Being a creative individual is a beautiful experience, except when it’s not, and when it’s not, it’s no fun at all.
In recent weeks, I’ve been through ups and downs with my painting. I’m trying new things, taking different approaches to the process of painting, and moving toward a looser style. While it’s an exciting time, it’s also a time that’s brought its share of frustration, many feelings of failure, and lots of unfinished paintings.
What to do? I wish I knew. That’s why I’m writing this post and sharing my disappointing paintings. Many of you are professional artists; many of you teach art or have taught in the past. Most of you have much more experience in art than I do. I need advice. I need a little guidance here because at times, I really don’t know how to deal with the problems I’m facing.
Most of the time I’m doing practice paintings. I work on specific things, I follow tutorials, and I try to go one step at a time, improving my skills as I gain new knowledge. Then, after a bit of practice, I try doing an original painting, one from a personal reference photo or from ideas in my head. Although I don’t expect my oil paintings to be perfect, I do expect them to show improvement. I think, most of all, I expect to see a finished painting at the end of the process.
Lately, that hasn’t been happening. Consider this — very unfinished — autumn scene:
I see possibilities within the painting, but I can’t get beyond that point. The scene is intended to be a wooded area surrounding a quiet lake. There is a rocky area near the trees on the left, as well as rocks and leaves strewn across the foreground. The right side of the painting is intended to be more leafy autumn trees. At the moment you can see only a rough sketch of shapes there.
When I began working on this painting, I was very pleased with how it was going. I especially liked the colors, and at first, I was getting lots of lights and shadows. But I had problems with the tree trunks and the rocks surrounding them. I had the trunks looking good, but the rocks were awful. I wiped them away. I manage to get the rocks looking good, but then I couldn’t get the tree trunks right. I wiped it all away again.
Time after time, I tried, and time after time, I failed to create the image I wanted. I can’t say how many times I started over, tried to fix the mistakes, and painted the left portion of the scene again. It became a hopeless ordeal. The more frustrated I became, the more impossible it was to paint the scene.
Finally, I set the painting aside.
Another failed painting with a similar story is this unfinished canvas:
Now, you might actually recognize this canvas. I recently posted an earlier photograph of it.
Again, I see possibilities in the painting. It’s a scene quite similar to the first , although instead of a quiet lake, this scene has more of a winding stream. I thought I had a very clear vision of what I wanted in this painting, but things didn’t work out. The darks seemed too dark, and then — somehow — I got carried away with leaves and obliterated the entire light areas of the sky. Frustrated by it all, yes, I wiped off the paint. I repainted the skies with a glowing white, but as with the first scene, I simply couldn’t get it together with painting. I gave up again. I wiped it off, leaving an orange canvas with a few splotches of shadows.
A third frustration is this canvas — which may look like some sort of weird abstraction but isn’t really anything at all.
This came about through experimentation, and it’s based on the idea of playing around with paints, making marks here and there with no conscious thought, and then stepping back to see what the lines and colors and shapes suggest.
I love looking at this canvas. From the start, I could see so many things it might want to be. I turned the canvas around and looked at it from a different perspective. I could see so many more things! No matter what direction I turn the canvas, I can see possibilities. The problem is I have no idea how to get from possibilities to painting. I haven’t got a clue where to begin, and so this brilliantly-colored canvas is just sitting near my easel, taunting me.
So, what do I do? Where do I go from here? Do I just set these paintings aside for a time? What’s the best thing to do when frustration mounts? Keep trying no matter how long it takes? Or is it better to step away from the easel, put the paints away, and come back another time?
Do I just chalk these unfinished paintings up to learning experiences and start fresh? Or do I continue to pursue the possibilities I still see in these unfinished paintings?
What advice can you give me?