Friday, March 30, 2012

Hitting a Painting Rut

This got a beautiful coat of white gesso!
Yesterday I was chatting with one of my students. He's a really good painter who hasn't been using pastels that long. He's having some really good successes, so he's pretty motivated. But, after having done quite a few piece that he considers to be pretty worthy of entering in some shows and pieces which he feels good about, he finds he's hit a tough spot. A rut, he called it. He's not getting the results he wants. He's frustrated and questioning whether he's good enough, ought to be pursuing this etc, etc. He asked me if I ever had this happen and felt this way. I cracked up, 'cause I feel like this practically every other day! I told him I'd spent the other day painting all day long and then the next morning, promptly painted over everything I'd done that previous day.

Painting is a series of plateaus that you hit. You get to one point and it feels effortless for a little bit. You might even do some pieces that feel like they painted themselves and just came through you. struggle...and it's hard 'cause you thought it you'd reached a point and it was going to be effortless from now on! It's scary and you might even feel a little like you got tricked into thinking you were a good painter and you're really not. The secret is finally out!

Well, like I told Jacob, I have made friends with these "plateaus". Like it or not, I now understand they are a necessary part of being a painter that is growing and progressing. If you want to grow, evolve, improve as a painter, you have to challenge yourself to do things differently. This can mean so many things from something simple like just trying a new brand of paper or changing up your work completely, (don't try this unless you're kinda crazy like me). If you always paint the same thing, in the same way, of course it will stay the same and likely be pretty good. I've noticed artists that paint exactly the same as they did 15 or 20 years ago. For some that may be satisfying, but it's not my thing, so I have to push myself forward and that leads to a series of plateaus.

Right now I'm scrambling up the rough patch before I reach the next one. It's hard, it's not very fun. It's tiring, both mentally and physically. Some days are unproductive and frustrating; painting over paintings, throwing things away or even just standing there staring at blank canvas. It feels like a waste of time and money. Sometimes unsavory, niggling thoughts creep in like,"oh maybe I shouldn't be painting these figures. I should just stick with the landscapes" or even "maybe I should look for a "real" job."

Even though I still have these thoughts sneak in, I can laugh them off more quickly and put them in their place because I know the next plateau is right up there. I'm very certain of it. When I reach it, it will be blissful to stand atop it and look back down at where I came from. I'll enjoy my time on it and linger there for a while, before I turn and start up the next hill. I'll hope the next one isn't too rocky or tricky, but a smooth, gradual slope! Ha, ha!!

Some other thoughts about paintings
Some paintings are meant for my flat files, as in "not ready to throw away, but I don't want to look at you."
Some paintings are meant for my walls,(something in there I want to look at, but not ready for prime time)
Some paintings just have to go into the round file as in,"I can't make it through the day looking at you for one more second!"
Some paintings go in frames and get sold.
All paintings are good.

Some more thoughts about the ugly paintings
No painting starts out beautiful or finished. They all go through an "ugly" stage. Your job is to find the kernel in there that you can build around to bring it to "finish"
The ugly ones are necessary too. They are good.
Some paintings are a little needy. They need more attention than others. 

If you figure on a 50% success rate, that's pretty good if you paint 100 paintings, not so satisfying if you paint two. Better paint a hundred just in case!

Thoughts about thoughts
They are overrated. Just paint. Don't over-think it. My husband always tells me in his very gentle way, "Marla, just paint". Best advice, I've ever gotten. Don't take too much responsibility for the good paintings or the bad ones. You can get too big a head, then be pretty bummed when the bad ones hit! They just are what they are. One of the most wonderful things about painting is that you have to be present and in the moment. You can't be thinking about the laundry or your taxes or what to make for dinner. You have to be looking, responding, creating. Don't start thinking about it too much after the fact and second guessing your skills, the market, etc. etc. Just paint. It's a path that has never led me astray.


Emilie Sykes said...

Hi Marla,
I hit a plateau today and came home to see your post.
It helped me to put into perspective that I wiped off my painting 3 times and made me re-focus on the challenge met of going outside and painting plein air in oils for the first time in 6 months or longer.
Always enjoy your posts thanks for taking the time to write them

SamArtDog said...

You often post just what I need to read. Whether it's a recipe for eggplant soup or a reason for making that tough technical climb up to the next plateau, it helps. Today, I finished what I thought was a pretty good little painting. Looking forward to posting it. I set up the camera and took one picture before I noticed my battery was dead. But there was your timely post. It recharged me while the camera's recharging.
Thanks, again.

Marla Baggetta said...

Hi Emilie and SamArtDog! Thanks for your comments. Without your feedback, I wouldn't keep posting! It means a lot to me. Happy Painting!


Ruth Armitage said...

What an excellent post. I especially love your thoughts on paintings & thoughts on posts. I hope you don't mind if I share your wisdom... Of course I would point them to your excellent site.

I know your next achievement level is right around the corner. I'm always excited to see the growth in your work, which wasn't too shabby to begin with! But I especially like your mention that even paintings meant for the trash bin are good. They bring us one step closer to success.

AnnG said...
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AnnG said...
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Jodi Dann said...

Hi Marla,
Just found this post from March. Good timing for me. I haven't been in my studio for 2 weeks! Vacation etc..things you mentioned are what I've been thinking, like maybe I should stop painting, yadda yadda yadda. Then I think, what else would I do? This is who I am. I was ready to toss some paintings on our burn pile! I felt this is one way to clear out some inventory,lol. Not feeling inspired, dumb excuse...just go paint right?
Thank you for the reminder that we artists all have these thoughts.