From must-haves to need-nots

A creative process explained in Kasha Ritter’s “The Need-Not Artist.”


In her lushly illustrated new book, “The Need-Not Artist,” Island author Kasha Ritter provides bite-size tidbits about how to be a successful artist. She fills the handsome work with personal stories, descriptions of her artistic process, and supportive pep talks sprinkled with wise advice.

Ritter opens by relating how her kitty, Lola, knocked ink onto canvas and taught her something essential about painting:

“I was sitting there, considering how exactly to use the ink, when she landed and shifted the dynamic in an instant. In shock, I desperately grabbed the jar’s eyedroppers to pull off the ink and put it back in its bottle. Reacting with urgency removed all thought and allowed possibility to show up. As I suctioned off the ink, the colors moved together to form what looked like a flower petal. This was my classic aha moment. I thought I needed to be careful, focused, and deliberate, but what I really needed was to be carefree, relaxed, and casual.”

This sense of loosening up rather than bearing down is essential to Ritter’s approach to art and resonates throughout “The Need-Not Artist.”

Writing from a personal perspective likewise makes the book approachable, such as when she describes the profound importance art has played in her life “because of its ability to transform the person I believed myself to be. It has been a lifeline and a touchstone, reminding me of my basic truths. Art called upon the qualities I naturally contain, while also expecting me to figure out a way to do it better so that I could be better.”

Ritter also introduces her “need-not” theme. “Life is full of instructions, telling us what we need before we do something. ‘You need your coat, you’re going to get cold,’ or ‘You need to be careful, you’re making a mess.’ But maybe you like the cold and want to make a mess.” She continues, “This book will reframe some of those must-needed ideas into need-nots. Art has taught me I needed-not what I thought; I already had what I needed … It has the ability to take what you naturally are and create from the place of who you have always been.”

With an opening like this, you are eager to jump in. Her chapters debunk some possible misguided beliefs about what is necessary to be an artist. Each begins with two examples of her artwork. Ritter writes about their subject matter, how she created the images, and their relevance to her life. She then provides a number of simple steps related to the chapter’s theme and, finally, a checklist of “need nots.”

In Chapter 1, “Talent: Not an Ability Gifted to a Few,” Ritter tells us that what you need is practice, which builds the craved-for talent. How you gain the experience is unique to each artist, whether watching videos, reading books, taking classes, or trial and error. She suggests envisioning your future talent by identifying a current skill that is effortless now but took work to acquire. Of her small, immediate steps, Ritter suggests drawing everywhere and constantly, not just when making your art but on letters, grocery lists, and the like. And of the need-not checklist, she reminds us that you “need-not” doubt nor change who you are, but allow your creativity to shift who you know yourself to be.

In Chapter 2, Ritter shares practical advice on where to find and how to use time creatively, ranging from slipping it seamlessly into your schedule in bite-size chunks to streamlining your art-making steps, explaining her own as an example.

Chapter 3 explains that extra support from others is not as necessary as you think. “The problem is, Our dream may not resonate with them. Self-support is where you find your validation … Being afraid is not a signal to stop, but to take action … Eliminate the fear and see your artwork come to life.”

Ritter also tackles subjects such as learning to summon your own innate inspiration when you need it, igniting your intuition, and building confidence, dissecting two of her own paintings — one full of solid decisions and another made with many hesitations, and explaining you “need-not” certainty in every aspect of your creation process.

In her sage advice, Ritter addresses practical information, such as how to manage your business, particularly about cutting out the middleman and marketing your art. She describes the nitty-gritty information on her online platform, how she uses her website and her social media approach.

The last two chapters are also essential for your progression as a creative person, regardless of your expressive form. The penultimate one is about defining your success, where she insists, “Your opinion of your work is what defines success.”

Finally, Ritter exhorts us to go forth, create, and share our vision. In this way, although written for those in the visual arts, in truth, “The Need-Not Artist” is an inspiration to everyone involved in any expressive endeavor: “Giving ourselves permission to have a relationship with art adds a depth to our humanness. The act of creating is incredibly important in life. It’s a way of communicating. It’s a way of discussing things that sometimes are difficult to say. It’s a way of expressing your truth so others can understand it. It’s an intelligent energy that changes lives. Let it change yours.”

“The Need-Not Artist,” by Kasha Ritter, $19.99. Available at Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books.