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Ways To Save A Painting
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Ways to Save A Painting

Let’s face it; not every painting turns out the way we want it to. This is something every artist should learn to accept and not give himself or herself a hard time about. After all, the motivation to paint is often more about the journey than the arrival. The challenge to surprise yourself, to see and depict some thing or aspect of some thing or some aspect of yourself which was previously unknown to you, is part of the fascination for the artist. As Francis Bacon said,

“Before I start a painting I have a slightly ambiguous feeling: happiness is a special excitement because unhappiness is always possible a moment later.”

In the background there is always the thought of failure. It’s easy for the artist to assume after one “failure” that s/he has lost it, so important is the painting for the painter. Last year I spent many, many hours on a small portrait. I was quite satisfied with it so I decided to leave it alone for a few days and mull over what I should do next. One day I noticed what was disturbing me about the painting and took action. I needed to do a small adjustment to part of the face. In about 15 minutes flat I then proceeded to undo all my previous work and completely ruined the portrait as it had been. At the realisation of this I became so angry that I picked it up, raised it over my head and was about to smash it over the edge of a chair but managed to control myself at the last second. I didn’t give up though and managed not only to pull things back but dramatically improved it. So sometimes it’s worth digging as deep as you can and not accepting defeat. It’s not easy but you can, as I did, take things to a higher level.

There are other ways to pull success from the jaws of failure, though. A good method when that feeling of, “Oh no, I’m not getting anywhere,” takes hold is to focus on what works. To do this I take two “L” shaped pieces of card. I then place them on top of the painting and adjust them- bigger, smaller- and move them around the painting until I find something I like. It’s often the need to fill the space of the formatted canvas or paper, which causes compositional problems. By simply cropping what isn’t necessary you can find that you have actually produced a successful work, it’s just that it was lost among all the unnecessary information, which was used primarily to “fill up” the space. You will often find that what you have left is actually what had drawn your interest anyway.

You can continue to work into this section if you want. However, if you want to really capitalise on this new “find” why not take a new canvas and transfer the good that you found in the original work and start a new painting, this time from a position of success. I find this helps with my painting and I hope that it helps with yours.


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