The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Importance of Painting Crap

Over the holidays, I had a lot of spare time to paint. And paint I did. I tackled two large-for-me paintings of 16x20, and they both came out as total crap. I'm talking shouldn't-even-show-your-mother crap. These are two paintings that won't even come close to nomination in the Museum of Bad Art, that's how awful they are.  (And for all the voyeurs out there, no, I am not going to post them here, either!)

My husband has had to endure at least a week of my whining about these crappy paintings, and to him, I apologize. After moping around a couple of days, I painted a couple of small paintings I am more happy with (ones I won't mind posting). But the difference with the large ones is that they are landscapes, which is what I have been so focused on learning. Give me a dog to paint, and I have no problem painting something you'd recognize as a dog. Maybe even a specific dog.

It has taken me some time, but in my usual Pollyanna way, I've learned some things. I'm writing them here so that the next time I get discouraged about painting crap, I can remember that I did it before, and will undoubtedly do it again. Many times! 

So, what did I learn from painting these crappy paintings that I may be able to use? Allow me to bulletize:
  • Landscape painting is hard. Underlined and bolded! In addition to following all the usual rules regarding values, colors, edges, etc ad nauseum, you still need to be able to paint a tree that looks like a tree. Not just any tree, but that specific tree. And do it with style, in a loose but attractive painterly fashion, put into a pleasing and well-thought-out composition that evokes a specific time and place. Piece of cake, right? You try it sometime!
  • I've heard that any time you start painting a subject matter that is new to you, your first 100 paintings will be bad ones -- it's some kind of artists' rule, I believe. However, I now believe that 100 is too low. I plan to shoot for 200, at minimum. 
  • Since I have a busy life, I always pressure myself to make the most of the painting time I have. That is a lot of pressure. Granted, it's all totally self-imposed. That's ok. I don't mind that part so much. I'm goal-driven. I just have to remind myself that it's ok to paint crap once in a while.  When you only have a couple of hours a week to paint, it's going to take a long time to paint those 100 (or 200) bad paintings.
  • There's no gain without pain, or so "they" say. I may be naive, but I'd like to believe that my total disappointment in my recent work is a sign of a pending break-through. Ha. Have I mentioned my Pollyanna-ness yet?
  • I believe that if it is worth doing, it's worth doing well. If I'm going to paint crap, then it's going to be really crappy! And I'm going to paint a lot of it!  LOL. Well, not totally on purpose. But I do know that this landscape painting is not easy work, and I'm not going to get there overnight. 
  • I'm getting better at self-critique. I can recognize crap when I see it, even when it came from my brush. There's a saying with writers that goes something like -- look for all of those passages that you are particularly proud of, and take them out. So I know I can't save a really bad painting because one bush is painted well.
  • I know I need training, and that a really good workshop will help. There are many, many wonderful artists I admire out there who are teaching. I'm saving my pennies and trying to find one that fits my painting goals as well as my time and location requirements. I'll get there.
  • I love, love, love the feeling of pushing creamy, buttery paint around. If that's all I ever do, it will be fun.
Ok. So. I have miles and miles of canvas to cover with some really bad landscape paintings. If painting number 201 is even mediocre, I shall be thrilled.

Warning!  Pollyanna moment coming up:
Whether you think you can or think you can't --

you are right.

~Henry Ford


  1. Wow...what a way to start the year Monica. You an always paint over them...something all of us landscape painters have done...part of the initiation ya know.

    If you have a Michaels or Hobby Lobby around look for a book called "Plein Air Painting In Oil" by Frank Serrano. It's a small Walter Foster book...$20 I think or you can get it on Franks Website. He breaks a lot of things down such as trees, rocks, clouds etc. He also has some great step by steps. Don't worry about the plein air's the same in the studio basically.
    "Painting In Oils" by William Palluth, another WFbook is also very good.

    Don't be so hard on yourself too. I've got a whole storage closet I don't like to open because it's filled with past early works. Eventually I'll paint over those when I need canvas. Your paintings will get better and better....and trees, well, Darks-Mids Highlights and in that order. Skyholes last and don't get carried away with them. Enjoy!

  2. I'm laughing, but not AT you... I've been there - something like once a week! And there IS so much to know. All art (good art) is like that! For example, if you decided you wanted to be a diamond cutter (yeah, I know...) you couldn't possibly expect this to become a reality for YEARS. So much to know before you even got close to a rock! But we think we should be able to render 3D life on a 2D plane successfully in a short time - or part time! I have a big roll of canvas, too. Maybe have a big bonfire some day together! The CrapOilPaintersOfAmerica, or COPA. I'm a signature member...

  3. You're so right. Next time I have issues, I'll just tell myself -- "Step away from the rock!" ;-) I wonder if the URL is taken yet....