Last month, Matt Fussell from The Virtual Instructor wrote an excellent post on the topic of artistic frustration. I happened across it a few days ago, and I smiled as I read it, grateful that — for the moment, at least — I wasn’t in the throes of creative disappointment.
Oh, but what a difference a day makes!
On Wednesday evening, I grabbed a canvas panel and prepared to start a lovely winter scene. Truth be told, I don’t care much for winter, and our forecast was calling for snow to begin falling any time. But I’d been to the store. I was stocked up on food, popcorn, and art supplies, so I was ready to “settle in” and enjoy looking out the window. Snow is beautiful, I’ll admit that much.
I had a plan, or at least, a vision in mind.
I knew I wanted to create a wintry sky, and I planned to work mostly with blue, white, and umber. I mixed my paints, and oh, what an incredibly beautiful sky I created! I wish I’d photographed it — but I’m hoping in the future I’ll be able to recreate it. As you can deduce from what I’m saying, things didn’t go my way.
The scene was going to have distant mountains in the background — and those turned out fairly well — and then another range of rocky peaks closer to the viewer. Those didn’t turn out so well. I wiped them out, carefully preserving my chillingly gorgeous sky, and I tried again. Once again, I had problems. My colors were off. The mountain shapes were all wrong. I had light going in a dozen different directions.
Again, I wiped away the mountains — what power we artists have! — and saved the sky. Still relatively un-frustrated, I called it a night and headed for bed, planning to gain new inspiration the next morning.
Yes, the snow came during the night. Inspired anew, I kissed my husband good-bye as he headed off for work, and I turned my attention once again to my snowy vision, but instead of saving my winter sky, I decided to re-do the entire painting. I covered the canvas with a light gray and set to work again.
Soon I had another lovely winter sky, which was quickly followed by more disastrous mountains. That’s when the frustration started. I re-did the mountains several more times, and finally — at long last — I was happy with both my skies and the mountains.
Next came the trees. Except that my trees bore no resemblance whatsoever to trees. They looked like messy smears of bluish paint. I hadn’t thinned the paint enough, and it wouldn’t stick to the paint already on the canvas. Persistently, I kept at it, and gradually I had a whole forest of trees that actually didn’t look all that bad. You could tell, at least, that it was supposed to be a forest.
But then I tried putting in the snow-covered ground, trying to shape gentle hills, and let’s just say the whole picture went downhill really fast. After wiping the ground away and trying it again — and again — I just had a huge mess of mud. Do you know what snow looks like when it’s been tromped in repeatedly? A mess. That’s how my snow looked. It was not a pretty sight.
Definitely in the clutches of artistic frustration at that point, yep, I grabbed a rag and wiped it all away. Good-bye beautiful mountains! Farewell, incredible winter sky! So long to the whole awful painting.
Of course, I had no intention of giving up. I was determined to finish a painting of some sort, so I wiped, wiped, wiped, and started over. At this point, I was tired of blue, umber, and white — and the dull shades they make when mixed together.
Forget winter. Forget snow. I needed some warmth and color in my life!
The new painting was turning out better than I’d hoped, and then, at the last minute, I made a disastrous mistake. I wanted to make the water in the lake appear to have a little movement in it, and it all went wrong. I was almost in tears to see what I had done. But I persisted. I could never completely fix the mistake and go back to the serene, placid lake I had before, but I did what I could to salvage the painting.
Considering all I’d gone through, I was happy to walk away with this painting sitting on my easel. The photograph is awful — the painting actually looks much better in person — but even the poor-quality picture is a great improvement over the previous “winter scene” I’d struggled with.
It was time to quit, time to start dinner, time to forget about painting for the day. Most of all, it was time to relax and let my artistic frustration subside. Tomorrow will be another day, and maybe it will turn out better.
If you’d like to read Matt’s post, you’ll find it here: