Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just Let it Go

The DeWalt Sander - one of my most valuable studio tools!

I'll never forget the first time I saw Quang Ho give a demo. He was painting from a model at the OPA national show with a huge audience, and when he was about 45 minutes into the painting, he decided that he wasn't quite happy with the eyes and wiped the whole thing down to canvas and started over. The entire audience gasped in horror (it looked great to us!), and he proceeded to tell everyone that the biggest mistake you can make in painting is to get too attached.

It made a huge impression on me because at the time I was the poster child for getting too attached to my paintings. If I painted a scene and liked one little thing in it (the color! the sky! that tiny brushstroke in the corner!), I would get all invested in it. I just couldn't let go. And even if everything else in the painting went wrong, I couldn't bring myself to scrape it or set it aside. And so I ended up with a LOT of mediocre paintings. A lot of mediocre paintings with a couple of small parts that worked, and a whole lot of big parts that didn't work at all.

Since then, I've learned to let go. When something isn't working, I'll scrape it and start again. When a finished painting doesn't do it for me, I'll trash it, no matter how many hours of studio time it took me to paint it. And if a painting has been floating around my galleries for a few years without selling, I have no problem getting rid of it.

I still can't paint like Quang Ho, but being able to let go has made me a better painter. It allows me to move on, and leave failures in the past.

When you get too attached to your work, you are subconsciously embracing failure. It's difficult to improve when you're surrounded by things that didn't quite work.

I spent three hours this morning sanding down a pile of rejected paintings that has been growing in the corner of my studio for three years. There's something amazingly cathartic about watching hours of struggle disappear into a ghost of an image. Without that pile of bad paintings on the floor, I can go into my studio without seeing failure blinking at me from the corner of the room. I can move on, get better.

And I'm not gonna lie, it's nice to have a fresh stack of panels to paint on without having to spend hundreds of dollars on new ones. I'm cheap!

Do you get too attached?


  1. Stacey--What grit sandpaper do you use? Do you then repaint the sanded area with white before using the panel again?

    Thanks, Joan

  2. Joan - I'll pretty much use whatever sandpaper, we have around, but grittier stuff is better. 3M makes a bright green kind that says "paint stripper" on the label, and it's the best if you can find it - doesn't get clogged up by the paint dust.

    I don't bother with white - just paint on them as they are. It just takes a bit of getting used to if you always paint on a white surface.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Good advice about not being so attached to a certain element yet blind to the whole. I find from time to time when something great happens in a painting I'm working on I tense up out of fear of ruining it and of course then I put the entire painting at risk.
    By the way, I stopped into the show at Evergreen Fine Art just before closing last night and was blown away by your paintings; you are an exceptional artist. I so wanted to study them but literally had just 15 minutes before they closed.

  4. Scott - I do that too! I've also met students who are so attached to the outcome of their work that they psyche themselves out of painting at all.

    Thanks so much for the kind words about my work. Sorry I didn't get to meet you there!

  5. I recognize I often get too atached to my paintings, I keep an error for fear of not spoiling the whole, and that's a mistake.

    I like your paintings.

  6. You are right Stacey...I guess all artists are the same...I've too got a little stack of failed paintings. I remember watching a video of Robert Wade, a master watercolorist. He advises us to have a strong right strong, he means that if a painting is not working out, use your right hand to tear up the painting :)
    Your post is very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Brilliant, thanks. Did me good this post!

  8. Thanks for commenting Sergio, Ramesh, and Fran!

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  10. Great advice....Sergie Bongart said something to a similar effect never let a poor painting remind you of your failures...I chuck mine all the time if they suck.

    6/25/2013 8:47 PM

  11. That's great Greg! I know a lot of artists who have stacks and stacks of paintings sitting around in their studios. I always recommend it might be time for a big bonfire when things reach that point :)

  12. Awesome work Greg!
    I like the way you showed the different approaches of the work with canvas.
    Canvas Frames | Frames for Canvas | Inkjet Canvas | Stretcher Bars | Wooden canvas frames

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