Painting over old sketches.

I am often asked the question – When is a painting finished?   

This quote from Jidda Krishnamurti is my jumping off point for thoughts on this subject.

‘There is no end to education.   It is not that you read a book,  pass an examination and finish education.    The whole of life,  from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.’

The piano – rapid watercolour/gouacheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach painting we work on (including preliminary sketches and warm up exercises) is connected to all the work we have produced in the past and any work we will produce in the future…….Everything is interconnected.

Unlike many jobs where there is a clear beginning, middle and finish – a painting can take minutes, hours or years to complete…….and even when the painting is not being worked on – the seed of it’s idea is still sprouting information, even if at a subliminal level.

I painted a ground over an old watercolour to make this image…A great way to recycle old paintings that haven’t worked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomething to consider is that striving for perfection can sometimes cripple the creative process.

As artists we seek to attain technical prowess, however it’s important to remember that warming up,  playfulness and risk taking are all part of the exploration and creative processOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlways try to work on more than one image at a time.     This can prevent overworking the painting and producing mud, particularly when working with watercolour!

When the question is asked – ‘where do I go next with this painting?’  It is time to stop.   Move onto the next painting and  invariably at a later date the answer will be revealed to your initial question.     Paintings communicate with us if we allow enough space and time…….            OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  When working on canvases….it is customary to turn paintings to the wall – sometimes for long periods.     This helps an artist to see the painting in a fresh light at a later date.    Any work produced in the interim feeds the artist with new information, which is often relevant to the original piece.          OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARegardless of the end goal…rapid sketches in any medium, along with honing observational skills help an artist to focus the mind.

Many years ago, I gave a workshop in Wales where a group of us walked the Brecon/ Monmouthshire Canal for one day.      Every fifteen minutes we stopped and sketched for fifteen minutes.….Initially, this was daunting to some of the participants….however, by the end of the day…people were producing quick sketches, filled with information.

The point of this story is that sketches had to be finished within fifteen minutes – which again was an excellent way of focusing the mind and also removing the desire to achieve the ‘perfect’ sketch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we focus on the journey and not the destination – we are freed from restraints which might otherwise interfere with the creative flow.   The joy and learning will be  found in the doing, and answers will be revealed in their own good time.


46 thoughts on “Painting over old sketches.

  1. Don't Lose Hope

    This is really interesting – and helpful. I didn’t know artists sometimes turned their paintings to the wall. That makes absolute sense. I can see how detaching ourselves completely gets us out of a rut and allows the creative process to take over again. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. ellenbest24

    Rather like writing, my novel will never be perfect and if I continue to poke and prod, tweak the characters it will never be there. Time to write The End and send it out in the world. Nice post,

  3. Jet Eliot

    This was a true pleasure to read and observe, Janet. Matching your words to the paintings as you progressed on this watercolor was a delightful lesson in art. And since my art is novel writing, you also reminded me of the same lessons I abide by while writing a long story — balancing the technical with the playfulness, leaving some scenes that are agitating and moving on to others and then coming back after the agitation has gone. And the whole gestalt of moving forward in confidence with your creativity that you’ve been building on your whole life. Delightful post, my friend.

  4. kkessler833

    Great post! It took me many years to let my paintings live. I have destroyed a lot of them but no more! I do sometimes go back to old ones but I keep in mind that I was a different person then. We are always changing so usually the painting is right for that time in my life.

  5. jmelam1

    I love this! I’ve always liked doing something similar. I would put away “finished” work that I didn’t love.

    Much later, I would take the work out and rework it. Often I would be left with a painting that I liked so much more than its predecessor.

    I have been thinking about going through some old sketches and reworking them completely. This is exactly the encouragement that I needed! Thank you!

  6. davidjrogersftw

    Thank you for this informative post. I recently read a study of artists and painters which said that there are two basic types: one makes plans and finishes the work and the other does not make plans and has trouble finishing a work., It points out, for example, that Da Vinci never finished a single work and that Mark Twai’;s novels were basiically unfinished. Neither man knew when or how to finish a work, Some writers and artists cannot tell when a work is done. I’m planning to do a post on this.

    Here there is snow and more snow–the city of Chicago is tied in knots—evereything has been canvealled.

    I hope you are well and safe.

    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Interesting observations. Personally I don’t think we artists ever finish anything….it is simply an ongoing journey – one thing connecting into the other.
      I can only imagine how cold it must be in Chicago. We have gone from ‘The Beast from the East’ last week to very mild temperatures….and as far as I can see it’s set to stay that way for a while…which is lovely. Flowers are popping up everywhere.
      I have had my first vaccination and given that a testing centre has been set up minutes from where I Live, had a lateral flow test this morning which is negative:). I will continue to wash hands regularly, wear a mask and socially distance. Stay well and I will look forward to reading your next post. 🙂

  7. davidjrogersftw

    I thnk your post on finishing works is full of wisdom acquired theough many years of practice. I can use it becauser I am an obsessive perfectionist who will go over a work hundreds of times and have been known to submit changes even as the piece is being printed, (Which greatly annoys editors and Diana) I decided many years ago that I don’t care how long I work on a piece–weks, months, years,until I stop futzing with it and can say firmly–it;s done and I can’t change a single word.

    Tomorrow I have my second Fizer vaccine. Diana is a few weeks behind me. My kids are all in the midst of the vaccines even though some have had COVID. I was on the lists of three hospitals and they all contacted me and asked me to come in, and I went to one of them. I feel disappointed. Oh, after a few more weeks COVID cant kill me, but i am told we stillcan’t hug our grandchildren even after the vaccines, and stil shouldn’t go to restaurants, etc and have to continue with face masks, social distancing, et.c, so what has changed?

    The day before yesterday we had seventeen inches of snow overnight after earlier snows of ten and eight inches, so snow is piled everywhere. A biut ten years ago we had thirty inches overnight, We are so accustomed to heavy snows here that in less than one day afterwards we are fully functioing again.

    Take good care of yourself, dear friend, and thanks again for the post which may help me in my work.

    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      I loved the way you describe your perfectionism. Do you think being such a perfectionist has hindered or helped your work?

      Yes , it is the case here as well. Just because we have had the vaccine doesn’t mean that we can hug, and go back to living ‘normally’. A disappointment for many people.

      I am following the news re the weather I the USA…Oh my goodness you are really being clobbered this year….even in areas like Chicago which are used to it…it’s still so much. This too shall pass…and spring will arrive and with it will come colour and flowers:)

      By the way if we get one inch of snow here, everything stops…….

      Stay well and here’s to our collective creative juices flowing. Janet


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