When after long working hours on your painting, you’re like “is it me or it’s mad ugly ?”
Almost exactly two years ago, I challenged myself to learn a new art : watercolor. At that time, I just wanted a place to express myself through a different medium, and to try to let my imagination run free.
What if I had been told that I would go through all the stages of the artist : exaltation, perplexity, satisfaction, frustration of the beginner’s luck, to finally end up accepting the “happy accidents” as the late Bob Ross would say so well, I would have laughed at you. And yet, here I am. Two years later. An incalculable number of completed doodles, mini masterpieces (ah, the eye of the beginner oblivious to his own mediocrity), disappointments, “ah! That’s not what I wanted to do grrrrr at all!” oh “aaaahhhh …. that’s not what I wanted to do at all: D”, and I can say now that, one the work and the patience pays off, and two that it wasn’t really worth.
The “Ugly Stage”
“Ugly Stage” is the so-called stage in the painting where we finish the first layers, and that we know theoretically where we want to go while being so far away from the goal in terms of colors, shapes, shadows and details.
This necessary step in watercolors allows me to let the paper dry between two washes, apply the first colors and shapes, let the white of the page and the light of the translucent shades show through, and more importantly take a step back in order to assess several things: where will be the accents of light (or where to preserve the whites), what temperature do I want in this particular painting, and finally where to push the shadows and the blacks.
An entire program !
So how do you fight the urge to tear up your expensive paper when everything seems lost? I personally have several methods.
1・Take a physical step back: Sometimes when we work too closely on a painting, when we get stuck on a detail, a bad shape, a corner that doesn't seem right, we no longer realize the overall visual of the painting. This detail that obsesses us is ultimately perhaps not so important, this color is perhaps too strong, too dissonant? Stepping back allows you to see where to continue, add details, deepen colors in order to achieve the desired result.
2・Take pictures :
The eye is very critical, especially when working from image reference and model, it’s sometimes difficult to watch the differences between the reality of our painting skills and the “real” things, everything looks crooked, unfinished, bad, even though we spent hours working on the drawing and then the mixtures of colors. Taking pictures while I’m working makes me realise how much I did on the painting and where I’m coming from : the shadows may look bad but they look better than before, same for the skin Color, and the background etc. The photo allows you to take a step back, but also to see the progress of the work in progress, and to put into perspective all the work you’ve been doing between the beginning and the place you actually are.
3・Take a break:
Coffee ? dinner ? sometimes even sleep can refresh your eyes and help you for a better painting session. I often go to sleep just when I think I have a tiny bit of work left on a painting, as I tend to overwork my watercolors and “mess up” with the last brushstroke. By letting the painting and my mind rest, I get to see the painting with a fresher and more critical eye, without focusing on the details on which I have sometimes spent too much time, but which are almost invisible to anyone else watching the painting.
4・Take a black and white picture:
If you often work from a reference picture, taking or turning it into a black and white photo will help define the dark / black areas from the light areas. A painting will always be more impactful and successful with the right values, because it’s these that help to highlight the overall composition of the painting.
5・Take a new sheet of paper, and start a new painting:
There are paintings that I finished in a month or more because I couldn’t get my head around them, I couldn’t see what was missing, what should I do to call them “done”. And coming back to it much later, it suddenly would click. Sometimes an interesting idea is not an inspiring idea, so instead of sabotaging yourself, it’s better to put it aside and start something more fun, even if it means coming back to it after the storm.
There are a bunch of other methods out there, but here are the one I use the most. Time and experience helps to take it easy and take the ugly stage as a necessary if not magical painting step. As an amateur, painting should always remain a source of pleasure, and not a new source of stress to add to the daily life, so learn to ride it knowing that what doesn’t kill your painting makes it (and your skills) stronger !
Hoping that theses advices will be useful, happy painting !