Monday, June 16, 2008

How to Start Painting Again, If You've Quit

Every artist, at one time or another, has quit painting -- for a few days, months, or even years -- and has had trouble getting started again. You may have just finished a show and are experiencing a bit of a letdown and burnout -- no matter how well the show went and how well-received your paintings were. Or, you're a beginning artist who has just finished a 6-week class and don't have someone telling you what to paint and how. Or in my case, this time, you just finished a series of paintings and then took two short vacations in a row.

No matter the reason, quitting is not the hard part, and it's not even a bad thing. In fact, it's a good time to regroup, reevaluate, clean your studio, add a little balance to your life, or whatever. But, the longer you wait, the harder it is to start painting again. Here's a few things that have helped me before and, hopefully, will help me again:

  • Use your words. Just start writing down what you want to do, brainstorm ideas for paintings, plan a new series that you want to work on, jot down subjects of interest.
  • Remove the pressure. Start small -- Don't start on a huge painting right off the bat. And, don't start with a pending commission or a gift -- those were already responsible for your procrastination.
  • Start drawing in a sketchbook/illustrated journal. And, draw with a pen, so you can't erase.
  • Just start painting, without drawing first. Try to enjoy the process -- don't worry about the end result. Paint on the back of one of your paintings.
  • Be willing to fail. Don't be afraid to paint a crappy painting. In fact, try to paint badly, just for the hell of it.
  • Play with your paints. Squeeze some fresh paint onto your palette. Just play with mixing your paint right on the palette -- don't even put it on the paper.
  • Clean up the clutter. Clear off your drawing board, and clean up the clutter around you in the studio. (WARNING -- this could turn into a summer-long project, if you're not careful.)
  • Develop a ritual. Assemble your materials, put on some music, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, put on your comfortable painting clothes.
  • Get excited about a subject to paint. Take a field trip to get some photographic references, look through your existing photos for references, visit art museums and galleries.
  • Make time for your art. My mother-in-law, who is an artist, told me that she used to paint after all her household chores were finished, but of course, with 5 children at home, that never happened, so she never found time to paint. Until, she started painting first thing in the morning -- that's when she became truly productive.
  • Commit to something. (This, of course, is the opposite of "Remove the pressure".) Create a deadline for yourself -- a show, a commission, a class).
  • Be non-judgmental of your efforts. (This is the hardest one of all.) Don't second guess yourself -- your ideas, your beginnings. Don't think that your first painting has to be a masterpiece or has to sell -- that is the kiss of death.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you so much!
    I am mostly inspired by what you said about your mother-in-law. I have two babies and I am struggling to find the motivation and the energy-and the time to paint and do my mosaics. But I will always remember that it can be done even with 5 children..!

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    1. Yes, it's hard to find any one of those things (the motivation, the energy, or the time), when you have two babies at home. My four kids were spread out, so I never had two babies at the same time, but even then it was kind of tough. I think another difficulty is keeping all your art "stuff" away from the little ones -- especially you, with your mosaics. Very tempting for little fingers. Good luck with your attempts! They won't be babies forever -- which is a good AND bad thing, right?

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  2. Thank you so much for this post, Pat. I happened on your blog, which I love, and then on this post, which is exactly what I needed to read as I begin to try to get back to painting after nearly a year ... I had stopped for small amounts of time before, but never for so long; going into my art room just filled me with despair and any efforts I made were brief, halfhearted, and, to my mind, awful.
    All your advice here is so true: I am going to let it,and the daffodils blooming in the yard, inspire me.

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    1. I'm happy to know that this post might have helped inspire you to paint again -- with a little help from the spring flowers! I know the longer you've been away from it, the harder it is to get back into it. Thanks for leaving this comment -- I'll be interested to know how your painting efforts go -- no pressure, though! :)

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  3. This has inspired me to start with painting again which I left a few months back. Thank you so much.

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    1. I am so happy to hear that! And, you're very welcome -- I'd love to know how it goes, if you feel like sharing.

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  4. I've been told I'm fantastic at all mediums... yet acrylics have gotton me down so much. A humbling experience, yes, but everytime I sit down to paint, I want to get back up again because the canvas is now intimidating and a self esteem killing effort. It's more a commission piece that the deadline is coming down to the wire. Do you know how I can make this enjoyable? Thank you so much for this list. I like the idea of getting up in the morning with a fresh slate and I never though of playing with my pallette. Hey, I may start a series called Pallette Art. lol who knows, it may catch on

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    1. Commission pieces are, by far, the most intimidating and anxiety-provoking! But, they can also be the most rewarding. To tell you the truth, I don't know how you can make that more enjoyable. There's a quote, by someone, and I'm paraphrasing, "When it becomes more painful to NOT do the art, than to DO the art . . . ". So, how to make it less painful, but maybe not quite enjoyable, until it's finished -- just by doing it. And, be kinder to yourself . . .

