Monthly Archives: January 2012

Staying the Course When Painting Gets Hard


                                                                   The Optimist, Donna Zagotta

It’s all a struggle. I don’t know what should be there until it gets there.”  Susan Rothenberg

Back in December I wrote about my intention to continue painting through the holidays. That commitment was especially important for me because I was just getting back to painting after a long hiatus. I started and completed a small painting, and I was quite pleased with it – mostly I was amazed that I still remembered how to paint at all!

With my confidence restored, I decided to really go for it and began a large painting.  And then, as Picasso pointed out, “One never knows………one starts a painting and then it becomes something quite different.” In my case what started out as a beauty gradually turned into a beast. I found myself at “the edge of the precipice” needing to make a decision: do I stay the course or do I abandon ship? Which for me translated into: should I keep painting, or should I stop painting and soothe my disappointment and frustration by immersing myself in the joys of the holiday season?  I reminded myself that I had been there before and that the only way out is through. I also knew that I would be more disappointed in myself if I quit than if I stayed the course and failed. I am happy to report that I stayed the course and in the end I was thrilled with the results. But it was one of those paintings where I struggled from day one and continued to struggle for the entire 6 weeks that I painted, re-painted, revised, wiped off, edited, and became totally entangled with my painting. What an exhilarating adventure! Easy for me to say now – it was not so easy when I was in the trenches and wrestling with it all. 

For various reasons, many of us unconsciously believe that painting is or always should be “fun.” Additionally, many of us also hold these beliefs: art shouldn’t be hard, art shouldn’t be a struggle, and art isn’t hard for “real artists” – and by “real artists” we usually mean everyone else but us. So, when we make the decision to commit ourselves whole-heartedly to our art, and then find ourselves experiencing pain, frustration, disappointment and angst mixed in with varying amounts of joy and pleasure as we engage in the painting process, we often conclude that something must be wrong with us. Or that we aren’t talented enough…….or creative enough…….or good enough…….or smart enough – you know the drill. When thoughts like these take over, it’s very hard to stay put and continue working on our work.  

Here are 5 tips for staying the course when painting gets hard:    

  • •Remind yourself that there is only one thing that can guarantee your failure, and that’s quitting.
  • •Get real. Don’t engage in magical thinking and convince yourself that painting isn’t or shouldn’t be hard work. 
  • •Learn to really say YES! to the hard work, frustration, disappointments, and failed efforts and other obstacles that you will encounter on your path to success. As Sir Winston Churchill said, Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
  • •Eliminate negative thinking by reframing your thoughts in a positive way. For example, rather than beating yourself up with the thought that painting shouldn’t be so hard, remind yourself that painting is necessarily hard and that mistakes and failure is part of the package if you want to keep growing as an artist.   
  • •Acknowledge and celebrate each time you stay the course instead of abandoning ship. 

How about you? What do you do to keep on going when the going gets tough? I’d really like to hear from you!

Happy Painting!