I’ve recently noticed that having unfinished paintings looking at me from the walls of my studio has been a big distraction to moving forward with the piece that I’m currently working on. Their neediness ‘calls out’ in a way that disturbs me and stops me being able to give myself completely to the most important painting – the one that’s actually on the easel in front of me.
I wonder if it’s the same for other artists.
Anyway, my solution is to periodically create a clearing and review what I’ve started in a way that allows me to move on from paintings that are never going to work and let go of those that were started with interest – but will never call me back to finish them.
We all have paintings that were begun with passion and enthusiasm, where we saw something in the subject or in a moment that called out to us, but which have never moved past that initial burst of energy and now lie dormant on the studio floor. In this situation, and in order to move past this, there are three questions I ask myself to see if I can let go or commit to finish the work.
“Do I still believe in what I saw in the painting when I started?”
“Does it fit within the vision of the kind of work I see being representative of my practice?”
“Will I commit to finish it and (most importantly) when?”
It may be brutal, but if I don’t get three clear, positive answers to these questions then I let go and paint over it. You might need to get someone to help you with this as an independent voice asking you these deep reflective questions is sometimes better than your own. I certainly have a friend who helps me in this way and it makes a big difference.
What you’ll find, if you employ this technique, is a clearing of your physical space and a profound clarifying of your intentions as an artist. It’s so important to take stock and refocus yourself once in a while. For sure, allow yourself seasons to experiment and reach out to new ideas and new methods – but don’t be driven by the buzz of the new. Don’t let the ‘unfinished’ stack up and strangle the ‘completer’ in you.
So my final tip is ‘be aware of your personality type’ and notice how it affects your behaviour. If you, like me, have noticed patterns in your life that repeat themselves over and over (and for me that would be the love of starting new things) then use them as strengths but don’t be afraid to call them out if they hold you back. Release the completer finisher and give yourself the freedom to move wholeheartedly into your next piece of work.