I’ll never forget the first time I saw Quang Ho give a demo. He was painting from a model at the OPA national show with a huge audience, and when he was about 45 minutes into the painting, he decided that he wasn’t quite happy with the eyes and wiped the whole thing down to canvas and started over. The entire audience gasped in horror (it looked great to us!), and he proceeded to tell everyone that the biggest mistake you can make in painting is to get too attached.
It made a huge impression on me because at the time I was the poster child for getting too attached to my paintings. If I painted a scene and liked one little thing in it (the color! the sky! that tiny brushstroke in the corner!), I would get all invested in it. I just couldn’t let go. And even if everything else in the painting went wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to scrape it or set it aside. And so I ended up with a LOT of mediocre paintings. A lot of mediocre paintings with a couple of small parts that worked, and a whole lot of big parts that didn’t work at all.
Since then, I’ve learned to let go. When something isn’t working, I’ll scrape it and start again. When a finished painting doesn’t do it for me, I’ll trash it, no matter how many hours of studio time it took me to paint it. And if a painting has been floating around my galleries for a few years without selling, I have no problem getting rid of it.
I still can’t paint like Quang Ho, but being able to let go has made me a better painter. It allows me to move on, and leave failures in the past.
When you get too attached to your work, you are subconsciously embracing failure. It’s difficult to improve when you’re surrounded by things that didn’t quite work.
I spent three hours this morning sanding down a pile of rejected paintings that has been growing in the corner of my studio for three years. There’s something amazingly cathartic about watching hours of struggle disappear into a ghost of an image. Without that pile of bad paintings on the floor, I can go into my studio without seeing failure blinking at me from the corner of the room. I can move on, get better.
And I’m not gonna lie, it’s nice to have a fresh stack of panels to paint on without having to spend hundreds of dollars on new ones. I’m cheap!
Do you get too attached?