Something’s Missing! What To Do When Your Painting Doesn’t Seem Like Enough.

“Where’s the rest of it?” This question popped into my head as I considered the word REST, Friday’s prompt for World Watercolor Month. I had expected to write about using watercolor to facilitate rest, but instead I’m thinking about this question and how it might apply to my watercolor practice.

I expected something different!

“Where’s the rest of it?” Without knowing the context, we can assume this is being asked by someone who expected something different than what they are receiving. Perhaps it’s not big enough, not fancy enough, not enough value for what has been invested. The expectation was that there would be more.

Not enough for me.

Sometimes I feel this way about my art. I try to fill my paintings with more detail, use more involved techniques, work with more control, because I compare my work with others and find mine lacking. I try to conceal a deficit of confidence with detail or showmanship.

Not enough for them.

Sometimes I imagine that others feel this way about my art. I imagine that the minimalistic, edited landscapes that hold so much freedom and emotion for me look simplistic and unstudied to my viewers, and I second-guess my direction and question my own taste. So often the paintings I love most feel most vulnerable and risky to share with the world. The painting below is being shared here for the very first time online for just that reason! Maybe to you it feels unfinished, but there’s something about it I really love, and I feel at peace with it stopping in just this place. So often I feel undecided about a painting because what I feel about it is at war with what I expect others are going to see.

Quenched, Angela Fehr

What am I comparing to?

If I compare my work to a Renaissance masterpiece, I fall galaxies short of meeting their standard of excellence. My art doesn’t disrupt and make headlines the way Banksy’s art has, and I’m not even close to the productive output and innovation of Picasso. If I consider the space I’d like to occupy in the art world, I very well might ask, “Where’s the rest of it?”

Expectations = Limitations

Whatever I’m expecting from my art, I am wrong. Expectations have always limited me from seeing what is, pushing me to imagine what could be, or what should have been. In this beautiful fluid medium of watercolor, I have seen that my expectations limit me from allowing the water and paint to move in their own way. I have spent too much time fighting the paint and trying to fix mistakes instead of seeing the new possibilities those divergent strokes were presenting. I want many things from my art, but most of all, I want to learn how to let go of expectations that I should be more, that I should do more, that I should offer more, and live in the strength of who I really am.

Who am I?

Art has been my journey of self-discovery. My identity keeps surprising me; I am not who I thought I should be when I first picked up a paintbrush when I was 18. I am not even who I thought I would become when I made a major style shift ten years ago. I have never expected my art to be profound, but I have found that the simplicity I seek to celebrate and distill in my work is deeply meaningful. Writers know that good editing makes communication richer and more impactful. Photographers take thousands of photos for that one standout shot. And I’m pruning away all the parts of me that are still enslaved to expectations, so I can better paint from who I really am.

Petals & Dreams, Angela Fehr

An Artist-Shaped Space.

I never wanted to be a rebel; I don’t expect to change the world. I don’t anticipate making headlines. But I am convinced that the very best space I can occupy is to be the artist that only I can be, and I fight my way back to that truth when expectations whisper that I’m not enough. There is an Angela Fehr-shaped space in my world of art, and no one else will fit.

If I could encourage you with one assurance, that would be it; be the artist only you can be. Paint in the way that brings you the most fulfilment and trust that the most important gift you can give your art is your authentic self.

What deep truth do you see in your own art journey? Share it in the comments! 

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in World Watercolor Month
  1. Chad S. 8 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your work and philosophy. You have identified something that holds many people back, myself included. Recognizing that is inspiring!

    • Joy 8 months ago

      Hi Angela. There was a vulnerability in that article that was very courageous. Thank you for the wisdom. I relate closely to what you have said and I also have some questions that I haven’t solved yet. I am also journeying with watercolour because of the gift it gives me- in many way to be me in the watercolour space. When I’m arting- in the moment- watercolour takes me to a place of rest and richness that nothing else can. However, I am also finding that if I want to earn some money from my ‘addiction’ (since sometimes, only infrequently, some people want to buy my art) However the stuff that sells is the realistic styles. So I’m caught between the two sometimes. Where do I give my energy and time? Anyway just some thoughts/wondering.
      I love ‘quenched’ that you shared with us- it has beautiful colours and movement- thank you for sharing.

  2. popspics2 8 months ago

    Knowing when your work is done is one of two big issues I have, the other is making the first mark on nice pristine paper, your work is beautiful by the way 😊🙏💕

  3. Laura Hale 8 months ago

    Beautiful paintings, and oh, how your words ring true! Thank you for being authentic Angela!

  4. scrittoralinda 8 months ago

    Angela, I never worry about what others (aka society and societal expectation) think since so many don’t know how to. Really, far too much time is spent in self analysis instead of just being in the moment and concentrating on the task at hand. If you just want to move paint around to make yourself feel happy then that is what you should do! I always like your works but all that matters is that you do. Just have fun. Check out Jean Haines and see what she does (atmospheric) and she creates constantly but constantly.

    And then there am I making a mess and then framing it. When I decide it isn’t as cool as I thought it was, it gets replaced. Simplo facto.

    Take care and be happy with that paint brush. You do excellently.

    • Mireya 8 months ago

      Yes being in the moment is everything!

  5. Mireya 8 months ago

    I started reading and immediately I was overcome with how about keep painting. I started adding more texture thinking the same thing. I love just painting one flower and leaving the rest of the page white. Isn’t it terrible that we compare ourselves probably because I mean hey they are getting the likes and have the business and you are trying to get there. I say have fun and paint what you want to paint. The more you let go the freer you feel. Those wonderful feelings transfer to the painting. That’s what people are interested in. Practice is not about skill but rather learning to trust yourself. Tube out the noise and just make art.

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