Out with the Old and In with the New


Stacks of “waiting” paintings in my studio.

New Years, besides providing a time for resolutions, is the perfect time for studio cleaning and reorganization. The days are short, cold and dreary for most of us in the United States, and motivation to paint is lacking. This provides a perfect opportunity to clean house.

Over a year of painting, it is easy to accumulate many good starts, a few mediocre attempts, and a number of complete failures. These pile up in the nooks and crannies of our studios and, with time, become a burden. Personally, I am an advocate of walking away from any painting when the motivation is gone. Otherwise, if forced to completion, it can easily become mechanical and lack artistic merit. The enthusiasm and inspiration have to be there, or else marks of pastel are just being made to make marks. Sometimes the inspiration returns, and it is easy to pick up where it was left, but, when the urge doesn’t return after a period of time, it is best to move on. The more these attempts are held on to, the more they own us. They represent the struggles and failures that are an everyday part of painting and can lead to painting anxiety and depression. Every time we enter our studios, they remind us of our shortcomings.

It is easy to justify retention of these attempts. We retain a certain degree of hope for possible completion or the awareness of the dollars invested in the supplies expended on their behalf. This is where individual personalities come into play. There are those that easily discard and those that easily amass. Diversity is good. Each of us needs to confront this with a degree of introspection by honoring our individual comfort levels. Being someone that has more starts sitting around his studio than finished paintings, I can attest to the weight they can pose. I know I am capable of finishing most of them but at what cost? I remember being told once by an early painting mentor that internally we all know with the first few strokes to surface if a painting is going to work or not. While it is important to persevere through the ups and downs of the process, it is equally important to not keep looking back but to look forward.

Getting rid of unwanted art supplies and failed paintings can be a chore and is often difficult to confront, but the energy produced by purging can prove quiet exhilarating. Reclaim surfaces when possible (see the blog post “Can This Surface Be Saved?”) or destroy them. Trust me; it is a great feeling. Suppress the urge to store them away for another day. They will always be in the back of your mind, reminding you of the past. Even though hope remains eternal, there is a time to move on. Begin the new year with a clean painting slate. It will provide an optimistic setting in which to look forward.

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3 thoughts on “Out with the Old and In with the New

  1. pat wafer

    Thank you so much for this permission and advice. I was feeling guilty for not finishing some paintings that I was not sure were worth finishing. Now I feel fine about moving on. I really enjoy your blog and have learned much from reading it.

  2. Jo Castillo

    Thanks for this post. I found it hard to give myself permission to move on. I used to feel I was giving up, but now realize all painting is practice which I always need. Now I don’t have a problem reclaiming the surface once I decide to try a new painting. I get bored easily so have many surfaces to reuse. Ha.

  3. Patricia Romeo

    Richard, I think I have the opposite problem. I have heard many times that as soon as you really "care" about your painting or use your best supplies the painting is doomed. The only paintings I haven’t discarded are small color studies attempting to learn that actually turned out promising or interesting. Maybe I should care a little less about the painting, or maybe just paint smaller!

    Patricia Romeo