How to Deal With the Boring Bits of Your Painting In-Progress

Making art is never so glamorous in real life as movie-makers present. Your studio equipment hardly includes a film editor to air-brush out all the palette-scraping and brush-washing. Those tedious chores won’t do themselves. In the same way, you need to deal with any elements in a painting that just don’t excite you.

What are your options?

  1. You could keep at it until you work the life out of it. Result: you have to throw it in the bin.
  2. You could stick it away somewhere and forget it. Result: one day you’ll come across it, shudder, then throw it in the bin.
  3. You could shrug and decide that’s as good as it will get. Result: you let down yourself, your art and your audience.
  4. You could try the method I use to deal with the boring bits of my paintings.

Every artist is confronted by the problem of dealing with what novelists call ‘the boring bits.’ For me, those bits are often part of a landscape background for the figures whose stories I love to tell in paint. For instance, in one composition I’d designed a background of distant rolling plains dotted with trees. By the time I finished, I never wanted to paint another flipping tree, in so small a scale.

How did I keep myself going?

Over the years, I came to recognise the danger of getting bored with background detail. My solution is to establish the entire composition, working up the elements of most interest to me only to the point where I can leave them to be finished later.

Meanwhile I get on with the ‘boring bits’ and when I find it becoming tedious, I just go to work on another painting. This way, I don’t ‘short-change’ those bits I find unexciting to execute, but that are essential for the piece to work, as a whole.

Why is it important to finish it all?

  • If an element is important to the overall effect you want to achieve, then it must be finished to the same high standard as the rest of your work.
  • If you present less than your best work to galleries, your reputation will suffer.
  • If you are stubborn enough to stay stuck on a painting you will have to destroy, because you’ve over-worked it, you waste time better spent on another piece.

The most important reason of all?

Because it takes two people to make a work of Art. The artist creates but the work means nothing without the person who sees it and is moved by it. Strive to make every painting to your best standard and you’ll satisfy both people.

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