The murky middle

When I first started painting I was 15 years old. I was convinced every single time I started a painting that this would be the one I couldn’t complete.

My paintings then were polished, “perfect”, almost hyper-realistic. I learned by the hair pulling, painstaking, breath holding process of doing; of teaching myself along the way by adhering to strict self-imposed guidelines (which were basically creating whatever was on the photo I was using for guidance; using whatever technique I could to get there). Through this grueling process, painting by painting, I started to learn bigger trends of what worked and what didn’t. Every painting, until I finished it, was an exercise in heart-in-throat persistence to maintain confidence and focus on the bigger picture.

Now, having completed probably 100 paintings, I feel more confident just because of my history that I’ll finish whatever painting I’m working on in a way that feels satisfying and complete.

…And yet. Every painting I set out to complete, somewhere between the beginning (which is always clear, because it’s just about laying out big patterns) and the end (also clear because I feel satisfied), there is a phase where nothing looks right.

In that phase I look at the painting and have real fear. This is the one I won’t be able to do, a voice in the back of my head asserts. It looks like shit, another one chimes in. How are you going to dig your way outta this one?!

McRoberts Fall

This is a good example. I completed this painting recently. It would have been much more painstakingly true to “reality” had I done it when I was younger, but instead I trusted the patterns I was seeing/creating and pushed through until the painting was done. I think the painting embodies both a sense of realism but also movement.

Every time I have to coach myself through the phase, first by reminding myself that it is just a phase, and that it always happens. I have to take deep breaths and give myself an internal pep talk. Stay focused on where you want to go, I tell myself. Continue to try. Lay paint down in layers, see what works, adjust as needed; but above all believe that you can and will get there, and you can’t stop. The most important part of this phase is thinking and behaving with confidence and trust; continuing to move and push forward.

The fascinating thing for me is that I can see how, over time, my paintings have actually come to embody more movement and less fastidious attention to detail. There is something about picking up on trends and gaining muscle memory from tools that allows me to more flexibility in creating the bigger picture I’m trying to attain, without being bound to exactness. An entire painting seems to really come together somewhere in that murky muddle; the exact point where I want to tear my hair out but push myself to keep on going.

 

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