Painting Constipation

I don’t know what else to call it. I have been painting every night and it has generally been going well up until Thursday night. You see I have had a painting in my mind that has been torturing me, It wants to get out. the first time I tried to do it I gave up after several goes and did a different piece (the one that now appears on the invite). This was a satisfying outcome, a way to turn a frustration around and a good way to move on from a piece that was refusing to evolve.

I tried the piece again on Thursday night. I tried it about five times before I had a meltdown and left it for the night. then I scrubbed the canvas the next day and tried again. to no avail! so I started a different painting on the same canvas (seeking the same success I had last time) and ended up with quite a lukewarm piece.

The techniques I am using are designed for speed as I can’t stand for long. they have evolved around my abilities and they are quite cool- enjoyable and flexible. The issue is that it is easy to scrub out a piece and start again. I work wet so that I have a large amount of flexibility in the creation of a piece. Sometimes I wonder if I am too quick to remove a piece or the germ of an idea without giving it a proper chance. It is already apparent that I have no ability to judge my own work, as evidenced by the fact that my most successful pieces are not the ones I feel comfortable in. I think my original version of this piece was probably the best, but I scrubbed it in a fit of pique.

So, how can I fix this? I think I have to let go of my fear of wasting canvas and let each version sit. give myself some time between creating it and judging it, at least until the next day. I need to do this, afterall, the piece that ended up on the invite was on the scratch out list – and that would have been a shame. I hated it the night I did it, then I slept on it, looked at it the next day, worked out what it needed, did it and now I find it very compelling.

I wonder how many other artists have a problem judging their own work?

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One thought on “Painting Constipation

  1. As far as I know, it’s not uncommon for an artist to lose the ability to ‘see’ what they have painted. In the painting studios way back when I was studying painting, it was common for one student-artist to say ‘Can you come look at my painting? I can’t see it any more.’

    Of course, because we were working together so much, we had a feel for what each student wanted to produce, and could comfortably provide reassurance or advice. Working alone, it’s really, really difficult to get that kind of feedback.

    I worry that you may be tossing or scrubbing some nice work because it is not what you are trying to create. I know that ‘happy accidents’ that emerge when you are trying for something else are not exactly the rewarding experience that you seek to produce through skill. They can, however, provide you with nice looking objects, and ideas for new techniques and styles.

    I work on paper, and if I feel that a picture has failed, the paper can’t really be re-used as a clean surface, so my ‘dud’ drawings go into a review file. I have the luxury of being able to leave them for months before looking at them again, and I am often surprised at what I find in there. Sometimes I crop them and just frame the one exquisite flower. Soemtimes I notice that the watercolours have combined in a way that would be perfect on another subject I’ve been contemplating. Sometimes I wonder ‘Why the heck did I abandon this?’ as I can see nothing wrong with the picture at all.

    Getting too close to your work emotionally and psychologically can play tricks on your mind, for sure. Ideally, you’d be able to set paintings aside and not worry about them – or the potential waste of materials – until you could look at them again with fresh perspective.

    Perhaps an option for times when you are struggling physically or wrestling with creative overload, multiple small (even very small) works on the go at once might be. Not all of the pictures have to be great, you can set them aside for review. It’s relatively cheap, and might be an interesting way to experiment, if you record how you feel about a painting when you do it (Did it achieve your objective? Did it ‘work’? Is it an attractive picture?) then rate it again after a few weeks/months. Plus, really nice small works might translate readily into full-scale paintings.

    BTW – I love the line and light contrast in the painting on the latest exhibition invite. 🙂

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