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Back to painting after a break

My winter holidays were filled with rest and time with family. It was a lot of fun, but it also meant that I ended up not painting for two weeks. Although a brief hiatus in the grand scheme of things, this was a long enough break for my inner critic to start taking over. Suddenly, I began to doubt my skills and was convinced that my best paintings were behind me.

I know this sounds absurd. I’ve painted for years and have countless hours of experience under my belt. And yet, every time I am away from the studio for an extended period, the same worried thoughts return.

While I was doubting my painting abilities, I somehow continued to come up with ideas for ambitious paintings to start after the break. So instead of easing myself back into my painting practice, I immediately jumped straight into a new, challenging piece once the break was over.

The result was a mess. I struggled to get into a flow and kept questioning each color choice, each brush stroke. Finally, I became paralyzed with doubt and was unable to continue. I put my paints away, feeling defeated.

Thankfully, I realized I’d made a mistake starting an ambitious project without proper preparation. I knew what the solution was: painting warm-ups. These are quick, low-pressure exercises that help reboot the artist brain. I put aside the large painting, grabbed some brushes and paper, and got to work.

I set up a simple still life of mandarins on a white background and painted three versions of the still life on small pieces of oil paper. Setting a time limit of 15 minutes for each sketch helped to keep me focused and to prevent my perfectionist urges from taking over. And although I felt nervous at the start, I could feel my confidence grow with each sketch.

My simple still life setup

The purpose of exercises like this is not to make beautiful paintings, but instead to get myself to pick up the brush again and paint something, anything. To prove to my inner critic that I do in fact remember how to use a brush, how to mix colors, how to compose an image.

As I painted, I began to feel myself entering creative flow, focusing intently on my subject and losing myself in the act of painting. Before I knew it, my confidence had returned, and my art practice was back on track.

The three mandarin studies

1 Comment

Jan 14, 2023

Thank you for sharing this very personal experience about self doubt, your process and how you worked through it to emerge on the other side. A life lesson for all of us, really😀

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