So last week I had one of those moments.

The kind where a voice in your head says something like the following, repeatedly:

“Your art is shit and you just don’t know how to do it well enough for your own {let alone anyone else’s} standards and should probably stop trying. And also you don’t paint often enough to even call yourself an artist, and oh my god, this is what they mean by ‘those who can’t, teach’. And you shouldn’t even be calling yourself a teacher anyway – or daring to teach – because you’re actually shit at art. You could take a class and try to improve but what’s the point, you’ve either got it or you haven’t. You’ll never get any better than this, and ‘this’ is, and always will be, mediocre.”

Wow. So mean!

This doesn’t actually happen that often; I get twinges but not usually the full blown drama.

The painting is one that I wanted to make as a surprise for my parents, who recently lost their beloved dog Coco quite suddenly. I wanted to make something in her memory, an idea which tied in nicely with the fact that my mum had mentioned previously that she’d like a large painting for the hall. I don’t paint commissions any more but I really wanted to do this for them.

Here’s a little slideshow of the first few stages of the painting. You’ll see it underwent several quite major changes; it was already challenging me, although at this point not much more than usual and I still had the faith.


I felt there was a turning point when I’d simplified it right down, and actually really did love it, even though I knew secretly that something wasn’t right. In a state of denial and in an effort to bring it to completion for myself, I posted it on Instagram and announced it was finished. I so desperately wanted to be done with it, I declared it done. Somewhat tellingly, I didn’t sign it.

I did mention that something felt a little off, and someone pointed out that it might be the fact that the horizon line was smack in the middle of the canvas, which creates an uneasy tension and confuses the eye about where to look.


Moving the horizon line up and loosening up the marks

I knew about this, but hadn’t seen it. So then I was all, ohhhhhh crap, I’m going to have to change it and it’s not even a small tweak. I needed to adjust the entire composition, and I really didn’t want to do that much work. {I know.} And also, I know better than to make that kind of mistake at this point. So, Bad Artist.

It was probably around that point that the Voice of Doom decided to crank things up a notch. It was now evident what was wrong, and it wasn’t a small thing, and part of me had decided it was finished and had mentally moved on, so all this resistance was coming up. Thus providing the perfect crack through which to insinuate itself and set up some loud speakers in my brain.


Loving the looseness but now the bottom has been thrown out of balance because it isn’t. {aargh}

I know I’m going into a lot of detail here for something that isn’t the Actual End of the World, but it might be useful to know how these things go sometimes as someone for whom creativity is a large part of your world. And that if it happens to you, you’re in excellent company. 😉

Anyway, so I then thought, this isn’t going away, and I’d feel totally out of integrity and kind of ashamed to give it to my parents as it is, knowing that it’s not right and that I can do better, even if I don’t want to right now!

I decided nevertheless to strike while the iron was hot {aka before I could talk myself out of it} and went back to the studio to address the situation.

At first I tried to get out of doing anything drastic; I used chalk to sketch in some possibilities, and sat for a while imagining different options.

In the end I couldn’t put it off any longer; I went in and painted over the entire mid section in order to raise the horizon line. Once I got over the fear of Total Ruination, it was quite fun, for a short time. I realised the painting was way tighter than I like my art to be, and this was a good opportunity to loosen it up.


Working and reworking that damn horizon line

And yet. I have added layer upon layer, tweaked the values and negative spaces, bounced between trying to make it ‘realistic’ {which is a reflex, not what I actually want to do} and trying to let it be more expressive {but then it doesn’t seem to work}, and it’s still not right. And I don’t feel good about it at all. I feel like the struggle shows, and I don’t want that permeating the space.

So what are my options now?  Keep working at it? Find a reference image and either drastically rework it or start again? Leave it for a while? All possibilities. It’s certainly not wise to paint when I’m feeling cross about it. 🙂

So this is where it stands now.

I can’t really see it any more; I also kind of hate it, just because of how I feel right now and what it represents to me. {You can bet if someone else had done it I’d be loving it.} Those things are not lasting, so a part of me remains undisturbed and happy to let it lie for a bit. It may even be complete, but I’m too close to know that right now. And this isn’t about wanting advice or reassurance. I know this is how it goes sometimes.


And it’s not about not knowing what to do. I don’t have that excuse any more; not least because I’ve experienced, written and talked about creative stuckness a million times! In fact I’m going back to this post and this one, because I do know how this goes and I do know how to deal with it, I clearly just need some reminding.

So that’s a bit of a saga! But I think it’s always useful to remember that you don’t get to a point as a creative person where everything always works perfectly the first time. It can be annoying, frustrating and infuriating as much as it can be blissful and flowy and satisfying.

And you improve, and all the creative struggle and thinking you’re shit and should just give up is part of the improving.

I’ll finish by quoting my own self, because why not.:) And I need to hear this today.

“Everything that happens in the studio {or on the dining table} is ok. There will be triumphs and traumas, exactly like in day to day life, and in the end, you can learn to choose {yes, over and over and over} to approach it with curiosity and amusement, and know that every step is a step forward, even when it doesn’t look or feel like it.”