The 4 Year Painting

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My best (and biggest) painting I've been working on for about four years.

I admit, that's a long time to work on something, especially one painting.

I finally know the reason why this painting has been pushed onto the back burner so many times: my vision was bigger than my skill.

When I first started painting it, I barely knew how to paint a face, yet my idea for this was to have a girl (floating underwater, no less) as one of the main focal points of my painting.

 My first attempt. Funny, the shark has not changed. I nailed it on the first try. The girl? Eh, not so much. 

My first attempt. Funny, the shark has not changed. I nailed it on the first try. The girl? Eh, not so much. 

Unfortunately, what I saw in my head and what I put on the canvas were two different things. And by that, I mean: what was in my head was awesome, and what I painted . . . sucked.

After round one, I sheepishly put the painting away, knowing it looked nothing like I was hoping. 

And yet . . .

I always come back to it.

 Another try at the face: Nope. She's Trump. Ahem, okay, an Oompa Loompa?

Another try at the face: Nope. She's Trump. Ahem, okay, an Oompa Loompa?

The more skills I've acquired the last four years, the more sure I am that I should finish this. That I CAN finish this.

Each time, I would feel a little more confident and work on it again, but it still felt like what I was painting was so much less than what I could see in my head.

To date, I've probably painted the girl's face in the painting 100 times. I've done the background four different ways. This time around, I even gessoed over the girl - twice! - completely. And started over. 

At least I've gotten braver. Paint over, paint over. What if I mess this up?

But I can't, not really. Acrylic paint is forgiving, and each time I paint, paint over, it's because I realized there was something fundamentally wrong with it.

There's only so many hours a person can spend staring at her artwork, devising ways to fix what's wrong before it becomes oh, so clear that fix means start over. And so here I went, again, painting over hours of work with gesso, giving myself yet another clean slate.

 I was too scared to paint eyes correctly so I tried to keep them closed. Didn't work.

I was too scared to paint eyes correctly so I tried to keep them closed. Didn't work.

I know, craziness. But, ever so slowly, I realized that each time what I saw and what I wanted were getting closer.

Starting over and starting over and starting over again was making my painting better. And it was also bringing it closer to the painting I saw in my head.

I was ashamed for a long time. I hid the painting in spots where I couldn't see it. And hiding it was no easy task since it's 3.5 by 2.5 feet. Too big to disappear. But I found hiding spots because I didn't want to see it. It meant I had failed, that I wasn't a good artist, that it would never be what I wanted.

At least, that's what went on in my head. And it would sit hidden for months.

I Never Gave Up Completely

My fiancé loves this painting. He would ask me about it all the time.

I don't want to work on it. It sucks. I just don't feel it anymore.

I had plenty of excuses at the ready, words that could cover up what was obviously - to my mind - a clear indicator that I wasn't a very good artist.

But slowly, month by month, I was working on my skills. How to paint a face. Practicing what worked and what didn't. During my 50 Paintings in 50 Days, I discovered that every painting has an ugly duckling phase, where you feel like all hope is lost and just might as well burn the fucker.

But somehow, right around the corner, was a better painting. If  could hang in there through the ugly, suddenly it would become what I wanted.

 2018. It's getting closer...

2018. It's getting closer...

It took me more than fifty paintings to understand this, actually. But it was an important lesson. Every mess could be just a few brushstrokes away from a good painting.

In December of 2017, I made an important deal with myself. I give up, easy. So, I challenged myself to stop being lazy. If I didn't know how to finish something, if I wasn't feeling like writing, I told myself I was no longer allowed to just give up like I'd done so many times before.

Didn't know? Figure it out.

Didn't want to? Stop being lazy and do it anyway.




And hey, when I made this deal with myself, I looked at this painting that has been hanging around for four years. Don't know how to finish it? Well, figure out what you don't know how to do and then do it, I told myself. I redid the background completely. Erased the floating girl, and then erased her again . . . !

I was critical about things that didn't look right. If the hand looked weird, I redrew with charcoal pencil, repainted and redrew again, if necessary. When I first painted this, way back in 2015, I tried to hide the hand behind the shark so I wouldn't have to paint it, because I didn't know how to draw a hand. Under my new philosophy, I taught myself how to do the hand (several times) so I no longer felt lacking in skill.


When I think back on the "me" that started this painting, and the one before that who loved art but was completely unconfident in her work, I wish I could go back and tell her that she could do it, if she only learned how. 

I was so afraid that I would be judged as not good enough that I didn't even try to learn. That only made my story in my head true. Of course I wasn't good enough. Skills don't just fall out of the sky. They're learned. And if I had started learning back then, I would be so much further now. I didn't understand that then, but I do now. 

It's not that we're not good enough, not talented enough, or not deserving enough. Sometimes, we just need to learn what we don't know yet.

Have you ever tackled a project or idea and ran into the "not knowing" obstacle? Or is there something in your life that's not working for you right now . . . could it be that some area of it is a skill you don't have yet? Let me know in the comments!

See you next Tuesday!

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