1. Sugarlump,,Your reference to the Beowulf legend made me want to share reading GRENDEL which is the Beowulf legend as experienced
    by the monster. Just in case you haven’t already,,,

    I am still getting such pleasure from having read your good tips and suggestions and applying them,
    and have been totally surprised and sometimes pleased by what surfaces,,

    It has helped my OLD painting style as well…I think it was Utrillo who was arrested for painting on one of his old paintings hanging in
    a museum,, So that is an eternal question; ,when is a painting ever finished to one’s satisfaction?? when you learn more you see things that need a bit of finishing,,,A painting looks so different in different places,

    • Dear Anne,
      Your letters always delight me. I’ve seen that book GRENDEL but haven’t read it yet. I look forward to reading the monsters perspective.

      Thank you. It’s wonderful to hear that you’re deriving pleasure from my writings.

      That’s fascinating about Utrillo. Yes! I can totally relate to the urge to keep evolving a painting. I think it was Anselm Kiefer who talked about a painting being like a river – it’s never finished.

      Big hugs,

  2. Dear Nancy,
    I read your article with interest. I am sure all of us artists have this problem. Sometimes it is not a problem and I am pretty sure
    when it is finished. To me, when it is working I call it a “Golden Moment.” But then there are the other times “The dark night of the soul” as you call it. I sometimes wonder if it is our state of mind that determines. I just love when the painting paints itself and I do little or
    no thinking.
    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    • Dear Mary,
      Yes! Isn’t it wonderful when the magic happens and it’s effortless? That state of flow, of presence, of communing with the mysterium is what we live for. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  3. i turn it 90 degrees, x4, look at it in mirror,,try to not see real things in it.
    Look for too much similarity in width of strokes,that it keeps my eye in and moving
    around the canvas.
    try not to be too busy with either colour or marks that produce tension or anxiety
    to viewer.
    am happiest when piece” works” all 4 ways….then sign it on back or side of gallery canvas

  4. About finishing a painting….. It’s funny with me in that after I think a painting is finished I just set it up in my studio for a couple of weeks and peek at it now & then to see if I can strengthen any lines or colors. Letting it rest there in different positions (upside down or sideways) lets me “see” it. Sometimes a painting has to “cook” a little longer than others. You gave some wonderful tips along the way Nancy especially starting many paintings at once or doing them quickly one after the other. This gives it wonderful rawness and spontaneous marks.

  5. I have learned so much from you Nancy with the Studio Journey this past few months , that I think I am starting to understand what you have said in this blog. My biggest help is to stand back and feel the painting and if not sure put it aside and wait. Working on paper and doing lots of starts has helped but do find myself still attached and invested in the beginning stage , my start with pencils, marks, washes and different tools to play is my biggest enjoyment, so free and seems to come from somewhere else..I enjoy the learning and so happy that I just responded to one of your offers of free 7 day course !
    A beginning.

  6. Hi Nancy: I’m new to your blog and I really enjoyed this posting. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who struggles and struggles not know “how” to finish or decide if it IS finished. Letting go of what feedback others give you is essential – yet I must be a slow learner because it’s SO hard for me to do that. I hear people’s voices in my head. Your tips are great – very helpful. One question: When you say [Allow for an “ugly painting” to emerge…and don’t wipe it out or cover it up] – I get the allow the ugly painting to emerge – but at some point I have to cover parts of it up so it can evolve into what it’s supposed to be! Thoughts?
    My favorite idea about knowing when a painting is done is that when you look at it – your instinct is to take a deep breath and say “oh yeah”. That does indeed, happen to me. Thanks for your blog. It’s really good.

  7. This morning while sitting over morning coffee with my left-brained husband, I read this blog to him and he responded with how this
    tendency to ‘freeze’ in the middle of the painting and go into protective mode applies to business, sports, nearly everything. As you start up a new venture, you have ‘nothing to lose’ — technically, you play ‘offense.’ As the business grows and you put your time and energy into it, the human tendency is to protect what you’ve accomplished, so you switch to ‘defense.’ This is the human trait — to try to protect what you’ve got, but then you lose your creative momentum. You cannot allow yourself (or your company) to get stagnant — you need to continue on the path that got you to the middle phase, and don’t let the success cause you to be cautious and less innovative.

    At half-time during the game of football, for example, once you have a comfortable lead, you start playing defense (or you move to defending the lead) and you’re not going forward any more. You start protecting the lead and in the final moments of the game, the offense can score the final win. It’s easier to win when you’ve got nothing to lose! The trick now for me when I get to the middle of the painting is to sit on the sidelines until it’s time to get back into offensive part of the game and paint the second half with a fresh eye, a rested soul, and that willingness to listen to my inner coach that says “you know what to do, so go for it!”

    Nancy, I’m loving the Studio Journey course — it is rich, fascinating, so well done. I’m not always good about posting my work on a timely basis, but this is such a wonderful investment and I love your coaching style! Much love and gratitude to you!

