Don't Overwork Your Next Painting

"Saltwater 14" 24x24 Acrylic on Canvas

"Saltwater 14" 24x24 Acrylic on Canvas

Today I'm providing some "Tough Love" for those that continually overwork their paintings - you know who you are!

I was reminded at a recent workshop how quickly a good painting can be ruined by overworking. A student picked out a great abstract composition from a photo, made a really strong value study to paint from and created a very nice, well composed and colored abstract painting. And then what do you think happened? There was more time available to paint, so instead of being able to see and understand what she had done, (which was very different than her typical style of painting) she began to superimpose her typical style over this beautiful painting and completely ruined it so that the original composition was unrecognizable. WOW.

I wish this was the first time had seen this happen. The fact is it happens in every workshop. It happens in my studio. I see it in paintings hanging in shows. It is an affliction that besets all artists from time to time. Why is it so difficult to stop working on a painting? I believe students are used to working a painting to death regardless of whether it makes the painting better of worse - and it always makes them worse! I also believe there is too much emphasis by many painting instructors on creating layer after layer after layer of paint that students believe this is the only way to paint. I much prefer a painting that is fresh and a bit raw to one that is overworked, dull and lifeless.

We always begin workshops by painting small pieces as warm-ups to get a feel for the colors that we'll be using. I always do a few small pieces to illustrate the quick, fresh approach I want the students to use. It takes me 1-2 minutes max to paint each of these little studies and I tell them not to spend more than 2-5 minutes on each. 15 minutes later...you guessed it, they're still working on them. If I didn't make them stop they'd work on a small 10x10 for hours. My line is always, "Don't make a career out of that study." Quick, fresh painting skills never seem to be high on the list of priorities for many painters.

I try to stress to artists how important it is to make fresh paintings. Fresh to me meaning that the colors are rich and not muddy, are cleanly and directly applied with beautiful brushstrokes that are left to show, and are applied without layering. A color is it's freshest when it comes out of the tube or jar. The more it is worked, the duller it gets and quickly loses the fresh quality and color of the paint. You probably purchased the color because it was beautiful, then you proceed to reduce it's beauty and effectiveness by working it or mixing it too much.

I suggest you give yourself a time limit to paint within and stop when your time is up - no matter where in the process you are. I find the longer I give students to paint in a workshop, the poorer the paintings are. When I give them 20-30 minutes, the paintings come out fresh and lively. When I give them 1-1.5 hours to paint the paintings are almost always overworked and dull. Students paint within the time frame regardless of how long the timeframe is. They don't know when to stop. As an artist you MUST be able to see and correctly analyze your work. You MUST learn design fundamentals that guide your studio work. You MUST be able to critique your own work - who else is going to do it? To do this you need to learn design and technique. Listen to your instructors and take notes. Most importantly learn to implement the strategies in your studio. This is what all good artists learn to do. Now get in your studio and do it!

If you would like to take part in a group with timed painting exercises (and no overworking allowed!) then please join me for a workshop or join one of my online courses.