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  5. Thank you. I graduated from college with a BFA in painting, drawing, and ceramics in May 2012 and after I went into a long period of self neglect. A mixture of moving 5 times, a lack of self love and confidence, and no structure. I am trying to return to my true love, Art. I am starting several landscapes right now but it is hard. Do I still have the same style or will it change since I stopped for over two years? Do I still convey emotion and power like I once did? Will I be successful? My drawing probably has gotten alittle rusty, and that in itself is discouraging. My mind keeps going in circles saying, "you can't do it, so don't even try." "you will never be good like you were in college"
    But I know those are lies!
    And on top of that, I have a few old pieces from 2010, 2011 that I didn't finish but wonder if I should. I think so! I am realizing from this I need to start and finish paintings as soon as I can.

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  6. (a continuation of the comment above) I have volunteered here and there in my town for art events, Art Prize and other events (I live in Grand Rapids, Mi) so I know I should pat myself on the back.

    -Sheila

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  7. I typed in" inspiration to start painting again" and your site came up ... I was really interested to read your comment that commissions could be causing the procrastination ... I think this is my problem ... I keep walking past the first painting of a commission and I cannot make myself do any more ... I did not realise that others feel this way .. I just felt I was being idle and making excuses to remain idle ... I am going to go back to my easel right now and I am going to try again .... also as silly as it seems when people pass comments on something I am working on I seem to freeze especially negative comments ( I have no training and I am a hotelier by trade and I think perhaps this adds to my sensitivity) Any advice

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    1. If you can, stop listening to others' comments -- good and bad. And, please, don't ASK for other people's opinions while you're painting -- they will try to be "helpful", but are usually not.

      Often, our harshest critic is inside our own heads -- and that one is harder to ignore. Try to remember this quote from Vincent Van Gogh: "If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint -- Then, by all means, PAINT, and that voice will be silenced."

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  8. I found your blog last night and just finished reading all your posts this morning - ha! Very interesting and insightful, I am inspired by your work. I really relate to this post, as a beginning painter I find myself doing more research than actually doing any painting of my own! Getting started is very intimidating, I love your step by step demonstrations and look forward to getting started - especially with the florals as I too have a great love of flowers! Thanks for sharing your gifts - you are truly blessed!

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    1. Thanks for your comments! I surely know how hard it is to get started painting. So, I'm glad that my blog may help you with that -- baby steps! Sometimes, you just have to sneak up on it, without having too lofty goals. Sketch one flower, but not the whole garden. Paint one daffodil -- not a vaseful! That will come later.

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  9. I used to paint a lot, mainly portrait commissions and since having 2 babies I haven't painted at all. It makes me very sad but after a long day with my babies and surrounded by all the mess I do not have the energy nor can I justify spending a few hours setting up/painting. But the longer I leave it the harder it is becoming to think about painting. I have developed a real fear - fear that I can't anymore, and fear that I'll never fulfil my potential! And so true about the commissions... my last painting (a present for a friend of my mother's whose husband died) has sat there unfinished for over 3 years! And now I absolutely can't face it!
    So thank you for your post - it's good to know there are others who feel the same way and I'm going to give your tips a go :)

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    1. Well, I understand completely. I do hope you try some of my tips, but I know firsthand how difficult it is to paint, when you have babies (and toddlers!) at home. Maybe try to ease back into it by drawing in a sketchbook. No pressure to complete anything, or do it perfectly -- and it's easy to put that away and pick it up again. And, if your kids are like mine, they will want to join in, so you better get them their own sketchbooks. Good luck!

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  10. Thank you! I haven't painted in about 6 years. I was a beginner, teaching myself, and critiquing myself for about 2 years. I was so discouraged that I never seemed good enough. Then about that time our family went through some devastating trials. So now I'm starting over. I found a teacher that is fairly close, and she has a small group that meets every Friday. She has started us so basic, painting small and simple. I love it! No pressure! I'm really enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of this class. I've even set up a mini studio in our guest room. Then tonight I read your post...very encouraging...and perfect timing! Thanks for the tutorials, for sharing your beautiful art, and for sharing yourself :)

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  11. Yes, I am one of the above mentioned excuses for not painting. Lost interest, stopped painting, then found more excuses for not painting. No ideas of what to paint and then asked myself, what I would do with all the paintings?
    Biggest excuse, "It is not good enough."

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  12. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

    Airless Spray

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