Painting Procrastination

Painting Procrastination

with 16 Comments

I long ago discovered something about myself while working in my studio. It is most apparent in one particular area of my work. When starting a new painting, I tend to procrastinate.

This tendency seems to be limited to studio work. When I paint outdoors, I have no problem getting started — I choose my location, quickly plan my composition and off I go.

So what is it about studio painting that makes me hesitate to begin? I’m fine through the planning stage for the new piece, and even drawing it out on my canvas. It’s the physical act of starting to paint that seems to hold me back. I find that I’m suddenly distracted by other things that need doing — framing or photographing new paintings, updating my website, catching up on what my Facebook friends are having for dinner, etc.

I suppose fear is likely the cause of my procrastination. What if my idea is better than the finished painting conveys? And since I’ve spent time planning and developing my idea, it feels like there is more at stake for the final result. (Which is probably why I’m not affected when painting a more quickly planned piece outdoors.)

I’m liberated each time by simply starting to paint. Pushing past the distractions and forcing my brush onto the canvas takes care of the problem.

I know other artists who have similar issues. Some, like me, have trouble starting. Others have trouble finishing — they always seem to be feverishly adding final touches to their canvases as they’re sliding them into the shipping box.

Do any of you have studio troubles like these?

I find it fascinating that out of the worldwide population, the relatively small number of us creative folks who are painters are still such a diverse group. We each have our own unique challenges, strengths and specific ways of doing things.

I guess the saying is true: I’m unique, just like everybody else!

16 Responses

  1. Hedi Moran
    | Reply

    I have a really hard time getting in to a painting when its about three quarters done, what you said about fear resonates with me, maybe that it will be ruined or that I really dont know where to go with it. Interesting I also find all kinds of things to do to keep me from the easal. How to get beyond this I dont know, although I think its insecutity that paralizes me its hard to get back the enthusiasm of the start.

  2. Kay Jeansonne
    | Reply

    Great article Dan. It’s encouraging because I have the same issue with getting started. I’ll try your approach next time!

  3. Jesse Needham
    | Reply

    My problem, like with music, is coming to a finish after I have seen some early success with the piece. With music, it’s practicing the last half of a composition after I’ve found satisfaction and fun in the first part. With painting, after I achieve a convincing 3-d illusion, I get bored. I am also lazy and greatly fear having too much ambition compared to work. Part of my motivation is guilt.

  4. Denise
    | Reply

    Oh my gosh!!! I could have written your exact words! Everything you said resonates with me and it is so good to hear there are others like me ‘out there!’ Thanks do much for this. I feel a little more normal now!

  5. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    Thanks for the comments, everyone — I’m glad the article resonated with you.

    Hedi and Jesse, thanks for sharing the challenge you face in the area of losing interest and enthusiasm in the finishing stage. I think that would be a great topic to follow up after this one, so I’ll write about it next….

  6. […] « Painting Procrastination […]

  7. Adriana Guidi
    | Reply

    When I first saw this title in my inbox,I was all “me too me too!” My trouble is like some of the other artists here I get about 3/4 through as well and then I stop,frozen..get distracted,go onto facebook and particularly other artists websites and watch what they’re doing because I’m too afraid of messing up what I started.Thanks for sharing your thoughts and fears as well! That word “procrastination” is my middle

  8. Douglas Losey
    | Reply

    I agree that 3/4 point is a great stumbling block . This is when a painting is in its crudest form and looks bad, and I think that I will not be able to “pull it off”. I then begin to doubt myself and put it aside for a while, sometimes for years. This is also the point when any decisions that you had been putting off must now be dealt with and done.

  9. marc whitman
    | Reply

    Don’t wait for tomorrow , procrastinate now.

  10. Dan Schultz
    | Reply

    Thanks for weighing in, Adriana, Douglas and Marc. I know what you mean about the 3/4 stage of a painting. One workaround I’ve found for that problem, especially for larger paintings, is to start painting in one small area (usually the center of interest), and finish as I go along. That way the most important part of the painting gets finished first and the remainder of the painting simply has to support the center of interest. Also, I can leave the painting at any point and when I return to it, part is already finished so it doesn’t matter if that part has dried (I prefer working wet-into-wet), and I can just continue where I left off. It helps lessen the feeling that I will ruin it as I continue. Click the link below for an example of that method.

  11. Julie Evans
    | Reply

    Hi Dan, I’m so with you on this. If I’m not painting on a daily basis, I can find all sorts of reasons to not paint, and all are probably fear-based. The worst is if I have a painting started and life calls me away from the studio for a few days. The energy sort of drains away from the piece and I struggle to get back into it. I force myself to pick up my brushes and move some paint around just to try to “re-establish communication.” That usually works. I also try to guilt myself into painting by leaving some acrylic on the palette, spraying it with water and covering it up till the next painting session. (“We don’t want to waste that paint, do we??”) It’s all so crazy and neurotic. I’m glad I’m not alone in this!!

  12. JR
    | Reply

    I hit a lull about 3/4 of the way and I have to fight to finish. I like the start but somewhere along the way I lose vigor, generally if I go do a loose study outside or go and do some research I get jazzed and van finish

  13. Kay zetlmaier
    | Reply

    So true with me like you and so many others. One great thing though, is I CAN get right to painting at times after reading a great fine art article either in books or magazines… Sort of an instant “turn-on”!!!!

  14. John Patrick Weiss
    | Reply

    I’m a full time police chief and part time painter. Taking off my police hay and picking up my pochade box and brushes often requires some discipline to overcome procrastination. I find the development of habits and routines to be the best tool against procrastination.

  15. Cheryl Peddie
    | Reply

    Wow so glad I found this article today. Yes I struggle with this too. Mostly after I’ve been away from my easel for more than a day or so. It’s so hard to get back at it. I can so relate to Julie’s comment about energy draining away from the piece. With me, it’s my own energy that drains away, the longer I procrastinate. Some very helpful comments here! Thanks all. I particularly like John’s, about Developing habits and routines. I read that somewhere else, too, just the other day. Thanks again and good luck Dan!

  16. Rob Impellizzeri
    | Reply

    Dan and others –
    We all have similar struggles, but perhaps the potential for great reward for our struggle is what keeps us coming back. I too find that reading John Carlson or Edgar Payne, or watching an instructional DVD by one of my favorites inspires me to get back to it. Also, if it is any consolation, when feted with the Plein Air Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent 4th Annual Plein Air Convention in Monterey, renowned sculptor and painter George Carlson said, ” After 40 years each sculpture or painting is a disaster until the last 5-10%.”

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