Knowing –Art of Learning

Art of Learning

Learning How to Resolve a Painting

with 17 comments

For some of us, resolving a painting is more difficult then it should be. Once started, I am not able to see what I am doing with a clean mind. There are elements that I fall in love with a try to work around them, but never seem to get the entire painting to work. Recently I discovered that a painting that was testing my identity as an artist (another way saying, gave me great doubts about my ability) only needed for my scrape out the one thing that I thought was working for me, in order for the the rest of the painting to come alive.

Occasionally or almost always, the paintings become overworked. Knowing when to stop is a good thing. I have tried all of the little tricks you can use to play with your mind, like hiding the painting in a closet for a week, the black mirror, turning it upside down etc. Anybody have any other ideas?


Written by Bob Martin

January 4, 2007 at 5:50 pm

17 Responses

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  1. I don’t know what your paintings look like – this is my first time on your blog… but for me, when I was in school and not really sure of what I wanted my paintings to be about, I had the same problem. Later on, my work turned to strictly figurative /representational and each painting centered around a single story or idea. I haven’t painted for a few years now since I’m back in school for computers (couldn’t get a job with an MFA 😦 ) but I would work on the painting until I was sure that the idea or story was clear and that the look of everything was technically good. But mostly, if I knew the viewer would understand my ideas/story/whatever-you-call-it, then I could consider a painting finished.

    I heard tricks like you mention (mirror, upside down, etc) in art school… but i think those are really just gimmicks and mostly tend to distract people from focusing on ideas, meaning and content.

    Oh yeah, I found your photos of your paintings 🙂
    Nice stuff! And representational – which is a major plus for me (I can’t stand to look a non-representational work anymore).


    January 4, 2007 at 6:09 pm

  2. What a great post Bob … the resolution is the most difficult. I have spent longer on the resolution than I did on the rest of the painting. And that is not right. My theory is something in my brain snaps about 3/4 of the way through a painting and then I am doomed. Not all of the time, but way to often.
    My best idea is someone please help… please save me from myself. Paint with a friend. For real – I have a young artist friend. Her and I would paint together often in my studio. We will again, starting very soon.
    She is trained in Russia, and I do not have formal training. We both have a bad habit of overdoing it, her by painting over the entire thing, and these works are beautiful.
    And myself of course I overwork, overdo, over analyze … like I said … somebody save me from myself. LOL. : ) I think I may need bigger canvasses, then I do not have to keep painting over the same places. LOL.


    January 4, 2007 at 7:13 pm

  3. Hi Bob, I have a tendency to overwork and so I have learned to stop BEFORE I think I am finished. Sounds impossible, but when I find myself thinking of little things that I want to add or when I am eyeing my smaller brushes, I immediately apply the final coat and leave it be! Of course, I don’t always listen to myself:-) and that’s where my husband comes in handy-he often tells me whether I should stop or if it needs more work.

    Sometimes my instincts tell me if a piece is finished, but not always. Other things like deadlines and visitor feedback can really throw off what my gut tells me.

    And I often have to give up a part that is working in order to save the whole piece. That is just painful sometimes, but I am usually glad in the end.

    Tracy Helgeson

    January 4, 2007 at 7:30 pm

  4. Hi Bob;
    I have been painting seriously for about 10 years. What I have learned of my own tendency to belabour work is that at some point the work has to stop, and be accepted for what it is, warts and all. Sometimes this means that some things are not resolved, but if I take painting to be a process of learning then the next painting will allow me the opportunity to absolve my acts of omission and commission and arrive at a better resolution of problems encountered.


    January 4, 2007 at 7:51 pm

  5. Hi Bob,
    Happy New Year!!
    Question…what is the “black mirror”? I’ve never heard that. I have heard of looking at a painting in a regular mirror, but I’m curious about the black mirror.
    Stay well my friend!

    mark oberndorf

    January 4, 2007 at 9:55 pm

  6. Mark, I am dating myself with ref. to a “Black Mirror”. A black mirror is made by using a reflective dark paint on the back of a piece of glass to create a mirror that returns a image that picks up the higher values in a painting vs regular mirror which mimics the actual values more closely.

    Bob Martin

    January 4, 2007 at 10:19 pm

  7. Hey Hobbylobby, thanks for visiting. This post is also located on Art & Perception and David’s comments and suggestions are on target.

