Just Cover the Canvas

Today has been a somewhat frustrating day as far as my art goes. Nothing has really worked out quite the way I’d hoped. It’s my fault in many ways.

To begin, my mind — and my peace of mind —  is invested in drawing, not painting, so my choice to work with my oils this morning was probably not a good idea. I made matters worse by attempting a painting that was a bit beyond my skill level. I like pushing myself from time to time. I think it’s an important aspect of my growth as an artist. But maybe today wasn’t the right time.

The scene I chose for my inspiration was one of a young girl with a broad-brimmed white hat. She’s sitting somewhere — a grassy field, a sandy beach — but the background is hazy and indistinct. That suited my purposes. I wanted to concentrate on the girl.

California GirlI’ve done a girl on the beach before in watercolor. California Girl is a portrait of my daughter, Elisabeth, from a photo taken soon after she and her husband moved to San Diego.

I wanted — intended — to do something similar in oil. In fact, I wanted — intended — to be very intentional, to think about what I was painting and how I could best accomplish the tasks involved.

Let’s just say I made some wrong decisions from the start.

After a time, I realized that what I was doing and where I was going simply wasn’t working for me. It was one of those discouraging moments when I had to stop and ask myself “What’s the point in trying to paint?”

I countered that with a quick reassurance that learning what not to do is a necessary step, but I didn’t find much consolation in those words. I seemed to have learned a lot of methods that don’t work. I’m still searching for ones that do.

I played around with the canvas a bit more.  I was basically trying to create a background so I couldn’t really go too far wrong, could I? I thought I could turn the time into something constructive by using it to practice. I grabbed a few different brushes, a few different colors, and I tried out a few different brush strokes.

Soon, I became frustrated again. That same nagging question returned. Seriously, what’s the point in painting when I really have no clue what I’m doing or how I’m supposed to be doing it?

Through the process, though, I was noticing one thing — a consistent flaw in my painting techniques. Whether I’m painting with oil-based paints or my new water-soluble oils, I tend to get my paints too thin. Splotches of canvas show through. If I don’t thin my paints — a lot — I find it hard to apply them. My brushstrokes get too thick, too heavy.

I spent a little time practicing with thicker paints, scumbling in a blue background for my girl on the beach project. It’s never going to be a work of art, but I do want to finish it just for the practice of painting a person.

At this point, I called it quits, then looked at my oil paints. Earlier in the morning, I’d read about creating accidental masterpieces.  This is part of the guidance in  Awakening Your Creative Soul. It comes from keeping a canvas close at hand and using it for left-over paints. I’m always frustrated when I come to the end of a painting session and still have lovely daubs of paint on my palette. Yes, I’ve tried saving them. It hasn’t worked well for me.

So, I loved the idea of simply using that left-over paint on a canvas that has no plan or purpose. Except that I did give myself a purpose. Once I started putting paint on — in a random, haphazard, accidental way — I still saw all those splotches of white canvas shining through.

“Just cover the canvas!” I instructed myself. Actually, I think it was more like “Just cover the stupid canvas!” or something similar. You get the point. I was going to do whatever it took to get rid of the white canvas peeking through.

I actually like the result:

Cover the Canvas (2)

It’s nothing. That’s fine. I like it. I like what I learned from it, too. Not only did I find a way to cover the canvas, I realized how much fun I was having in doing it. I love using this particular brush, putting different colors on it and poking here and there. I love making twisting, turning, rolling brush marks.

As I had fun playing with this “intentionally accidental” painting, I thought again about  style in painting. A huge part of our personal style in art has to come from doing what we enjoy. I know that I will be working with these scumbling techniques more and more.

Of course, I want to learn — and become proficient in — more painting techniques. All the same, it’s good to feel I have a technique that is in some way mine, a technique I can use to good advantage, and most of all a technique I can enjoy.

What it means for me as an artist is that I’ll be making thicker, more textured brush strokes, I’ll find more ways to apply scumbling techniques, and with each painting I think I will see more of my true style emerge.

More than ever before, art is becoming a quest for authenticity for me, an opportunity to be myself, and to share my view of the world with others. Sometimes it might be intentional, but sometimes it’s going to be purely accidental. That’s all right.




  1. Sorry your day was frustrating, I have a whole bunch of “just cover the canvas” watercolours in my bin! Yesterday I was in my car when I heard an interviewee use an expression I had never heard. He was a musician and was talking about giving up drinking alcohol and changing other destructive behaviours. When asked why, he said “I wanted to get those rocks out of my backpack”. I like the expression very much and thought about it a lot. So when I got home I wrote down the quote in my sketching book and drew myself a backpack using line and wash technique. As I haven’t been doing much in recent weeks, I was pleased and absorbed in my work. It isn’t a masterpiece but it gave me pleasure. Perhaps tomorrow will be more productive for you, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’ll be out of town today, so I won’t be drawing or painting. It’s a good opportunity for me to clear my head of any frustrations and “get rocks out of my backpack.” What a good saying! I was thinking about my “Peace of Mind” post and the idea of having empowering words for our art journey. Looks like you’ve found yours — with a handy backpack, too! One of the suggestions was to illustrate the empowering words we choose, and you’ve done exactly that. I’m still looking for a good way to illustrate “peace of mind”. Oh, I have an idea! I think I know exactly what I’m going to do. Happy creating!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Judith. Thanks for following my blog. I hope you enjoy it.
    Edgar Degas is quoted as saying “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Renoir’s last words were “I think I am beginning to understand something about it.”
    You never stop learning when you begin to see as an Artist. It is a life-long journey, full of great strides forward and many steps back. Good luck in your discoveries!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Degas was on the mark with those words, for sure. The more I learn, the harder it gets. 🙂 Thank you for visiting Artistcoveries — your comments are welcomed at any time.


      1. As it turned out, most members of the family thought the portrait resembled another daughter more than Elisabeth. I was still very pleased that I did at least capture a family resemblance.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Being an artist and a writer. a blank canvas is like a blank sheet of paper. You did the right thing by just applying paint without any purpose other than to just view something other than “all white” staring back at you. Oftentimes, without thinking of a subject matter, I’ll just grab a brush, stroke whatever’s still wet on my palette, and smear everywhere on that canvas. I tell myself there’s no mistakes. All that abstract can evolve into something to satisfy my imagination. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. A white canvas can be a bit intimidating, for sure, and I really like the idea of using an extra canvas just for left-over paint. Who knows what “accidental masterpieces” I might create! 🙂


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