The importance of drawing and multiple works at once: Shirley Woodson’s advice

Artist Shirley Woodson at her May artist talk.


Shirley Woodson has worked as an artist and arts educator in Detroit for some six decades, and to this day, she often is juggling a half dozen paintings in her studio.

Over the years, she has moved her paintings into angels, then water, and started painting shells in some of them. “The shell is a home,” she explained in a 2019 artist talk at the Norwest Gallery in Detroit.

Her work is in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which calls her a “trailblazer,” and the Studio Museum of Harlem, as well as corporate and private collections. Her brilliant colors, oranges, lime greens and Carribbean sky bright blues, burst forth in happy profusion. Check out more than a dozen of her paintings in this Pinterest collection  Or read about her in this Detroit News feature, which named her the Michiganian in 2021.

She leads the National Conference of Artists Michigan chapter, which in 2024 celebrates its 50th anniversary. And for years Woodson worked as an arts educator in Highland Park and Detroit. 

Her best advice to her 18 year old self?  Learn to draw better. “Drawing is essential. That’s your note taking. It’s your scales,” she said, answering my question.

Here are other insights from Shirley Woodson that could aid young artists:

  • Work on several paintings or pieces at once, all in the same medium. That allows movement from one piece to another, based on mood, attitude and more. “I paint many at a time. …Start another one and another one and then go back,” she told the Norwest Gallery guests.
  • Understand the art market, local and national. 
  • Seek opportunities to show and sell your work outside your home city. She told how she called up a curator and asked to be included in his show. Or land an artist residency somewhere new.
  • Give yourself time for contemplation of your work. “Seventy-five percent of the time is in the thinking and looking,” she said.

The History Makers has videos and information about Shirley Woodson’s perspectives and career. 

Woodson’s work and words of wisdom are enduring, and she’s clear that artists of color and female artists must continue to work and advocate for themselves. “You will always be overcoming barriers. … Knock it down. Take it away,” she said.

© Vickie Elmer, 2019 – 2024


  1. […] young artist to see who completes more work in the next two weeks. Work on several pieces at once, like artist Shirley Woodson.  Create work inspired by the world today, or imagine and create a better one.  “Write […]

Comments are closed.