ve gone into thyroid failure. Since diagnosis, I’ve been taking medication to replace the lost thyroxine hormone which is responsible for keeping your metabolism on an even keel. Unfortunately, it’s not working yet, so I will be going back for more blood tests in a couple of weeks and then my doctor can up the dose.

Cerulean Flow WM 539 x 756

‘Cerulean Flow’, acrylics on canvas board. AVAILABLE at

Really, this news has been an eye-opener for me. I’ve had a ridiculous number of seemingly minor symptoms for years now. None of them seemed connected and on their own they didn’t seem worth wasting the doctor’s time over. However, I did take a list of symptoms to him in 2011, where he diagnosed me as having severe depression. It turns out, depression is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism. What that doctor should have done, perhaps, was to have taken blood tests. But he didn’t and I struggled on for another 3 years, with things gradually getting worse.

2015-02-23 02.36.18 pink wm

During 2014, my symptoms started getting worse a lot faster. I thought I might be going through premature menopause and went to my (new) doctor about it. He agreed that might be what was happening and ordered blood tests, which ruled out menopause and instead showed the thyroid failure. More blood tests followed which confirmed it.

'Tribal Dance', acrylics on canvas. Available as prints at

‘Tribal Dance’, acrylics on canvas. Available as prints at

The treatment for hypothyroidism is supposedly quick and easy (although life-long), but I’m not finding that to be the case at all. I would really like an immediate fix. But that’s not going to happen. The Thyroid UK website lists 111 possible symptoms, and of those I can check off 75. The most bothersome for me are:

  • extreme fatigue (I have to nap a lot)
  • feeling so cold (deep in my bones, which makes me sleep, like hypothermia setting in)
  • and yet, insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep at night)
  • mental slowing. I get confused and I struggle to English!! 😉
  • multiple pains (feet, legs, hips, back, arms, wrists)
  • wanting to be solitary
  • not wanting to go anywhere
  • extremely dry and itchy skin
  • severe depression / dark thoughts
  • oh, and hello there, extra 75lbs in weight! It’s exhausting carrying that around.

top floor treasures zendoodle

You know what has happened though? My artsy mojo has come back. All of these images are things I’ve done in the last couple of weeks and there’s more not shown here. I can’t remember when I was last this productive. It’s like a fire burning inside, an urgent need to create. I’ve missed that.

art journal zendoodle zoe ford

Hypothyroidism affects 1 in 50 women and 1 in 1000 men. If any of this sounds familiar, go and see your doctor.

*Disclaimer: as mentioned above, there are an awful lot of symptoms that can affect different people in different ways and I can only write about it in the way it affects me. I don’t claim to know how it affects other people.

Zoe Sig

15 Books to Inspire Creativity

15 Books to Inspire Creativity

{This is List #1 in my ‘52 Lists‘ series}

Here are 15 of my favourite creative books, listed as they appear in the photo. All of them inspire me in different ways and if I’m having one of those days where I just can’t seem to get started, I know I can pick up any one of these books to get the creative spark I need.

1. ‘The Mindfulness Colouring Book‘ by Emma Farrarons

2. ‘Everything Is Going To Be OK‘ by Chronicle Books

3. ‘Wreck This Journal‘ by Keri Smith

4. ‘Art Doodle Love – A Journal of Self Discovery‘ by Dawn DeVries Sokol

5. ‘Cultivating Your Creative Life‘ by Alena Hennessy

6. ‘Finish This Book‘ by Keri Smith

7. ‘Listography – Your Life In Lists‘ by Lisa Nola

8. ‘Print & Pattern‘ By Bowie Style

9. ‘No Excuses Art Journaling‘ By Gina Rossi Armfield

10. ‘20 Ways To Draw A Tulip‘ by Lisa Congdon

11. ‘Taking Flight‘ by Kelly Rae Roberts

12. ‘Carve Stamp Play‘ by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer

13. ‘Journal Spilling‘ by Diana Trout

14. ‘Paint Mojo‘ by Tracy Verdugo

15. ‘Creative Doodling & Beyond‘ by Stephanie Corfee

Do you own any of these books? Are you tempted to read any of them? Which ones do you think would be your favourites? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


Zoe Sig