Expressing Yourself Is Always a Work in Progress

ShimmerScape by Jann Alexander © 2013
Is it finished? ShimmerScape by Jann Alexander © 2013

It’s often hard for a painter to know when to quit. I’m facing that question today, with the painting I began yesterday. Is it finished? Is there something more to add? And the bubbling undercurrent, always . . .  If I keep painting, will I ruin it?

Ahhh, that fear of “ruining it.” The words spoken by the ugly voice in an artist’s head are inhibiting, debilitating. It’s a fear that’s almost unique to painters; writers can change words easily, can save dozens of drafts. Photographers can improve their images in post-processing, and with a command-z, undo what changes appear unwise.

Not so the painter. There is no undo button, no restore to the first draft function, no real way to remove the fear of making mistakes. Painting is one of the barest expressions of oneself there is: for if the painting later seems overworked, overwrought, overdone, the painter must accept the world’s reactions (oft unspoken). The painter continues to wonder . . . Could it have been better? If I hadn’t kept painting, would someone have bought it? Did I really ruin it?

“And the bubbling undercurrent, always . . .
If I keep painting, will I ruin it?”

There’s always another painting. Maybe the best way past the painter’s dilemma is to move on to the next painting. There is a reassuring aspect to knowing there is another chance out there. I once had a job as an art director for a weekly magazine. It was incredibly satisfying to complete a week’s issue, feel a bit of remorse over what could have been better, wish I’d designed something differently, but have another week’s magazine to demand my attention immediately—voilà! That one’s over, no matter what could have been improved! Here’s the next week’s issue to design! On to something different, something new!

Like a child in the back seat of our parent’s car, we ask, are we there yet? When will we get there? When? But of course, unlike a measurable distance on a map, as painters, we don’t really know when we’ll get there. (Hell, we can’t even tell if we’re done with a painting, much less if we’re really there yet.)

Expression laid bare requires more moxy than many of us think we’ve got. But if we must paint (and is there a painter out there who doesn’t feel she must paint?), we also must get comfortable with expression that falls flat once in awhile. Turns out, we keep on painting, so we’ve got the moxy when we need it; we’ve had it all along.

How do I find my painting moxy? The only methods that work for me are to just get on with it:

  • Make a new painting.
  • Learn from the last painting.
  • Recognize that not everything in this creative life has a neat beginning and end.
  • Realize there’s always another chance around the corner.
  • Enjoy what you’re painting as you’re painting it.
  • It’s the process that’s really the best part. 

6 thoughts on “Expressing Yourself Is Always a Work in Progress

Add yours

  1. “Expression laid bare requires more moxy than many of us think we’ve got.”

    +1 I admire full-time artists because it does mean shoring up inspiration and motivation from within one’s own well.

    I just dabble on the edges since I have a full-time that is non-art oriented.


  2. Beautiful! And I love how it’s so different from your other works….you always have sweet surprises with your art! Yes, I’d say it’s finished…sell it before you decide otherwise.


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