Some paintings just paint themselves. Thus was the case for the above painting, “The Watering Hole”, a painting of three wild mustangs of the Sand Wash Basin HMA.. The photo reference needed little changing. Composition, value and colors all worked, plus my drawing was spot on that day, As artists, we absolutely love those paintings! But most come with varying degrees of struggle. It’s not always due to our level of ability, but where we are emotionally and outside interferences. We just can’t get into the “zone”. Sometimes it’s a combination of ability level and outside interference. What I’ve found regardless of “why”, the answer is the same.
I just finished a commission. Saying it was a struggle doesn’t come close to describing the challenge it presented. But In the end, I came through with a happy client, and I hope having been made a better artist for the experience. I knew it would be a challenge from the beginning because it had two subjects whose proportions had to compare to each other, i.e. drawing. And one subject was quite small, so even a hair’s difference would change it completely. Enter a bunch of left-brain tasks that drew my attention, time, and focus away from painting. Part of our roof blew off during a blizzard, my daughter’s horse required major surgery up at CSU, and I’d told myself I would tackle my income taxes once the painting was done. Soon it was April 12th and I hadn’t even started the taxes. At that point in time it became crystal clear, my priorities needed adjusting.
I’d asked the gallery owner through whom the commission had come for feedback, honest feedback. And thank goodness I got it. The proportions between the two were off and I had struggled with getting a likeness. Criticism isn’t always welcomed, but if given in the spirit of producing a better work of art, we should embrace all we get and view it as a gift.
One night I decided to just give up, admit defeat I just couldn’t get this one. I slept well for the first time in a while. In the morning however, I decided to keep working at it, for my own sake, to learn from this particular challenge, and not let it beat me, regardless of whether the client ended up accepting it or not. This was my own personal challenge.
The “one more try” was a fail though too. I then remembered some advice I’d gotten from a fellow artist. It’s okay to start over again. Take all you learned from the previous canvas and start out ahead on the second one. So that’s what I did. I stretched a new canvas. But still, I wasn’t getting it. I kept wiping back to fresh canvas so it wouldn’t get overworked like the first one. I drew and sketched and worked out all the problems on paper. Then I tried again. Somehow it started to come together. My perseverance and drawing began to pay off.
This had happened several times before so I had some experience in how to handle the situation. I faced and dealt with all my roadblocks, and in the end produced a painting that pleased the collector and myself. The key was perseverance.. I was lucky my clients were understanding and not in a hurry, but respected my artistic process. What we see in the end is not the process or the struggle it took to get there. What we see is the intention we had for the canvas in the first place. So often I look an old painting and think how effortless it appears, which is the goal, and then remember, oh yea, I had to repaint one area, change the placement of some subjects, and adjust some values and colors etc. But it was worth not settling for less and pushing myself to achieve to the best of my ability. Not every painting is a potential masterpiece, but if you can learn something from it then all the paint and canvas were not wasted. I’m not going to post an image of the painting in reference here, but I will post an image of another painting that went through several iterations before I deemed it finished.
The obvious lesson here, is, don’t give up. If you aren’t satisfied with a painting, look at it as a learning experience, and a cheap one at that :)). Happy painting!