Richard McKinley’s Pastel Pointers Blog | Nothing to Lose

A painting that was done on a failed, washed-off, previous painting

For many painters, the process of creating is filled with equal measures of enthusiasm and fear. This strange mixture of emotions comes into play in nearly every stage of a painting and, depending on the personality of the artist, can be either beneficial or detrimental.

In the beginning stages, painters often find themselves excited to start but intimidated by the blank surface. The apprehension to make the first mark can prove overwhelming. Where should it be? What value and color should it be? What if it is wrong? This is fear of commitment. The crazy little voice in our head forgets that this is the beginning and can easily be corrected. As I told a student one day in a workshop that was frozen at the easel pondering every possible pastel mark scenario, “Just close your eyes, pick up a pastel stick from the palette, and make a mark! Whatever and wherever it may be, you will have started the process and you’ll have something to respond to.”

The mid-stages of a painting are where we often confront two scenarios: boredom or confusion. For the impatient painter, boredom is a curse that leads to hurried marks. The enthusiasm for the painting has waned and they just want to be done. Confusion is that point in a painting where we just don’t know what to do. We are driving along, liking what we were seeing, and all of the sudden there is a tree across the road. When these mid-painting scenarios occur it is best to stop, take a break, and divert attention to a new project. This is much easier for pastelists than wet media painters that have to contend with drying. When you come back to the painting, a renewed motivation and clarity is often waiting.

For many artists, the finish of a painting is the most difficult stage. As Leonardo de Vinci wrote, “Artwork is never finished, just abandoned.” This stage is where both enthusiasm and fear can play a major part. While excited to complete and place the signature, there is always that fearful voice, “Is it good? Maybe a little more will make it better!” This is a tough stage. Many good paintings end up weaker with overwork and many okay paintings could have been better with a bit more. Individual personality really comes into play here. Some artists need to have the painting taken way and others need to be encouraged to do more. One thing is certain: major growth is always accomplished through chance taking and experimentation. We grow and learn from our mistakes – nothing ventured, nothing gained. Worst-case scenario, you wash it off and start anew.

It seems then that painters are not that different than children. There are those that fearlessly enter into every situation, full steam ahead, and those that cautiously wait at the sidelines, tentatively analyzing. Understanding as an artist which personality best defines you can prove very valuable in nurturing creative growth. Just like children, some need to be pulled back and others shoved forward.


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2 thoughts on “Richard McKinley’s Pastel Pointers Blog | Nothing to Lose

  1. TK.

    Richard, Love your DVD’s’ and your new book! I am doing all the suggestions you recomended. When doing seascapes with tropical colors..knowing you light and shadow colors and how they affect the colors of the ocean are all important and challenging..any tips on this kind of land(sand) seascapes?Linda

  2. garyb

    Lately, when in the mid-stage, I find it useful to take time to do two optional routes:
    Take the painting and place it in various lighting scenarios to experience what viewers may observe.
    Take a digital image to record what exists for a show entry.
    Both add a bit of structure for me that helps to avoid rushing through to finish, and provides time to think about what is needed.
    Thanks for your writing and encouragement.