Sunday, February 08, 2009

Words You Can Relate To

"The Valley Floor"
Oil on Panel

I posted this quote on my Facebook page last week, but figured I would post it here as well - I think a lot of artists who have been at it a while can relate to this idea:

"Painting is easy when you don’t know how,
but very difficult when you do”
- Edgar Degas

When I first started painting, I knew that I had a long way to go, but I didn't really think of painting in terms of difficulty. It was a hobby - it was fun! As a beginner, it's easy to be pleasantly surprised when anything turns out well, and I would be thrilled even if only a portion of my painting turned out the way I wanted it to.

Now that I've been at it for a few years, I've lost a lot of that naivete. The more I learn about art, the more distance I see between my current abilities and where I'd like to be. And as time goes by, my standards for what goes out the door get higher and higher (the cringe factor, I guess).

I find myself painting slower. I used to pride myself on the fact that I could knock out an 18x24" in a day, or a small study on location in an hour. Now I'm more aware that it's the quality of what I paint that matters, not the quantity (especially in this type of economy!). I find myself spending a week on a 24x30" or 30x40" painting that might have taken me half the time a year before. I scrape things more - rather than being satisfied with "almost" I try my best to get things right.

Painting is still fun, but it has become more of a challenge, and as such has also become that much more rewarding. I just have to find balance between striving to improve, and getting down on myself for not being where I want to be. The former is constructive, while the latter can be frustrating and completely detract from my efforts when I let it affect my mood. It's a tough thing to balance, and sometimes I let the negativity win.

This was a tough week for me - I was tired and cranky and had to remind myself not to get down on myself too much. I had to remind myself that if I'm being critical of my own work, it's probably because I'm improving. I found a bit of comfort in this quote - knowing that I'm not the only artist in the world who struggles with these things made me feel better, get out of my head, and step back up to the easel.


  1. Hey, Congratulations! You just had the kind of week we as artists have all the time(I have mine about every other week). We have to have these weeks, as painful as they are, to improve.If you don't question what you are doing and have those self evaluations from time to time you will be doing the exact same thing you are doing now 10 years from now.Embrace those weeks knowing you will come out better in the long run. Use them as learning tools to better that which gives you "fire in the belly." The best advice I have ever gotten on this art thing we do is "push through". Every artist you know has hit the wall at some point but the reason they made it when others didn't was the fact that they pushed through.

  2. beautiful painting and great words!

  3. Stacey - The comments in your last post speak of the sorts of issues I face all the time as an artist. For example, I look back at work I did about 8 years ago, and think it's better than what I'm doing now. I have so many preconceived ideas of the way that I should be painting, that I have a hard time just expressing myself anymore. I used to paint with a mindset of recording what I saw, and what I felt about my subject. Now, I look at so many fantastic paintings/drawings of any number of artists, and I can't seem to find my own way as a result. Perhaps I am just in a rut! At any rate, you sound as if you are progressing in the right direction. I always try to remember something that (I think) Michelangelo said, and it is something to the effect of "The public would not think of my paintings as so great if they knew how hard I worked to get where I am." (That is not the exact words, but the basic gist of what he said).

    Your painting that you posted is beautiful!
    - Ann

  4. Hey Stacey! This is so beautiful! I find that the bold colors of autumn can sometimes give paintings a "heavy" feel (and many artists cannot wait to push that boldness), but your painting feels light and almost lacy. Love the color and editing in the background....and in the grasses. I am often so impressed with your color choices and this painting is such a wonderful example of color harmony. It is very very beautiful. Congratulations. I enjoyed what you wrote, too.

  5. Kevin - I know that the hard times mean growth, which is the only comforting thing when I'm fighting with a painting!!

    tlwest - Thanks!

    Ann - I've heard of a lot of artists struggling with the same things you mentioned. When I'm having a rough week I try to remind myself that it's only temporary, and more than anything I try to refrain from comparing myself to others.

    Kate - thanks so much for the kind words! I've been trying to paint the fall aspens without having them be too garish, so I appreciate your comments about the color choices.

  6. Hey Stacey, even the worst day in the studio beats the best day working for someone else, this too shall pass. It's a cycle we all go through, and like your blog describes your a work in progress and sometimes it gets messy. Isn't it nice to be able to gripe and not have everyone tell you to get over it? Hang in there! Anne Spoon

  7. I hope that this week is better for you. I feel your pain. I have that tired and cranky thing goin' on today.

    I have found that the more I paint the slower I have become, too. It's that illusive quality thing. You know, creating better work with every painting. I hope that doesn't mean that we begin to over think the work. And if we do, that it doesn't show.

    On the other hand there are moments of flow that happen more often, too. And that is very nice when it happens.

    Wow, I think I've just proven I could ramble with the best of them.

    Blessings to you Stacey.

  8. Go for one of those big ones you speak of!!!! 40 60!!!!!!!!!


  9. Ann - I agree, a terrible day in the studio is so much better than my best day engineering ever was.

    Mike - I agree about hoping the improvement doesn't mean overthinking. I do have to check myself occasionally when I think I might be overworking things - I don't want to lose sponteneity to knowledge, you know?

    Ben - I've been working on a batch of 30x40's the past couple of weeks, and I've got a 36x48" panel ready to go - just have to decide what to paint on it!! I'd love to get up to 40x60", but I think I'll need a bigger studio first =)

  10. by far my favorite, this is fantastic.

  11. I can relate totally to the mental anguish we go through as artists. It was self-doubt and the unreasonable expectations I placed on myself which saw me put away the brushes for more than a decade. As I've recently retrieved them from the storeroom, I hope I'm more forgiving of myself and a little more resilient this time around!

    I love your work and look forward to following your blog.