Friday, May 12, 2017

Don't Beat a Dead Horse

My purge pile that’s collected over the past year.
Each one of these takes me closer to my best painting yet.
I try to keep reminding myself of that to keep my sanity.  

In the art world, everything seems to happen in the spring. I’ve had many more commitments than usual over the past several weeks, and my calendar isn’t slowing down for the next month and a half. I couldn’t seem to squeeze in any time for a post last month, but I managed to carved out a little time this month to explore a common frustration among artists.

Artist friend Colleen Parker recently wrote a great article on her blog about discouragement.  When I was teaching a workshop for her group in South Carolina, she and I had a great discussion about how often most artists actually have failed painting attempts. I thought I’d share a bit about why that’s really not a bad thing.

So, you get started on a studio painting, with high hopes for the outcome. The start goes okay.  You finish your painting session for the day, unsure what to think about it. You give it the overnight test and come back with fresh eyes. Not as good as you thought.  You keep going with it, trying to fix some things. This might go on for days. Or weeks. Or more. Something’s not right, so you keep reworking areas. Over and over.

Chances are the painting might be overworked at this point. But for most artists, there’s always something driving us to FIX it. I think we do this for a variety of reasons. One is that we’ve invested the time, and we don’t want to see it wasted. Another is that the supplies we used up are expensive! ... And we really hate to see that wasted! We also just hate to fail.

This is when you need to determine that fine line between when to stick with a difficult painting, and when to abandon it and move on.

I’ve learned to never see a failed painting as wasted time, money or supplies. Well, okay, truthfully it still burns me up a bit, but deep down I know that every failed painting takes me closer to my best one yet. One of the things (among billions) I’ve tried hard to learn is to determine early on in the process if a painting idea is worth pursuing.

I always start with a thumbnail. If it makes it past that (many don’t), then I try a small study. If I like what I see there, I’ll take it larger. And even with all that preparation, the larger piece sometimes loses something special that was maintained in the small study. The hard truth is that not all painting efforts are going to work. You’re not a bad artist if it doesn’t work. It just means that you need to keep trying more painting ideas to find one that does work.

So if a painting just isn’t coming together, you can certainly put it aside for a while and possibly see a solution at a later time. Sometimes you do indeed need to push yourself to figure it out. But if you continue with a painting that has lost its way, and the original visual concept no longer excites you, or there are just too many things you wish you had done differently at that start, you’ll just end up beating a dead horse and wasting even more time with it. Better to toss it in the purge pile and move on. Not every painting attempt for any artist is destined for wall space.

I’ll end with sharing a couple of recent demos from my workshops last month in California.

Winter Pines Bathed in Light, 11x14, pastel

Sundrenched Field, 11x14, pastel

Upcoming Workshops:

Oregon City, OR - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
May 19, 20& 21, 2017 (Fri/Sat/Sun)
"Landscape & Light"- An emphasis on capturing light in the landscape for various lighting conditions. 
"Meet & Greet" Thursday evening (5/18)
Carrie Moore Studios, Oregon City, OR
Contact: Carrie Moore,, 503-866-5507

Cumberland, MD - 1-day Plein Air workshop (all media/demo will be in oil)
June 25, 2017 (Sun)
Part of the Mountain Maryland Plein Air event happening June 19-24.
Contact: Chris Sloan,, 301-777-2787

Bainbridge Island, WA - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop (studio & plein air)
July 19, 20 & 21, 2017 (Wed/Thurs/Fri)
Winslow Art Center
278 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Contact: Martha Jordan,, 206-715-6663

Richmond, IN - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
Aug. 17, 18 & 19, 2017 (Thurs/Fri/Sat)
Richmond Art Museum
350 Hub Etchison Parkway, Richmond, Indiana, 47374
Contact: Lance Crow,, 765-966-0256
$395/member; $450/non-member

Bend, OR - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
Sept. 23, 24 & 25, 2017 (Sat/Sun/Mon)
SageBrushers Art Society
117 SW Roosevelt Ave., Bend, OR  97702
Contact: Barbara Jaenicke,

There's more!!! ... For FULL WORKSHOP SCHEDULE, go to

My INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEOS are available at