Five Frustrations with Art

For the most part, my “journey of discovery” in art has been a good one. In five years I’ve gone from an untalented old woman who couldn’t draw a straight line to an award-winning landscape artist. I’ve had lots of interesting experiences along the way. I’ve made many new friends. I’ve developed skills and abilities that I never thought possible.

Yes, it’s been a positive experience — most of the time.

Earlier this morning I was cleaning my oil palette, patiently scraping off old paint. Not a chore I like, but a necessary one. As I scraped, I thought a bit about the frustrations that are part of art, because, let’s be honest. Everything in life has good and not-so-good about it. No matter how much we may love what we do — in any field — there are always a few things we just don’t really like.

So while I love art and love being an artist, I have to admit that there are a few frustrations I’ve found. Here are my top five:

Number 1: CLEANING MY PALETTE

While I love starting fresh and working with a clean palette, I really don’t enjoy the process of scraping off old paint. I’m dangerous with knives of any sort, and scraping off dried paint requires a bit of muscle. I know, if I cleaned it more often, it probably wouldn’t be quite such a hassle… which brings me to my second frustration.

Number 2: WASTING OIL PAINT

I’m not an alla prima painter. I don’t complete a canvas in a single session, or even in a single day. I prefer to work a little slower, blocking in shapes one day, working on the sky another day, choosing specific areas to complete before moving on to the next. And so it is that once I put paint out on my palette, it remains there. Like putting a genie back into a bottle, there’s no way to “unsqueeze” a tube of paint. Once it’s on the palette, it’s on the palette. Yes, I’ve tried a few different methods to save paint, but I haven’t found a practical solution yet. So as I go through the frustration of cleaning my oil palette, I also endure those awful feelings of wasting paint.

Number 3: TRANSPORTING SUPPLIES

In some respects, as I’ve learned from my recent hospital stay, we can always take art with us wherever we go. As fellow blogger, Robert K. Rehmann (The Quiet Photographer) commented, “art is inside us.” I loved that comment. It’s so true. Yet, at the same time, some situations require more materials than what we carry inside our hearts and minds. Attending a workshop, going out for a plein air event, taking part in a club meeting — all are situations that can involve transporting various art supplies from one location to another. Sure there are backpacks, portable easels, and lots of other convenient storage methods, but all that storage still has to be picked up and moved! It’s not such an easy task, especially for us older artists. Plus there’s the added worry about bringing completed artwork home without ruining it or the interior of a vehicle! My husband is supportive of my art, but I doubt he’d be too happy if he ever found paint or pastels staining the backseat of one of our cars.

Number 4: WANTING TO TRY EVERYTHING

We’re artists. We’re creative. Of course we want to try new things, and in the world of art, there’s always something new! Recently I learned more about cold wax medium. I really want to try it. I’m intrigued by embossing powders, but have no idea how to use them. I’ve watched lino print demonstrations. What about gelli plate printing? Yes, I’d love to do a little calligraphy again, so I really need a few basic supplies. No matter where I turn, there’s always something exciting to discover, and oh, how I’d love to try everything! But trying things in art means making investments of both time and money. It’s not always possible to “dip a toe in” to test the water out, figuratively speaking. Art supplies aren’t cheap, or if we find them cheap, they’re probably not worth buying, so we have to make a few choices about where we’ll spend our dollars. Do I really want to buy supplies I don’t know how to use? Do I really need to try every different mixed media technique I see demonstrated? Tough questions. Tough answers.

Number 5: FEELING FRUSTRATED

Yep. Frustration itself can be a real frustration in art, and I know I’m not the only one who experiences it now and then. Sometimes drawings and paintings just don’t turn out the way we want. We know it’s all right. We know it happens. We feel frustrated all the same. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by having too many things going on all at once. Other times, we seem to be all out of creative juice and can’t get started on anything. It’s definitely part of art, part of what it means to be an artist.

I came across a quotation about frustration:

Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.

Indeed. I might not enjoy cleaning my palette, but it’s a necessary part of oil painting. Sure, I hate wasting paint, but that, too, is an essential part of the process. Carting art materials around isn’t fun, but it leads to new opportunities through workshops, meetings, and various art events. And of course, it’s good to learn about new things, even if we can’t try them all. So, all in all, frustration is something we need, not just something we have to learn to live with. Frustration can be… frustrating! But it can lead us toward the success we seek.

21 Comments

  1. I don’t paint it n oils (though I do have a lot tubes that are waiting to be used) but I read somewhere a while ago that unused paint on a palette can be scraped (while still wet and usable) and mixed together with oil to create a range of greys. I presume these can be stored in small glass jars.
    Another solution may be to use a plastic syringe (without the needle) to collect excess paint from the palette and put back into its tube.
    Heartily agree with your 4th and 5th points.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I do save my scraped-off paint, and for a while I mixed it in a glass jar to create a gray. I wasn’t crazy about it, though… LOL. Now, I just scrape it into a bucket and wonder what crazy things I might be able to do with it. The syringe is an interesting suggestion. Oil paint is quite thick when it comes out of the tube. It doesn’t “flow” unless it has a lot of medium added to it. If I cover it tightly with a lid or plastic wrap, I can save the paint for a day or two. Mostly, though, I just have to acknowledge that wasting paint is part of the whole process of art.

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    1. Yep. Point of view is important. I’ve had those same feelings at times… looking at all the art supplies I’ve bought and thinking, “I’ve spent a lot of money on nothing.” But it’s not “nothing”. It’s creative expression. It’s a process of discovery. It’s a rewarding past-time that teaches us about so many things in life! There are benefits in art beyond simply the results we create, and yes, we do improve through consistent practice. It’s not a waste.

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    1. Browsing through old posts today and found your comment. I have no idea why I didn’t see it before I am glad you liked the post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. Agree, agree! Ultimately it’s worth the trouble, but there are challenges. Have you ever tried turning small jars upside down over the paint blobs? I find it buys me a few extra days at least and is more manageable than other methods. I have several of the glass Oui yogurt jars I use with my glass pallet, but it would probably work on other types too.

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  3. All of the above at one point or another… I have managed to get into the habit of tidying up after myself after each project, though that has happened through necessity primarily. Number 4 is definitely the biggest issue – so many things, many of which I do have the supplies for, does have a tendency to lead to decision paralysis.

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    1. Cleaning up messes is the biggest frustration for me. I know the studio will never be neatly organized — like it was at first — but I need to do better. I have places to keep certain things — like my scissors — yet I’m always having to look around for them when I need them. Art is fun, but sometimes it definitely can be frustrating, too!

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    1. I know! My husband put up racks along the studio walls, and it’s filled with paintings in various stages of completion. I need to sort through them… maybe paint over a few.

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  4. I know for oil paint, you can wrap your palette in Saran Wrap and freeze. The paint does not freeze because of the oil and when you take it out the next day or several days later, you can use the paint. Perhaps just refrigeration works too. You cannot keep Acrylic this way.

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    1. I have a small refrigerator here in the studio. I might try wrapping my palette. My palette is glass, so I don’t think putting it in a freezer would be a good idea. 😦 More and more, though, I’m just accepting the idea that some paint is going to get wasted, and that’s all right. I can’t fuss about every little bit of paint on the palette.

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