Stagnant Painting Issues


Stagnant Painting Notes

Stagnant painting is a problem for artists. We must constantly fight this issue. One of my blog readers emailed me  to ask me to address stagnant issues for experienced artists who seem to be going nowhere with their painting process. This artist has been painting for sometime and shows in a couple of galleries.

Linda’s Etsy Shop

I have a few suggestions:

Change your mediums fairly frequently. If you are only using one medium and have for a long time, it’s time to try something new. Remember, there is a long and sometimes frustrating learning curve for new mediums. (It took me 8 years to learn acrylics) If you always use the same size and orientation for your supports, change to another size or to verticals instead of horizontal orientation. If you paint with your right hand, try your left. If you use flats, try filberts. If you paint landscapes change to still life or portraits for a change of subject. If you are a tight realist painter, try abstracts. If you are a loose expressionist, try some realist painting for a challenge. Start a series on a subject that excites you. Plan it out by ordering the canvases and figuring out the palette you will use. Give yourself a long term project that will challenge you. This is a great way to avoid stagnant painting habits.

If you always paint on location, go into the studio and work and vice verse. Go back to the fundamentals for awhile. Try limited palettes and make some charts for new palettes you’ve never tried. Paint from life and paint from photos. Read new art books and try out the exercises in the books. Take a workshop with an artist you really admire. Spend  time looking at painters’ work you really admire. Pick up a pencil and start to draw things that seem difficult. Find an artist you respect and pay him/her for a professional consultation and critique of your body of work.

My point is that we need change to be stimulated. Artists can get bored easily and so we must keep trying new technique and growing in our work or we will become stagnant.

Addressing the issue of your art mentor or teacher, it is natural to admire your teacher. Perhaps  he/she has taught you all they can. It might be time to move on to a new one. You amy begin to feel stagnant in your class or lessons. Even if your teacher is excellent but you just don’t feel like you are getting what you need, move on. If your teacher is unwilling to critique your work and to urge you to challenge yourself with helpful suggestions, move on. If your teacher only tells you that you are doing great work after a time, then they are not helping you. Some teachers really only want to fill their classes. They are afraid to challenge you and their other students because they don’t want you to get mad or frustrated and leave. I would rather lose a student than to know I am not meeting their needs. New students receive a very positive critique from me because I want to encourage them. Gradually, I demand more from them as I feel they are ready for a bigger challenge.

Let’s look at your responsibility in this relationship. Your teacher has no idea what you need if you don’t tell him/her. We are not mind readers. We don’t really know how far we can push you without your feedback. We want you to grow and develop your skills but we are often hampered by the emotional baggage that a student may carry with them, unknown to us. As a teacher, I can see a students potential and know that they are capable of far more than they realize. Sometimes I end up pushing a student to achieve that goal, not realizing that they may have emotional issues that are holding them back. I can’t possibly know that until I stumble blindly into the situation. It’s not that I would ever be insensitive to a student intentionally, but it happens.

I have such a love for the process of art, that it really matters not anymore if I do successful paintings or bombs. I have enough experience to know that anyone who stretches to learn will create a few bad paintings. That never changes. Yes, I can play it safe when I need to and turn out good paintings for exhibition, or commission work. It is the bombs and the mistakes which improve my work and take me to the next plateau.

I also know that I have limited talent, but I don’t let that effect my aspirations to greatness someday. We have to have goals and believe in our work and I certainly do. It would never occur to me to be depressed about being a painter because my goal is the work itself, not whether I will ever be famous.

I forget that less experienced painters may feel sense of despair and dismay because they cannot paint as well as they feel they should. I think we all set ourselves up for failure when we have unrealistic expectations and demands of ourselves. Part of this may be our societal demands prevalent in America, that everyone must be the best and get there instantly.

Whatever the reason, we need to give ourselves a big hug when we step to the easel and know that it’s ok to make bad paintings. I give myself and all of my students the right to make bad work. I believe we learn so much more from the failures. When we pull a bad painting out of the ashes and make it work, there is no greater joy!!

Realistically, you will need to do a few hundred paintings before you will have a genuine understanding of the process. It is important to note that professional painters literally do hundreds of paintings every year. I average from 300-400 in a year, including studies. A full time painter simply paints!! There is no real substitute for that level of experience. Why would a student punish themselves and have an expectation of the same experience that I have after 40 years of production? Simply unrealistic in my view.

Collectors Club

Perhaps we need to re-examine our goals for painting and then address our relationship with the mentor or teacher we work with. Help them to help you by sharing your needs specifically. If you are looking for pats on the back as we often need, then ask for that. Ask for positive critiques. if you are looking for help to stretch more and more honesty from your mentor, ask for that, but first you must analyze the problems you are having with the paintings and know exactly what you wish to improve. Don’t go to your teacher with vague complaints about your work. Have a specific list of what you wish to improve and ask for their help. Sometimes we have to trust that our teacher knows a good solution, though we might not especially like it.

I encourage everyone to develop a true love for painting and to keep that foremost in their minds, whatever the level they aspire to. Nothing should eclipse the joy of painting. Don’t remain stagnant in you philosophy and habits.

Today’s Recipe comes from my good friend Sarah Carey, who is both a fabulous cook and painter. Thanks Sarah.

Texas Sheet Cake:

Sift 2 cups sugar and 2 cups plain flour into bowl.
Bring to boil:
1 stick oleo, 1/2 cup shortening, and 4 Tablespoons cocoa (or 1.5 ounces baker’s chocolate, unsweetened.)
Pour over flour mix; beat well. Add 2 eggs, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Pour into greased & floured 15 x 10″ pan. Bake @400 degrees for 30 minutes (my oven, it’s better at 25 minutes). Remove and frost immediately.
Frosting: Start 5 minutes before cake is done.Melt and boil 1 stick oleo, 4 Tablespoons cocoa (or 1.5 ounces baker’s chocolate, unsweetened) and 6 Tablespoons of milk. Remove from fire and add 1 box 10x sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 cup chopped nuts. Spread on cake while hot.


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