One of the recurring motifs I see in working with abstract artists in workshops and in my online course is some form of the following:
“I love the beginnings of my paintings…they’re so fresh and clean and there’s so much energy there”
And then I hear…
“I’m great with the starts, but then I don’t know what to do or where to go with the painting”
“I start out fine but then I freeze up…I begin to doubt what I’m doing and I worry about what the painting will look like”
“I enjoy the beginning of a painting…but then I constantly wonder if my painting will sell“
“I’m fine until I start thinking too much about composition. I overanalyze. The things that go through my mind are endless…I question everything. It takes the joy out of painting and I feel frozen”
What’s Your Experience?
Is the beginning of this process your favorite part about painting? Do you love starting your paintings…feeling excited as you explore and experiment with new materials only to begin to doubt yourself as you move further into the process of painting?
An artist emailed me recently and said that her single biggest challenge in painting is that she finds herself liking the beginning phases of a painting. The problem is that by not wanting to risk destroying the parts of the painting that please her, she forfeits her boldness and ultimately modifies her visual statement. In the end, she feels dissatisfied and wonders why she didn’t have the courage to express her own truth, her own voice and vision.
Do You Fall In Love With Parts Of The Painting And Fear Ruining It?
Do you fear losing the parts of the painting you love? If so, realize that you’ve become too attached to the outcome.
Painting Is Riddled With Paradox
Here’s the paradox: we care and yet we’ve got to let go at the same time!
Yes…of course we care about the outcome!
We want our paintings to be amazing! We want people to ooh and ahhh over them. Heck…we want to love them!
We fantasize about selling out our solo exhibitions…or some variation on this theme…
And yet…we’ve got to let go of outcome.
Our most astonishing, wondrous, and alive paintings are those that are born out of exploration, experimentation, and searching.
As Michael Cutlip said: “if I already know what’s going to happen it’s all over”.
Experiment, Experiment, Experiment!
- Cultivate an attitude of experimentation.
- Allow yourself to not know what’s going to happen.
- Let yourself feel uncomfortable.
- Give yourself permission to search and find your way as you paint.
- Trust yourself.
This is where your creativity lives.
Challenge yourself to make ‘ugly paintings’!
Years ago a friend of mine called me up and said: ‘Hey Nancy, let’s paint some ugly paintings!’.
I laughed uproariously. Immediately liberated by her words, I felt radical permission to experiment.
Indeed, to create paintings that surprise and delight us…we’ve got to let go of needing our paintings to be perfect, beautiful or pleasing.
Yes, the paradox is that we’ve got to finally let go of outcome.
Embracing Uncertainty, Embracing This Moment
In order to create the paintings that stop you in your tracks you’ve got to be willing to embrace uncertainty…
In order to create your deepest work…
- You’ve got to take big risks and not know what the outcome will be.
- You’ve got to give yourself permission to paint ‘ugly’ paintings and realize the value in them.
- You’ve got to be willing to ‘fail’ and make ‘mistakes’.
- You’ve got to cultivate your studio practice and create thousands of ‘starts’.
- You’ve got to let yourself ‘waste’ paint, paper, canvas, and so forth. [Is it ever a waste? but that’s a whole other topic…].
- You’ve got to be present in this moment.
- And ultimately, you’ve got to trust yourself.
And I’m sure there’s more…but you get the idea.
Realize That There’s No Such Thing As A Ruined Painting
Finally, you realize that every moment in the studio counts…that every painting, exploratory study and experimental work is of value…even the ‘ugly’ ones, the ones you don’t like, the ones you think aren’t finished the ones that are overworked, and the ones you think you ruined…
You realize that they’re all valuable…This Is The Treasure
The gold is in the experience of trusting yourself and allowing an infinite range of your expression…making room for all the parts of yourself…especially the orphaned off parts to shine forth in your unending exploration as an artist.
When you finally embrace it all…the imperfect, fragile, vulnerable, angry, unsure, ambivalent parts of yourself…you realize that…
all of your paintings are valuable…perhaps especially the ones you don’t like…the ‘ruined’ ones…they’re all essential to your evolution as an artist.
Also published on Medium.