Inspiration From You - February 2009 & What Do You Do When You Get Stuck?

Adam The Altar Boy
5"x 7"
acrylic on masonite

First of all, meet Adam the altar boy! Adam loves going to church and asked if he could help serve in some way and was given the honor of assisting on Sundays by lighting candles and carrying the cross, etc. This painting is from a photo of Adam's very first time serving as an altar boy!
Now, it is March 3rd and I just posted the February painting!? I must tell you that this is the THIRD painting that I have started in the last week and a half. I haven't given up on the other two, they just weren't working. Which leads me to my question to you. What do you do when something isn't working? I have a tendency to expect each painting to work on the first try AND in a timely manner! If it isn't working, I want to ignore everything else until I get it to work or just finish it! Not very realistic! I am realizing (at least for today) that it is sometimes helpful to leave a painting for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes and attitude! I also find it helpful if I'm struggling with a piece to find something different that I can finish. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and more confidence. Going for a run also helps! So what do you do when something isn't working?


Carol Horzempa said...

I wish I could be like you and put it aside for a while and start something new. That is the smart thing to do. By the way, very nice painting of Adam.

What I do when I am up againt the wall is either lean it against the wall for good or do research in my art library or on the internet to get some inspiration or a trip to the art museum really helps.

One thing I don't do is ask my spouse's opinion. I always put a "do not enter" sign on my studio door when ever I am painting. Since I have been doing that my confidence in my own judgement has really grown. That's what works for me.

Unknown said...

I've read your dilima from numerous bloggers (including myself) and the most common solution seems to be yours of setting it aside for a bit.

Love Adam the Altar Boy!! You continue to amaze me with the details on such a compact canvas!

Anonymous said...

Annie - Thanks for your great topics !

My professor always said, 'The finish is in the start' . . . to which everyone responded, 'Huh ?' Explained more specifically, the strength of the basic abstract composition is accomplished immediately as the foundation of the work, and it continues to carry the work through to the finish. No measure of fancy detailing will rescue a painting built on a bad foundation. The trick is to critically observe how it's going 'wrong', and correct this simplicity as your first priority; simplify, unify, consolidate. Squint your eyes and fearlessly reduce the painting to an abstract logo if you have to. Use one sentence to describe what you see visually . . . a portrait could be, 'A big dark triangular blob with a round top on a mid tone background with a small constellation of bright highlights in the middle'. If that simplicity is interesting, then the end result will be great.

I've got about 30 unfinished paintings in my studio at any one time. During a break I'll put one on the easel and simplify it . . . usually to discover I wasted hours noodling some little area at the expense of the bigger picture . . . or I was impatient at the start and hurried the design.

The finish is in the start.

Anonymous said...

I'll set it aside if it's not working. And sometimes it stays there forever! I've got several canvases that never worked out cluttering up the studio. I should just gesso them and reuse them.

Jana said...

Since I often don't finish a painting in one session, I can let it sit and then contemplate whether it's worth finishing. This started when my kids were small and I'd get interrupted---a lot! By the time I returned to my painting I'd often not remember what was bugging me about it, and I'd be able to just carry-on with the thought "if I can't see the issue, nobody else can!"

When I've set aside a painting and realize something just isn't working, I might try changing the composition, or just give up on it & re-use the paper/canvas for something else. This is easy with pastel, not so with watercolor---which is why I usually work my watercolor design out completely before starting.

My husband used to be no help at all, he was just happy to see me working and would just compliment whatever I had going, but now he's much more able to look at my pieces with a designer / artist eye, and will occasionally draw my attention to something I hadn't noticed. A fresh eye like this can be very helpful, whether it's your spouse or a friend.

Your painting of Adam is so full of life---he looks so proud to be helping and it shows on his glowing face!

Judy Wilder Dalton said...

If a painting is not working for me, I set it aside, front to the wall and pick up something else. I let it rest until all my frustrations had ceased and then I put it up for a few more days and just glance at it now and then. Let's me see it in a new light.
But I have to tell, that the best solution I had, happened when I was doing a pastel portrait of two dogs.
I was working from a small photograph, because the dogs were deceased. It was giving me fits.
I picked up another paper and began to aggressively apply the pastel with big broad strokes, working out all my frustrations. They looked like little monsters!
Then I picked the piece back up and painted. The owner loved the finished piece.

Edward Burton said...

Beautifully painted, Annie - wonderful job!

Anonymous said...

Hey Annie! First off...great job on the Alter Boy! As far as your question goes... I also have trouble with wanting things to work out, start to finish, without hurdles to get over. So, I usually do what you mentioned in your post (except for the running..lol). Leaving it and coming back with fresh eyes helps me the most I think.

Can't wait to see your next piece!

Debra Keirce said...

I came here from the dsfdf blog, where I loved your cartoon style entry, and I have to say I love your altar boy style too! You are quite versatile!

Torrie Smiley said...


I am one of your biggest fans! I enjoy following your work....hoping much of your talent will rub off on me!

I am my worst critic~ there have been several times where I cannot get what is in my head correctly on canvas the way I want...I get very frustrated until one of my children reminds me....just because I don't like it, doesn't mean it is not fabulous. Okay, I can except that to a point....some of my most disliked paintings not only sell, but often I am commissioned to create another one. Here is the question, "How do you recreate a painting you never liked in the first place"?

Whenever I have painted something so hideous that it needs to be rethought, I smother it with yellow ochre and paint a colorful pear in its place~ that ususally breaks the bad vibe of the original painting and I start again.

Taking a break and painting something you are familiar with, that you paint well, and enjoy painting can bring a fresh new perspective and joy of painting....it has "cured" me several times.

I can't wait to get back home to my studio and let all the paintings floating in my head find a home on canvas~

Have a wonderful weekend,


James Parker said...

Super Annie,,,great expression. And 5 x 7 surprises me. I try not get stuck...I have a jillion blank canvasses, and some days I don't feel like going near paints. So I transfer or sketch a bunch of upcoming subjects. After an hour, my love for the paints returns..I spread a varied palette and block in the basic colors. I have a thumbtack on the back and hang em on the wall. On a day when I don't have anything pressing, I go to the wall and choose...hmm parrot or posy, child or frog..whatever I'm in the mood for, and the groundwork is already there

Gwen Bell said...

First off, I love your Altar Boy!

For me it's so black and white. I can either paint or I can't. Right now...and for nearly 3 weeks...it's as if I've forgotten how to paint all together. Everything I paint looks awful. I wait a few days and try again and it still looks awful. The more bad paintings I do, the more I dread going back to it. Rather than beat myself up, I usually step away from it altogether for a few weeks and then start over with something simple that I know I can paint easily. If it still doesn't flow, I step away again. Eventually, it starts to flow and I throw myself into it doing Daily Paintings while the spark is there.

Wish I knew how to turn it off and on at will. Even when I was doing Commercial Illustration or Murals this flux would hit. It was very frustrating because deadlines were involved. I would go ahead and paint to "look" busy to the client but it really was quite an illusive thing. Fortunately, for the most part I could paint, but inwardly it felt very illusive.

Of course, I say that now while I'm in my down phase. When I start painting again there is a completely new reality about it. It's "I LOVE to paint, it's so much fun, why not go ahead and paint 2 today?"

adebanji said...

Lovely handling of brush strokes!

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