Learning a Lesson the Hard Way
In the last 2 weeks I have lost 3 good paintings.
I didn’t misplace them. I painted over them.
I didn’t do it on purpose, of course. I thought I was developing each one from interesting idea into finished piece. But in each case, my additional work made the painting worse and my subsequent attempts to fix the issue just exacerbated the problem.
In one of the 3 cases, I actually lost a sale because someone loved the initial painting I posted online and wanted to buy it. But by that time, I had made “improvements” and the painting they loved was gone.
That was this small painting:
It had freshness and vitality at this stage. But an hour later, all that was lost.
That’ll teach you, I told myself, when the sale fell through.
But it didn’t.
Next came this painting:
I loved the colours and the sweeping lines of this one, but I just knew it could be better. So I kept painting and I lost it. It just got worse and worse and eventually, I decided to paint over the canvas with white and start again.
RIP, blue and pink hills!
Next, I decided to try and and capture the beauty of my local landscape on a wet, grey day. It rains a lot here and we can go for days without seeing the sun, but there is a particular beauty and drama in our ever-shifting combinations of grey and green.
On the same canvas as my long-lost blue and pink painting, I painted this.
That’s a terrible photo taken in bad light but sadly it’s the only one I have because there were things I didn’t like about the painting and so I kept working until it lost all its life and energy.
I don’t always do this. Often I stop at the right time, but on these 3 occasions I didn’t.
Thinking back, I can see that I didn’t listen to the paintings. I get this feeling when my painting is going well – it’s a deep happiness that bubbles up inside. “Yes,” this voice says, “you’ve got something!” When I look at a painting at this stage, it gives me pleasure.The feeling that I intended to portray is there on the canvas. (Paul Klee once said something like “a painting is finished when it looks back at you.” I know exactly what he meant.)
But there’s always this little voice telling me I need to fix this or that little thing to make it ‘perfect.’ And the joy of the process at this point is infectious – I want to keep feeling that way, so I keep painting.
Unfortunately, the imperfections often turn out to be exactly what the painting needs. Fix them, and I’ve lost the magic.
So I need to heed Paul Klee’s advice and stop when my painting first looks back at me. Just put it aside, imperfections and all, and start another one.
It’s been a difficult lesson to learn – I miss these 3 paintings! – and I still wonder if I will get it right next time. I’ll keep you posted.