Just Let it Go

The DeWalt Sander – one of my most valuable studio tools!

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?

Get Out There

“Finally Spring”
Oil on Panel
12×12″
2013
I’ve been feeling rather suffocated in the studio lately – it’s a feeling I get every Spring. I’m a bit of a fair weather painter, so I often spend most of the winter in the warm confines of my studio, sipping hot tea and working on larger paintings while the snow falls outside. Come Spring, I’m stir-crazy and ready to get outside so I can infuse my work with a breath of much-needed fresh air.
As the years go by, I’m realizing that I need to get out more. That I need to brave the elements in the winter, and get outside on grey days that might not excite me. That the comfort of my studio isn’t always the best choice for my development as an artist. There’s something about getting out in the world that gives my work more life, and a winter spent in the studio makes things stagnate. My paintings become a chore, and it shows.
I’ve been heading outside to paint at least once a week this spring, rain or shine, and painting scenes close to home that I would probably otherwise overlook. I’ve painted on dull days with flat light, and learned more than I expected about the beauty of grey in the landscape. I’ve painted scenes that didn’t excite me, only to find myself experimenting with new compositions and formats. I’ve painted with friends, and spent far too much time talking about art and too little time painting. It’s been great, but my studio has still been feeling like a dungeon.
Why?
It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally realized that sometimes, in addition to just getting out the door, I need an escape. I need to see a new landscape, go somewhere new, and get excited about the world that’s out there. Put the car in drive and get a few hours from home, where the air is thinner and the landscape less familiar. I need to go somewhere beautiful and wake up at dawn to watch the sun bathe the mountains with orange light. I need to get my feet wet walking through a marsh at sunset. I need to see the afternoon sun light up my kids’ hair like a halo as they play on the beach. 
Whether I’m painting or not, getting out there is what gets me excited about the landscape. It makes me enthusiastic to get back to the studio and work out new ideas. It’s the core of what I do as a landscape painter, and without it my work falls flat.