Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fixing a Broken Painting

I received this interesting question. “How can I fix a painting that isn’t working? I’ve tried everything, but it just gets worse.”

My thought is, "maybe you can't."

When I have a painting that doesn’t work, I step away for a few minutes and return with an objective eye. For me, the problem is usually the composition or subject matter. If the basic structure of the painting is wrong, no amount of fiddling will correct it. If I’m not excited by the subject matter, I know it will be a battle all the way and I will probably lose. My solution is to admit to myself that this painting will never work and that I need to wipe it off. If I can’t remove enough paint and think the remnants will bother me, I can either throw it out or repaint the entire canvas with a tone that I can work with.

It’s empowering to wipe out a failed painting and start over. Without a new beginning, no amount of fiddling or reworking will succeed. When a painting is working you can feel it. You are in “The Zone”. If the spell is broken by distractions, stop and take a break. Some days painting is easy, other days it is a struggle. I don’t have as much time for painting as I would like, so I’m not going to waste my time on a compromised painting.

If you feel that your painting isn’t working, analyze it for composition, drawing, perspective, tones, colors, mood and all the many components that make up a good painting. Be honest with yourself. Admit that the painting isn’t working and try to figure out why. If you continue to overwork a bad start you will be frustrated and the results will be stiff and unsatisfactory because the basic problems are still there. So have the courage to wipe off your canvas and start fresh.

When composing a painting, it’s not enough to just copy what is before you. A camera does that. You are an artist and should impart a bit of yourself and your emotions into each painting.

Failed paintings are necessary for growth. How can we improve without making mistakes? Learn from them. Accept them as part of the process and don’t let them overwhelm you.  

Another thought. If you have a recurring problem, try to find the solution in your art books or ask an artist friend for advice. I'll often ask my husband for his honest opinion and he often points out things that I didn't notice.

If all else fails, it's a great satisfaction to throw the failed painting in the trash. Out of sight - out of mind. Grab a cup of coffee and start over.

Happy painting.


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