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Weekly Blog on creativity and what it takes to be an artist by David Limrite (artist, teacher, mentor & coach)

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET STUCK (Part Two)

David Limrite-Artist, Coach, Mentor, Teacher

"Artists have two responsibilities. The first is to express themselves. The second is to communicate."
Audrey Flack


So, you're stuck. Really stuck. You don't know what to do with that unfinished piece staring back at you.

That frightening beast.

It is scary. It is unnerving. It is intimidating.

NOT!!

It's just unfinished. That's all.

Now what do you do?

You have managed your mind. You have taken a break. You are calm, cool and collected.

You tell yourself, and anyone who will listen, that you hate it. You really, really hate it.

But do you really hate the whole thing? I doubt it. Usually, it's one small thing or just a few things that we don't like about it. Rarely do we actually hate the whole piece. There must be some areas that are working and maybe even some areas that we actually love.

Really look at this piece that you think you hate.

First things first. Find some areas that you actually love, or like, or that you think are finished for now. This will make you feel better and convince yourself that you are not a total artist loser. Very important. Now that you are feeling a bit better about yourself, identify the one thing that bothers you the most about the piece. Or the one thing you absolutely hate the most about it.

Attempt to fix that area. Re do it. Make it better. Focus on the thing you hate the most and work on it until you feel better about it. Until it looks better. Until you like it or even love it.

Once you have fixed the area you hate the most, it will allow you to look at the whole piece in a different light. You won't be so obsessed on that area. All of a sudden the whole piece will look better. There may still be areas that are not working, but chances are, you won't be hating it anymore. You will have a better mindset about it and you will see the piece more clearly and be able to handle whatever it throws at you.

Now, identify the next area that bothers you and fix it. Redo it. Make it better.

And so on, until you run out of things to do. It is now finished and you love every inch of it.

Another thing that works for me is, once I realize that I am stuck, I paint out or gesso over everything I don't like and start again on those areas. There is nothing like aggressively destroying an area that you hate and starting over to give you a new lease on life. Some artists might say " I worked too long and too hard on that area just to paint it out and redo it again." I say "YOU DON'T LIKE THAT AREA ANYWAY." Get rid of it and try again. You now have an opportunity to make it better. And you will.

Painting out everything you don't like leaves you with only the areas you do like. Suddenly, your mood changes. You become more positive. You adopt a better frame of mind and you attack the piece again.

Also, I know that I can always do better. Often, when I am stuck, I pick an area that I know I can draw or paint better and re-work it on purpose. Even though, I may not actually hate it, I know in the back of my mind, that I can do it better.

The goal is to get rid of the negative frame of mind that you find yourself in and find a way for you to enjoy working on the piece again.

I is important that I am having fun working on my art. So, I do whatever I can to get myself into a positive mindset, where I am haven fun. When I am having fun creating, I rarely get stuck.

If you are really stuck, start a second piece. Often the solution to the piece you hate resides in a second or even third piece. I call this cross-fertilization. While you are working on a second piece, keep the piece out that you are having trouble with so you can see it. More often than not, I come up with a solution for the first piece while I am working on something else.

The important thing is to not give up. Stay put and do what the painting needs you to do.

My students have heard me say this over and over: "Do not hate your painting too soon and do not fall in love with it too soon."

If you hate your painting too soon you will give up on it too soon and rob it of its chance to really be something. Every painting deserves a chance to be something. If you love your painting too soon it will become precious and you, as the artist, will become timid and try and protect it, thereby, also denying the painting of becoming something very special.

Get used to the idea of revising your painting. This involves taking things out, putting things in, making small changes and making enormous changes.

Try something. Anything. Don't be afraid. Take a chance. Take a risk. Some of my best pieces have come from paintings that took a horrible turn and for a moment I considered them failures.

When I get to a point where I am frustrated with a piece, I try to adopt a "devil may care" attitude which, more often than not, results in something far better than when I care too much about the piece or am too precious with it or too scared of it.

Lastly, an approach that helps me at the beginning of a piece is to pretend I know exactly what I am doing. This idea sometimes carries me through when the road gets rocky.

Read "What To Do When You Get Stuck: Part One and Part Three".