Reply To: Trashing a painting

Hi Tom, just came across your question and I so hear you about being a perfectionist. I had just the same problems you have, walking away from good or possibly good art and also getting so frustrated/mad I stopped enjoying what I was doing. I learned two things that helped, I’ll give you the advice in the same order I got them…

Use your perfectionism. Morph it into something useful. There can be perfectionism in art, use it as an impetus to always FINISH a painting. NEVER walk away, the perfection is in finishing, not in actual perfect-ness. This instantly, like totally INSTANTLY helped me. THE NEXT painting changed completely. When I let this lesson in I never gave up on a painting again because my perfectionistic side ALWAYs wants to WIN so I let it. Perfectionism is in finishing. There, done, it wins, if I always finish. I found it settled down instantly and stopped bothering me, truly instantly. Didn’t mean I didn’t feel frustrated, that gets taken care of in the next lesson.

This is from one of my closest friends. She’s been painting for 30+ years, she’s an international seller of her art, has stockiest and has three or four degrees in art, teaching art and fine art, all the way up to a Phd. So, she knows her shit. LOL. She says…


… what she means is EVERY painting has an ugly teenager stage. Sometimes this lasts a few minutes, sometimes hours and hours, until almost the last minute. But remember from rule one, perfectionism is in FINISHING so since you always finish you’ll always see the end and usually it works out to something at least satisfying that you can stop, lol. Actually, I find usually I do get to that “ok, that’s ok, I like it enough not to be disappointed”. In fact, I usually love most 80% of my stuff which surprises me. But then I don’t give up until it’s finished and I know sometimes it’s truly ugly until that tipping point. Keep going, it usually gets there. You’d be surprised. The books I just posted today in my feed was one of those ugly teenagers for HOURS. I finally switched to watercolor pencils after leaving it to dry completely and did a lot of correcting, shading etc. Now I love it and I hated it for about 4 hours. LOL. I nearly gave up at least half a dozen times but I wouldn’t because of rule one.

Here are a few other helpful lessons from my friend.
– Nearly everything looks better if it starts with a transparent yellow as it’s glazed base, start there.
– If you overwork something, glaze over it with that same yellow you started with, I use Schmincke’s pure yellow, it’s nearly a perfect primary yellow, not cool, not warm and it’s totally transparent. If you’re doing something pink, red, purple or deep blue you can also do this same glazing if something looks over worked and starts to look muddy or dull, use Opera pink, I use Daniel Smith’s. I use it fairly saturated as a glaze if something looks dull from just one too many layers as I try to get depth.
– You should always do 3-5 layers for a painting to get depth. This rounds things, lets the transparentness of paint shine but learn to get what you need in no more than 5-6 layers or you’ll be overworking it. Try for a few less layers next time.

One last lesson from my own journey.
– if something’s not working GO BOLD. If I’m gonna ruin it anyway because I’m frustrated and I hate it and I’ve already tried and tried for at least an hour to get what I want and nothing’s working, then get bold with my color, go deeper, go bolder, use more paint, be more adventurous and use more wet in wet and just stop caring if you ruin it. Usually these are the happy accidents where I get “holy cow” how did I do that wonderful thing kind of art.

Good luck Tom. Remember perfect is in finishing and lean into the discomfort of ugly. It’ll hurt and you’ll be uncomfortable but that’s where you should be to learn and grow. Let that ugly teenage stage push you to find the gorgeous adult at the end of that painting. :o)