Every artist waits for the moment when they just know a painting is done and they feel content and complete with it.
In my experience, however, it’s more often a case of going back and forth between thinking I like the piece and that it’s finished, to adding just a few more marks and completely hating it and thinking I’ve ruined it (which I have definitely done many a time).
Working in the highly textured way that I do, it’s very hard to go back once I’ve put paint to canvas so it’s not uncommon that I’ll feel anxious about what to do next and stew over it for hours or even days, lest I make the wrong move.
Which is exactly what happened when I was working on a commission a few weeks ago.
Despite knowing it was nearing completion, I wasn’t feeling the love for what I had produced and didn’t know where to go from there.
I went back and forth over that painting for nearly a week. Some moments I thought I liked it, that it was beautiful even, and then the next day I’d be losing sleep worrying about it, wondering if my client would hate it.
Several times I seriously considered starting from scratch and craved a blank canvas on which to start afresh.
A big part of the problem was that, having been staring at the canvas for days, I was no longer seeing it clearly; my mind was clouded with judgement, critique and doubt.
Like the credit reel at the end of a movie, the painting was there in front of me, but all I could see/hear was a stream of thoughts whizzing along on top of it.
That doesn’t look right. Is it too busy? It’s definitely too busy. You should have stopped twenty minutes ago. It’s going to be impossible to rectify this. You’ve completely ruined it. What a waste of all that paint and canvas. Arghhhh!
All that thinking left my brain fried. Looking at that painting was like trying to make sense of gobbledygook and I was getting nowhere.
It was only when I came to take some photos of the work to send to my client (as promised) that I could see that a large part of my anxiety and self-doubt stemmed from my trying to predict what my client’s reaction would be.
Will they love it? Will they hate it? What do I do if they hate it?! How embarrassing!
Since I’m not psychic and have zero mind-reading capabilities, this kind of thinking was, of course, fruitless and maddening and had to be dropped in order for me to click ‘send’ on the email to my client.
Anyway, later that day they got back to me saying they loved it and they couldn’t be happier.
All that drama over nothing.
Ironically, now that I know my client loves the painting, I now love the painting. See how fickle my mind is? There’s really no reason to listen to it at all.
That’s my biggest learning from this experience: When all I can see is a credit reel of thoughts, step away from the canvas. Look at something else. Nature, perhaps. Always relaxing.
Nothing is improved by over-thinking it. Ever.
[Besides, paint is too damn expensive to waste].