What to paint?

This is one of the least fun places to find yourself in.  Basically writer’s block for painting which I guess we could call painter’s block.

With paint pouring, there are so many different techniques that early on I realized I could experiment with each one for a few weeks or months and still have new methods to play with years down the road.  And a few of these techniques are so specialized that you could spend months or years perfecting just that style.

So how in hell is it that I can get stuck? 

With some techniques I prepare my paints the night before so they can rest which helps limit air bubbles.  I enjoy thinking about what I want to paint, maybe reviewing a video, choosing colors, and mixing the paints.  The next morning I’m usually excited to pour the paint and see what I can make happen (and of course, what happens on its own).

Still, sometimes I just feel too lazy after about 4 p.m., so if I want to paint the next day I have to pick a project that doesn’t need that kind of advanced prep…and there are usually plenty to choose from.

But there is an alternative scenario, and that is being stuck.  Even if I have it in my mind to try something, a certain new technique, or repeat something that worked out great last time I tried it, sometimes I just cannot get myself past the question, what should I paint?  What do I want to paint?  The answer is simply, I don’t know.  

Sometimes I can get as far as watching a video and making some notes, but then no farther.

The longest I’ve been in one of these funks is I think four days.  Which is a long time for someone who usually paints every day, and more than once a day if the fairies are dancing.

For a while, I thought that previous failure contributed to this block.  Preparing for an experiment or for what you hope is a successful pour takes both time and focused attention.  When it goes sideways it’s quite disappointing.  And messy.  As I’ve mentioned, you have to clean up whether the painting is awesome or awful.   I’ve had times when, for whatever reason, I’m not happy with two or three pours in a row.  At that point I can definitely get frustrated and choose to walk away for a while.  But walking away temporarily to clear the head isn’t the same (in my mind) as feeling like I can’t pick a direction and get my feet moving.

Yesterday I was feeling like nothing had come out “right” for days, so I did this really simple technique that I had seen an artist demonstrate which he said he did with his kids.  It was pretty much finger painting, and he guaranteed success.  So I said what the hell, grabbed a recycled canvas, and gave it a go.  And it was so cool looking, I couldn’t believe it.  Simple is best sometimes. It was a relief because I had been feeling stuck for a few days.

I think there are probably lots of factors that can play into being blocked.  Boredom, apathy, not having enough time (ever!), and just being air-headed are all possibilities.  Still, I suspect the biggest block is a subtle, even subconscious, fear of failure.  If I don’t try to paint, I won’t end up disappointed.  I won’t spend money on paint that I can’t really afford to scrape into a recycle bucket.  I won’t face that chalkboard in my mind of questions like, why can’t I get this?  Why didn’t that work?  Why is this so hard when it looked so easy when (she/he/they) did it? And blah blah blah, the ego chatters on.  (Talk about boring).

I decided a long time ago to do my best to not let fear be the main basis for too many of my choices.  That’s served me well and I believe in it.  As far as funks go, I figure they’ll come and go, and I’ll try to not get too caught up in the why of it.  After all, painter’s block is a champagne problem for sure.

Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.

Ray Bradbury

Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb — that’s where the fruit is.


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