Beginning an Art Journey

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Since starting this website, it’s been my goal to post a piece of artwork for all the places I’ve been in the world. A good, unique compliment to a travel blog I thought. However I’ve found that one of the hardest parts of making artwork, or doing any sort of project, is simply beginning it.

I’ve been wanting to put up some really awesome, completely polished, artwork on my blog here, but it takes a long time to do and build up a great portfolio. And even though I’m not a beginner, I feel my skill level just isn’t there yet.

I recently said to myself, I have to stop putting this off. This is a blog after all, why not make it also a journey of artwork overtime? I love to travel and explore different places, and I also love to draw, paint, and explore different styles of art. Pencil & paper, watercolor, oil paints, digital, there’s so many mediums to work in! So along with improving my photography as I get opportunities to travel, I’ll also be working on improving my artwork.

It will be a travel blog full of Art Exploration as well World Exploration 🙂


First Step: Just Start DOING!

My paintings are far from perfect, I’ve still got a lot to learn, but the only way to improve is to simply start DOING. Do you ever feel the same way about something? Like you keep putting it off waiting for this or that to happen, or to improve first before posting your first photograph, blog post, drawing, or whatever it may be. Time goes on, and it never seems to happen :/

We need to stop procrastinating or only thinking about doing it, and just go and DO it! If only we were doing something during that half an hour we spent musing it over today, we’d then be half an hour into creating that piece of art, or writing that story, or whatever goal you have your mind set on!

  • Don’t be afraid of messing up. You will eventually get better! And we learn through our mistakes.
  • Don’t be afraid of not being the best either. Even great master artists started somewhere-and I guarantee those first forays were not pretty! When I look at my art from years ago that I thought was…yeah, it wasn’t ;p
  • Create a feasible goal for yourself. My goal right now is to create a new piece of art  to put on this website each month. It’s long enough to have time to be able to do my best on it. And I’m putting it here in writing to hold myself accountable.

So figure out your goal, write it down, and just start it! Even if you have just 15mins a day! Small goals and accomplishments go a long way.


Second Step: Share & Learn

If you need some help, there are tons of free YouTube tutorials out there! There are hundreds of how-to draw books, and even low cost subscriptions to learning art online. I went to college for art for 2 years, had a few jobs in the art field, still do, and yet I feel as though I can never learn enough and never stop improving. So if you feel you need to, dedicate some time to learning more.

Don’t let the learning time overtake your own personal art time however. You can fall into a trap of only doing lessons, tutorials, and never progressing on your own artwork. You learn by doing. Sometimes you just need to put in a lot of time practicing and drawing the things you want to improve.

Also join an art group or community. There are many Facebook groups out there, and forums online. Get feedback from other artists who will give you good honest critiques! Feel free to message me anytime if you ever have any art related questions, I’ll help if I can! 🙂


Third Step: Never give up!

I’ve gotten to those road blocks, and sometimes you do just need a break and come back with fresh eyes and mindset. If you really want something, keep at it no matter what. Because in time you WILL improve and you WILL see results.

Never tell yourself “I can’t” or that you’re not good enough. Those are lies that just bring us down! Start telling yourself the truth: “I can!” I will get better. I will complete this painting, and I’ll go on to make more that are even better in the future!



My Most Recent Oil Paintings

Oil Painting Jepii Mici Trail, Romania by Maura Elko
Hiking up Jepii Mici Trail, in Busteni Romania. Over the years I had the opportunity to visit Romania several times. My favorite place there was in the Carpathian Mountains, Prahova Valley to be exact, in the little town of Busteni. The forests, cool mountain streams, and amazing hiking trails there put a complete love for mountains and hiking into me. Forget going to the beach for vacation anymore…I’m hooked on mountain climbing!


Using Photo References

While traveling I would love more than anything to just be able to just sit down on site each time and draw or paint! The reality is however I only have a limited amount of time in the places I go, so photography it is while there. Because of that, I’ve gathered hundreds of great photo references to choose to paint from. Since these are specific places, I want to stay pretty close to the reference itself. In time I hope to learn to give the paintings more artistic flair, that sort of magical look you get when you see a painting vs. a photograph.

And just a note, as the subject does come up from time to time: I do not feel using a photo is cheating in any way. Most great artists all use photo references, that’s how their pieces look so realistic. All the photo refs I use are also my own as well, I don’t trace or copy. So most of my work, unless I was at a place where I was able to do a “plein air”, are from my own photos.


Work in Progress Oil Painting
Smokey Mountains, North Carolina/Tennessee. This was from a beautiful stream we saw on the side of Newfoundland Gap Road while driving up the mountain pass. Shown here is a work in progress of an oil painting. I start with a light drawing, so I get the overall composition set, knowing where about to place things. Then slowly build up the paint and colors. Since it takes a long time for oil paint to draw, you sometimes have to wait a week inbetween steps. This painting, and others, took me several weeks, or months as a result. I didn’t use any drying mediums.


Blue Ridge Parkway Oil Painting by Maura Elko
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. On top of the mountains driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway before getting to Ashville, the views are stunning all around. Mountains as far as your eye can see!


Colored Pencil Drawings

I used to use colored pencils when I was younger, and never really cared for the results. I was determined to try them again however, since they’re so easy to transport and don’t make a mess! So here are a few trials I did, not the greatest, but I learned that landscapes are really tough. They’re so detailed, you have to work a lot to fill in a whole drawing. And even with 48 colors, I find I’m still lacking colors I need, so I have to exaggerate and use different colors than I normally would, which is fine, but it takes a lot of practice to get right.


Colored Pencil Landscape Drawings, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley
The Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley


Wildlife however, is a lot easier!


Colored Pencil, Grand Canyon Ground Squirrel artwork by Maura Elko
Grand Canyon, Ground Squirrel.

En Plein Air

As I mentioned, most of my artwork is from photos, but when I get the chance I do like to practice drawing from life. “En Plein Air” is a French term for simply painting outdoors, or on site. Since I don’t have the time to spend a few hours drawing on site while traveling, I’m lucky that there are some beautiful parks nearby where I live where I can just sit, relax, and draw!

Lackawanna State Park Colored Pencil Drawing
Lackawanna State Park Lake at Sunset. This is an experiment I did with colored pencils on black paper.



sketchbook drawing
Covered Bridge at a local park. I highly recommend getting a small sketchbook like this if you’re into drawing. It’s about 4×6″ in size so you have no excuses not to have it with you if you get an opportunity to draw! This was done with a ball point pen and a small set of gray scale markers.


These are the beginnings of my art journey. I hope you can be inspired to take a journey of your own, whether it be in art, writing, music, or anything you may be interested in.

Now get out there and start drawing! No matter what skill level you are, if you’re inspired or want to try it, just go for it! 🙂

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