The Evolution of a Painting

If you’re anything like I used to be, you think that real artists know exactly what they are doing.

They sit down at their easel or table with an idea in mind. And when they start working, they proceed steadily until that idea has been realized, at which point they sit back with a satisfied smile and start planning where they will show their masterpiece.

I really used to believe that’s how it worked, but I don’t anymore. Because the more artists I have met, the more I realize there is no one way of working.

My own process, I now see, is to fumble my way towards a painting, creating failed pictures and ugly images as I go, and painting over top of everything I don’t like until finally, something clicks and I have a picture that speaks to me. And often, the finished painting is nothing like the picture I had in mind when I started. This works for me, I suppose, because my work is about what I feel, rather than what I see.

Whenever I try to paint a specific landscape, either from photos, sketches or memory, I wind up disappointed. My paintings lack depth and interest. But the minute I let go of that specific place and just focus on how I feel – either how I feel about the place or how I feel about something happening in my life – that’s when the interesting paintings emerge.

But to get to the painting I like, I now understand that I have to go through a lot that I don’t. I will spend hours applying paint that will never be seen again, destined to be buried under layers of other paint. I will choose colours I subsequently reject. I will start with a composition that I’ll change at least twice before I’m done.

It’s not pretty but it works. And the sad thing is that, before I understood my process, I gave up on countless paintings when the first attempt didn’t go as planned. Just think how much I missed out on!

Here’s a photo diary of a recent painting, “When Sky Meets Land.” I worked on this painting over a couple of weeks.

My original intent was to paint the wild and windy moor just up the road from my house. I started with generally realistic colours but the painting was just doing nothing for me.

I sometimes suffer from a mild form of depression and I worry about things I can’t control. Recently I haven’t been feeling great, so I dedided to focus on that feeling and the painting completely changed.

Feeling I might be onto something, I continued and lost what I liked about the picture

So I just went to town, focusing on the dark feelings and losing the painting even more

In the past, I would have given up at any of these stages. But I know better now. I took a few days and then settled down to work some more. This time I focused on bringing together the emotion with the original wild, windy moor that inspired me to paint in the first place. And that’s when it came together in just a few hours.

I love this painting. It expresses exactly what I hoped to express. Yes it was a long and winding and sometimes ugly journey but I now see that I’m probably not cut out to do it any other way.

So for anyone who paints or draws or sculpts or in ANY way creates, this is what I want you to understand. There is NOTHING wrong with your process. Don’t force yourself to follow someone else’s approach just because you think that’s the right way to do it. It isn’t! It’s the right way for that person but it’s unlikely to be the right way for you.

Find your own way. It might be structured or chaotic, tidy or untidy, fast or slow … it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is authentically yours.

I wish I had learned this years ago.

12 Comments

  1. Cheryl
    September 7, 2017

    Thank you. This is soooo very encouraging and helpful.
    And…..I really like all of the efforts and results. ????

    Reply
    • Louise Fletcher
      September 29, 2017

      Thanks Cheryl!

      Reply
  2. Christine Garza
    September 8, 2017

    Hi Louise.
    I thought your comments were very accurate. I never felt I could draw, but have been involved in several aspects of art all my life. I wanted to develop a style I liked, but didn’t know how to go about it. Turns out, you don’t do anything about it, and it just evolves. It becomes you.

    I decided to pick up a watercolor brush about 5 years ago,and I think I was terrible. I didn’t really like what I did, and I refused to take classes. Not for me. Eventually, I started painting from my core, following an experience I had years before….not worrying about this line or that line. I wasn’t looking for awards, just trying to experiment. And then it started to unfold.

    Long before that, I was commissioned to illustrate a person’s book of poems similar to Shel Silverstein’s. I must have used up two erasers before I started having a low blood sugar attack and got very impatient, jittery and less caring about the lines. And a style was born. I loved the work. I think because I wasn’t drawing from my head, I was now drawing from my heart…my core. It works every time.

    Now I get a yearning to go home and interpret something I saw during the day …and it feels like a caged lion inside of me until I sit down and do it. I don’t labor over it, I just go with it..it flows, and I feel like I am writing a novel.
    The work isn’t serious, and sometimes I hate it right off the bat. Three days later I catch a look at it and I love it. It was real and it caught the part of me that is very real. I have a subtle sense of humor…and when I can relate it in my work, I’ve done my job.

    Reply
    • Louise Fletcher
      September 29, 2017

      Hi Christine,

      everything you said resonates with me. Painting from the heart and not the head is a daily struggle for me but when I get it right, I always make a painting that I like.

      Reply
  3. Chrissie Richards
    September 8, 2017

    Hi Louise

    I thought it was only me that thought like this, how wonderful to find there is at least one other person out there. I have been painting for about six years and always at the back of my mind is the thought that other artists know what they’re doing, and I don’t. Also, I constantly think ‘how do I paint trees, or people or just about anything’. I try to just paint and not worry so much about it, and certainly when I manage to turn off my brain I enjoy the process more and produce some of my favourite works, but it is easier said than done!

    Lovely work, thanks for sharing.

    Chrissie

    Reply
    • Louise Fletcher
      September 29, 2017

      I too used to think I was alone. Now I know we’re in the majority not the minority!

      Reply
  4. Leslie Autery
    September 8, 2017

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    Reply
    • Louise Fletcher
      September 29, 2017

      Thank you Leslie. That’s so kind.

      Reply
  5. Patricia Lane
    September 11, 2017

    What a great article Louise, I think a lot of artists work in a similar way,I certainly do, but it’s not always easy to admit πŸ™‚ depends who you are talking to!! Your work has changed over the past few years ( I have followed your journey on FB) you seem to have been quiet for awhile, it’s good to see you back again, especially as you are producing such lovely work. As artists we need to keep pushing our boundaries – that is where inspiration and creativity comes from πŸ™‚ x

    Reply
    • Louise Fletcher
      September 29, 2017

      Hi Patricia, it’s always scary though isn’t it?

      Reply
  6. Courtney
    September 12, 2017

    Thanks for these wise words. I’ve been stumped lately and it’s just what I needed to read. As a new painter it’s so helpful to see your painting’s evolution. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
    • Louise Fletcher
      September 29, 2017

      Just keep going with every painting until you get something honest πŸ™‚

      Reply

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