    • Hi Katherine,
      I love your discussion with your husband of how this happens in life (sports, business, etc). The football analogy of offense and defense is great. Yes, if we can go back into the painting with the energy and experimentation we had at the beginning…even as we bring considered decisions into the process.

      Thank you! I’m delighted that you’re loving Studio Journey. It brings me great joy to hear this.

      Much love to you too,

    • I love the sports metaphor – NFL and painting are my two passions😄. I recently had my first show and hadn’t been able to do my work until the other day when I totally changed my approach as a distraction. Being able to get the concept of ‘protecting what I have’ clarifies my understanding of my own process. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I’ll hold onto the key points, especially keeping the painting ‘raw, immediate, and alive!’ I am able to do this with some of
    the quick studies, thumbnails….translating to the larger canvas is where it gets less immediate and intuitive!

    An instructor of mine has said many times that when you go back to the middle of the painting after putting it away for awhile,
    don’t try to tackle the parts you don’t like right away, but go to the parts you do like and start from there.

    Still, I keep showing up…..and that’s like the game of golf. One good shot keeps you coming back!

  9. I am hopelessly devoted to the accurate and precise oilpainting, and the first time I saw your video about starting – or more “attacking” the white untouched paper – I was very impressed.
    And then I understood, I really should try to loosen up, to be more brave and do things that I normally avoid. Like just scrabble away on the paper, without a clear motiv in mind, without a special palett set up. After seeing your video and reflecting over it I really tried it- and I guess in the end I got it right somehow. I did not understand the painting I did, but it somehow felt right.
    When it comes to the finishing part, I get this peculiar feeling STOP! and then I stop. If I go on, I feel sick and just want to throw the piece away. Which I do not do. So – if someone then comes and says; “wow – is that a beautiful piece of art” – then I can’t even smile and say thank you. Because I know it is overdone and I dont really like it myself. On the other hand, I also have drawings or paintings which I am proud of – but which no-one else seem to find so good. Well – I guess that is part of the game.
    I also tend to take old paintings and work on further on them – it mostly turn out well, at least I think so. It is perhaps a wrong way to do it, but I feel that I have to bring them “up to date” and more in line to what I do today.
    Anyhow, your thoughts on how to know when the piece is finished is very interesting. I follow you on this!
    Kind regards,

    • Hi Karin, I enjoyed reading about your process of exploring loose, stream of consciousness gestural expression. I’ve done that too with old paintings. I think it’s great.Thanks so much for being here and for writing. Warmly, Nancy

  10. Hi Nancy,

    I just started painting about 3 weeks ago, after watching hours upon hours of youtube videos to learn the basics (gesso, mediums, glazes, textures) but I was impressed the most by your videos and instructions by far. I love the football analogy above, and it reminds me of another analogy which is my love of interior design and the fact that a home is never “done” but always evolving…collecting treasures, editing others, renovating, etc. so deciding when my “beginner” paintings are done is extremely difficult for me. I hope to learn more from you. You’re very inspirational.

    • Hi Leslie,

      Wonderful! Being at the beginning of anything is an exciting place to inhabit. Ah…thank you so much for your kind and generous words. I’m deeply moved that my videos spoke to you. I love your analogy too…of the ever evolving landscape of interior design. I don’t think paintings are ever really “done”, we just stop them in various places knowing full well there are endless possibilities of when and where to “stop”. I’m actually particularly interested in the idea of “many starts, fewer finishes”. I think life is like that. Thank you again for writing. Warmly, Nancy

  11. July 19, 2018. I ran into your course this evening when struggling with a painting for a month or so – but that’s not new. I paint in oils and encaustics. But I often say that I paint with gesso because, more often than not, I cover a painting that’s taken me 2 or 3 months and it’s not working out. I gesso it and start all over again. Sometimes it works better, sometimes it gets a second coating of gesso down the line. To my credit, I have never given up on a painting, however long it takes. But it’s not fun.
    Second-guessing, lack of self confidence, critics in your head talking non-stop, too cerebral – I’ve got it all.

    I love raw paintings but when I have such a start, I immediately come to the place of “what’s that thing”? and proceed to change it.

    Thank you so very much for coming to my/our aid! I am so grateful to you and to whatever Force made me open Pinterest this evening.

    • Thank you Bela. I love your perseverance in wrestling down your paintings even though it’s not fun. I think it would be a powerful exercise for you to allow some of your paintings to remain raw and untouched after the initial start. I say this because you wrote that you love raw paintings yet question them and proceed to change them. You might run the experiment of creating many starts and allowing some percentage of them to remain raw while you go ahead with the rest in your usual fashion. Then, see how you feel about them in a month or so. You can always go back into the raw pieces later if you don’t like them. Thanks again for writing, Bela.

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