In my day job I have no issue in making decisions. In fact, I often have to remind myself to step back and take some time as I generally get an immediate gut feel on which way to go. When you’re managing large teams of people I find they are often looking for decisiveness. They come to you for direction – on how to take things forward with problems that need solving.
But in my art it’s a whole different story. Over the past 7 months I’ve had more time at home, meaning more time in the studio. I’ve found in my studio time, unless I’m in the unthinking, playful phase of just starting a painting , I spend more time sitting back and trying to decide what to do than moving forward. I can spend 3-4 hours working, but only around an hour actually applying paint to canvas/board it. A lot of time is taken up preparing – mixing the right colours. Selecting different brushes Mark making tools. The first 20mins completing some warm up exercise… but a big chunk of the time is standing back and just looking.
Early Stage of Play
Perhaps this is why I enjoy the early stages of a painting more, even though I get more satisfaction from the latter stages. Those first few layers have a joyful abandonment: where you get to smear paint across a clean white surface, scribble to your heart’s content and allow paint to drip down the canvas – it is so carefree. There was a time when I struggled with this stage the most:. the fear of marking a pristine white canvas or page. It often resulted in my making very small tentative marks. But that has now passed: there’s not much I enjoy more than scribbling and covering a surface in intuitive marks. You get to be a child again: focusing only on the process in the present, with no thoughts about where the painting might be heading or what the final work will look like.
I was reminded of this recently when one of my work colleagues sent me photographs of her children painting a large canvas. The beaming smiles and energy just radiated out of the photo!
Heading in the Right Direction
For me, this sense of unthinking play continues for several layers. The comes the inevitable: time to step back and spend time looking at what you’ve created -deciding what you like and don’t like. What you’ll keep… and what you’ll edit out. Often I’ll put the work to one side, start another and come back to it with a clearer view. More of a plan on colour combinations, shapes and structure.
It’s at this stage I often start to take photographs so I can check in on my iPad when inspiration strikes (or not)! Changing images to black and white helps me assess value clarity. Sometimes, even just staring at the image on a screen helps me visualise different ways forward. What it might look like if I edited out a colour or darkened or lightened asection. It’s only once I start applying more paint it really comes to life.
Frozen by Indecisions
As the work develops this usually starts to get easier, I have more of a sense of where I’m heading. Then, in the final stages, I’m often struck by absolute indecision. This is a real struggle for me as it’s so counter to my usual way of being. Generally at this point I have to put the work to one side, often for weeks (which is why my studio is littered with half completed paintings). This stepping back is now a fixed part of my process. Only by exception do I work on one piece start to finish. The distance seems to give my brain time to process. It also helps ensure I don’t get too attached to elements of the painting I really like but might need to be painted over.
Knowing When to Stop
After you’ve tackled this challenge you have the next – knowing when to stop. I found myself facing this challenge completing my Alice inspired piece ‘Through the Looking Glass’. I thought I was done: tools down and a conscious effort not to apply yet another layer of paint. But then, after dropping into @artroomsapp to get a sense of what it would look like in a room setting, the urge to play around was still there. This made me think there was still something not quite complete. Eventually I realised what it was.
Rather than leaving the piece as one painting, I have now taken the scalpel to it and what was one A1 painting is now two.
I’m pleased to say that the little voice in my head that was nagging is now silent so it is definitely finished!