    Bob Martin

    January 4, 2007 at 10:24 pm

  8. Hi Tracy, I think my issue is universal for artist. When to stop. Thanks for your comments.

    Suburbanlife, thanks for visiting.

    Bob Martin

    January 5, 2007 at 4:20 am

  9. Hi Bob,
    for me resolving a painting can NEVER be forced, no matter how much i want to make it happen….when i reach this point, i have to leave it alone…forget about it… work on something else instead to take my heart away from it.
    Even if i THINK i have forgotten about it (but secretly have been turning it over on the back burner of my mind) then decide it’s now time to resolve ‘that painting’, it still eludes me!
    I have discovered the times for resolving paintings is often not of my own choosing. A little faith that eventually the solution will unfold when i’m ready to see it is all i can hope for. Sorry no tricks in my bag!


    January 7, 2007 at 1:24 am

  10. Hi Sally
    I was telling my wife this morning that the reason I woke at 4AM this morning was that I solved a problem I was having with a painting while sleeping and could not wait until the Sun come before getting to work. So like you say, just have a little faith and everything becomes clear.

    Bob Martin

    January 7, 2007 at 1:34 am

  11. The need to “scrape out the one thing that was working for me” is very familiar to me. There is a famous quote (well, I know it’s famous, but I’ve never found out who said it–Duchamp maybe?) that we must “kill our little darlings” as part of the art making process. “Darlings” are those precious areas that you fall in love with, refuse to move away from, and are then stuck with making everything else work around them. And in the process, the whole painting can easily degenerate, get overworked and dull. So there are two challenges–recognizing the “darlings” for what they are, and then being strong enough to do away with them. Feeling confident enough to think if you made something good once, it wasn’t an accident–you can do it again!


    January 7, 2007 at 2:04 am

  12. The one good thing about working with soft pastels is that it is best to wait in between layers sprayed with fixative spray to give the painting time to dry. And if that overnight break doesn’t help, I often turn to my husband who is great at coaching me on during the creative process. Without him, I’d probably have hundreds of overworked paintings. 😉

    Natalie Roberts

    January 8, 2007 at 3:26 am

  13. I was thrilled to read “Recently I discovered that a painting that was testing my identity as an artist (another way saying, gave me great doubts about my ability)…” I hate that feeling and have it way too often lately since I’m stepping out of my watercolor comfort zone and experimenting with oils and acrylics. Knowing that you, who’s work I so admire, have that feeling too sometimes, is very reassuring. Don’t you just love dreaming of solutions and then having them actually work (instead of discovering upon awakening that they’re really nutty). I wish I could watch you paint and learn how you make such luscious, expressive, juicy portraits and images. Your header image is sensational! You wouldn’t happen to be in the SF Bay Area and teach, would you? And thanks for your nice message on my blog. I appreciate it!

    Jana Bouc

    January 8, 2007 at 4:31 am

  14. Natalie, I just pulled out my soft pastels. I remember working with them in the past would frustrate me so. I had to wait and be more observant and subsequently it improved my oil painting. Looking back at my notes (informal post-it) I see that seem to get lost around the big holiday season.

    Bob Martin

    January 8, 2007 at 12:46 pm

  15. Jana, every once in while it just good to scream. A Primal Screen. But for fear of giving my dog a nervous breakdown, I use this blog. Thanks for listening. I have some interesting thoughts about teaching art and will follow up with you a little later on.

    Bob Martin

    January 8, 2007 at 12:51 pm

  16. Hey Bob! Happy New Year!!!
    I just visited your website again after holiday season finally! And what I notice? A trendy new look in you blog, well done! Looks great!
    I love the little poochy, gutchie gutchi doo doo…
    I read this post and I can totally identify myself in it… I started to leave my paintings not so finish now… but I still find very hard to scrap bits… I have this compulsiveness to be right from the first attempt that I still need to overcome


    January 11, 2007 at 3:41 pm

  17. Happy New Year to you Angela, welcome back home. I spend most of my time talking to Vincent. He is a great little Muse, gives me wonderful feedback and has two simple request. Feed him and to play ball with him.

    I think to get over my compulsiveness I will start doing a painting a day again. I noticed when I was doing this, it seem to have satisfied my need to finish something.

    Bob Martin

    January 12, 2007 at 6:18 am

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