How to let your paintings go

“Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”

Konstantin Stanislavski

We’ve all been there.

You’ve just finished a painting, and it feels like you poured yourself into it.

You want to make it available for sale {or perhaps give it away} but the thought of letting it go feels like a wrench.

Often, as artists, it can feel like a piece of your soul lives in each painting, and maybe that’s what’s making you feel like you don’t think you can send it out into the world.

I call bullshit on that.

Our souls remain intact whatever we do, whatever poignant stories we tell ourselves about leaving bits of them in places, things and people.

You can’t lose part of yourself by creating something and releasing it. If anything, creating expands you, brings you more alive than ever. It’s an expression, not a giving up.

I love that quote from Stanislavski. When I first saw it, I had to pause and really think about what it meant.

I’ve always felt that every painting {every creation, in fact} is a self portrait – how could it not be?

It comes from you, every bit of it contains your essence, your thoughts and feelings, your history and experiences, your particular way of combining colours, marks and shapes.

But that doesn’t mean it IS you.

You are still very much present and complete – more so, if anything.

As I understand it, Stanislavski’s words are a powerful reminder that while yes, we do pour ourselves into our creations – that’s what makes them meaningful and unique after all – we are also separate from them.

The art you’re looking at, that painting that just poured out of you, is an expression and reflection of what’s already inside you, and if it’s beautiful to you, that’s because you are recognising your own beauty.

{Think about that for a second! If it feels weird/hard to believe, tuck it into the back of your mind and let it percolate.}

The art lives in you, and making paintings {or whatever it is that you make} is an outward expression of something that has always been there and will continue to live on in you no matter how many paintings you make.

I see people talking about this often; how hard it is to let some paintings go.

The idea of our paintings as our ‘babies’ sits uncomfortably for me.

At the most basic level it’s just a personification of something inanimate – a story we’re telling ourselves that I don’t see as having any actual basis in truth, or being particularly helpful.

There’s always the possibility of a different perspective.

I think too that this difficulty in releasing what we’ve made is often connected to a fear that we won’t be able to make anything ‘that good’ again.

I have definitely felt like that at times, and yet here I am, continuing to make art and continuing to surprise myself with what comes out.

The only way you wouldn’t make anything else that felt as ‘good’ or as meaningful would be if you simply stopped painting.

Consider this, too: if you don’t release at least some of your paintings into the world, energetically speaking the energy is backing up, making it harder to make new work.

They start to pile up, and maybe you start to feel uncomfortable that they’re all sitting around not being seen or appreciated.

It creates conflict inside you, and conflict is not generally a friend of creative flow.

Paintings have different purposes

I’m not saying we must all sell every painting!

For many of us that’s not the focus of our work; perhaps it’s something you do simply for personal pleasure and self expression.

Even then, though, I still think it’s worth learning not to get too attached to them, so we can keep a space clear in ourselves for the infinite more to come through.

Just like people, each painting has its own purpose.

Some are meant to go and live with other people or in other places, and some are not.

Occasionally I will make a painting that I know is just for me. This one, for example:

Home / Tara Leaver

Perhaps one day the time will come for it to go and live with someone else, but since I painted this one last year, it so truthfully and fully reflects something of deep meaning and importance for me that the dialogue between us did not end when I stopped painting.

This one still speaks to me, and as long as our conversation continues it stays with me and feeds me at some level beyond words.

I find those kinds of paintings to be rare, which may in part be because I learned a few years ago not to be so needily attached to my own work.

Like anything, learning to detach from your creations is a process. And we know all about process, so we’re already winning. 😊

For me it has really helped to stop seeing them as a part of myself, based in erroneous notions about being able to be dismantled, and more as an expression of myself.

“The true work of art is born from the Artist: a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.”

Wassily Kandinsky


What’s your experience of this? Do you struggle to let go of paintings, or do you find it quite easy? Share your wisdom and questions in the comments below!