Looking Back

An older pastel painting from the early 1990s

Every painting is a learning experience. When we first start painting, our expectations are low. We’re happy if it resembles the scene and are filled with enthusiasm and pride over what we’ve accomplished. With subsequent paintings, we raise our expectations. The bar keeps getting set higher. Being self critical and considering oneself a student of the craft of painting throughout a lifetime is noble. This dedication to technical study and creative excellence produces humility and makes us strive to be better. Left unchecked, though, it often leads to dissatisfaction and a sense that progress is not being made. This can be perplexing and often leads to creative anxiety and depression. Nothing painted seems to meet our expectations, and we doubt our growth.

Whether we know it or not, with every stroke of the pastel stick we internalize what went well and what didn’t. These intuitions help to guide our hands in future painting endeavors. Just as in life, after much trial and error we mature. Our efforts and experiences along the way work to form our strengths and weaknesses. The longer we paint, the more we expect and creative plateaus will occur.

To keep things in perspective, it’s wise to periodically review paintings from the past. This “looking back,” instead of relying on memories that may be tempered with time, brings a fresh critical eye. What seemed so amazing and perfect in the past will often find criticism in the present. This “looking back” is not meant to degrade previous paintings, but instead place current works into perspective. Often after reviewing these historic paintings, our current attempts don’t feel so bad and an enthusiasm is rekindled.

Keeping good digital image records makes “looking back” much easier. I keep all the paintings from a single year in chronological order in one file. This allows for quick review, utilizing a slide show feature on the computer. It’s like watching old home movies and can quickly give me a reality check on current works.

“One day I am satisfied, the next day I find it all bad; still I hope that some day I will find some of them good…” —Claude Monet


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5 thoughts on “Looking Back

  1. Anne Hevener

    Congratulations to Richard on his induction to the Hall of Fame of the Pastel Society of America! Nice to see your talent and contributions recognized! Wish I could have stayed in the City for the workshop!

  2. Judy Richardson

    Thanks Richard, a very timely article for me! The frustration that I feel sometimes can either discourage or be an impetus for growth. With wise mentors like you we can choose the growth path! Looking back is always an adventure for me!

    Judy Richardson

  3. steve strode

    Good article Richard, it’s so easy to think that this problem is one that only the individual experiences, it can be reassuring to know that even Monet got the jitters about his work. I encourage my painting and drawing students to date all their work for the purpose of plotting their advancement, because I’ve yet to meet the person who got worse through practice.