Painter’s Remorse

Kate Bush sings in ‘An Architect’s Dream‘:

Watching the painter painting
And all the time the light is changing
He keeps painting
That bit there
It was an accident
He’s so pleased
It’s the best mistake he could make
Now it’s my favourite piece
It’s just great.

I wrote about getting started. I wanted to write too about knowing when to stop. No, I don’t mean giving up. I mean acknowledging the point at which an individual piece of work (or art) is finished. The truth is you can keep working on something forever, especially if you’re waiting for it to be ‘perfect.’

The Artist’s Way – that book that I am forever referencing on this website – has interesting quotes from interesting people in the columns around the main text of the tome. I particularly like this one from Paul Gardner:

A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.

I guess the next question is, simply, which interesting place do you stop at?

I wish I had some definitive answer for you. If my couple of months of painting have taught me anything it has been that sometimes I’ll have a profound sense that a canvas is finished. But other times I will have an impulse to experiment, to try something just to see what will happen. And this is great! It is wonderful to take creative risks, to feel like you can do this. But experimenting with a canvas is very different to experimenting with words in a word processor. You can completely alter a paragraph in a manuscript on your computer and if it looks wrong you can change it back. Sometimes you’ll have the luxury of an ‘undo’ feature, other times you’ll just recreate something from memory. It is harder with a canvas. There are very real limits to what you can do to ‘remove’ paint from a canvas.

[And as though to illustrate my point I just wrote a paragraph in this blog and then deleted it to start again. See? It is easier in text.]

So when I’ve painted an eerie graveyard scene and am happy with the canvas I could stop in this interesting place. Only… I can’t seem to do that. No, I’m fascinated by the idea of coloured washes. It doesn’t seem to matter that I’ve never found a personally satisfying application for them in any of the other paintings I’ve done. I’m hung up on them. I think it will give the painting a sense of depth and add to the overall mood. But it doesn’t work out as I imagine. The entire scene is obscured in the process. I have this moment where I think to myself, “You know John, you had a perfectly workable piece of artwork before you did that.”

But I don’t want to beat myself up. Risk is kind of what it’s all about. Creative risk is the reason our parents secretly (sometimes not-so-secretly) wish we’d give up our creative pursuits and work in banks. And I have to realise if I hadn’t been prepared to take some risks I wouldn’t be painting at all. I wouldn’t be writing, I wouldn’t be blogging. I wouldn’t be podcasting. I wouldn’t make videos and put them on the Internet. I wouldn’t be doing any of the things that are important to me if I hadn’t been prepared to experience creative risk.

The other thing worth remembering is that the stretched canvases and canvas boards I use are quite affordable. Infact compared to my university education… you know, I don’t think I’ll finish that thought.

Happy risk taking!

1 comment… add one
  • Know what you mean. I have two degrees in English literature, and at the end of those years and that $$$ I didn’t know the first thing about writing literature. Not the first thing. I knew how to read it. Just not how to write it.

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