I sometimes find myself standing in front of a painting thinking, “Are we over?”
A little like a relationship that is no longer working, with our art do we need to ask this question? Are there times we have to decide that a painting is not working and move on from it. Or can we persevere in the hope that it will come right in the end. This is another post about artistic process and some thoughts on tenacity vs moving on.
Making Large Moves
I’d like to share a recent experience. I had been working on a painting for about 12 weeks and frankly it was driving me nuts. I have recently begun working in a series so it was not the only piece of work I was concentrating on. I had another 6 pieces also in process which were going well. However, with this piece I really felt like I was getting nowhere. The painting had several versions, none of them particularly feeling satisfying to me. During the course of painting I had made several large moves, but none of them got me out of the frustrating, getting nowhere process I was in. I don’t have photos from all of the various iterations, but here are a few with some of the moves I made.
At this stage the piece had an emerging abstract landscape feel. I was aware of needing to do a lot of work to the design as there were quite number of areas I felt required development and resolution. The similar shapes along the top, the large dark that was drawing eye into the centre, too much saturated colour. However there was some good texture building and I felt optimistic of where it was heading at this point.
It felt like something interesting was beginning to emerge with more landscape forms although I was not convinced by the inclusion of a horizon line at this early stage as I felt it was constraining me and pushing me in a specific direction quite early on. I next felt the need to move the piece forward more significantly so I did this.
I had at this point decided to take a risk and make a big dramatic change by putting in a large orange shape. It felt different, fresh and something new. I liked the impact of the large shape and felt like I could resolve the design with the similarity of some the smaller blue and darker shapes along the bottom. But, some time later it wasn’t happening. I spent quite some time making alterations to the design wanting to increase the range of difference and contrast in the medium shapes but each move felt like it took me further away from a resolution. .
Next I included a large blue shape along the bottom but the darks still felt too similar and disconnected. By this point I was losing patience. I got out the sander and sanded the whole painting back which resulting in some interesting fresh marks and a very smooth board! I rotated the painting and had something new to respond to.
These last two images are my final versions of this piece. As you can see there was a lot more development but nothing that felt like a successful one. By this point I think I was getting completely lost in frustration and feeling increasingly like I was not going to resolve this painting, but would continue going around in circles.
It seemed like a good point to be asking the question am I done with this?
I’m all for sticking with things and seeing them through to completion, however I also know there comes a point where the energy invested is just not worth the outcome. I’d reached that point with this board. Time to move on. So, I completely “wrecked” what was there and this is now sitting in a corner of my studio until I have gotten over the break up. I’m not going back to it until I have completely different relationship with it otherwise I think the previously process might reemerge. So, we are officially on a break! I feel like I need to give it some time and space to move on in my process so that it doesn’t feel like returning to something I was struggling with. I think by giving myself enough distance it will feel fresher.
Sharing the learning
Here are some of the things that helped me while I was stuck with this painting.
Definitely not being over invested in any aspect of the work. Several times I made big and risky moves, even thought they didn’t lead to a resolution it helps to feel free to play spontaneously. See my previous post on Falling in Love too early for more on this.
Recognising this is only a painting. Getting into a struggle and a fight with the work is probably getting into a fight with myself as I’m the one doing the painting.
The painting isn’t winning nor am I losing. Holding on to the idea that the experience is one of learning can be self supporting. So I didn’t make a finished piece. I learnt a lot on the journey to where I am now.
Knowing when to take a break and that doing so is not about failure but a recognition of what the most helpful approach right now.
For now I shall continue to use it as a play board – wiping paint on it periodically just make interesting marks and maybe this will be one of those relationships were we do get back together and make it work…….
Any thoughts – is something that you have experienced as well? What do you do when you get stuck in your art making?
If you’d like to chat to me about art making come and visit me at Art in the Pen in Skipton 10th to 12th of August.
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