The Progress of a Painting

I’ve been working on this painting on and off for months. It’s been very slow going with long periods of time where it’s just sat there making me feel guilty about not working on it. I suspect that the actual amount of time I’ve spent painting is probably only around 20 hours, but I kept. Getting. Stuck.

A lot of the reason for this is that I’m trying to make something a bit outside my comfort zone. I’ve been doing a lot of pretty standard landscape painting over the past couple of years. I enjoy it, but I keep feeling like I need to be painting something a bit weirder than just straight up depictions of our world. I still used reference for this, but instead of just picking one of my photos that I liked and painting it, I combined several in photoshop to make this scene. And so I started painting.

And I picked at it.

And picked at it.

And picked at it.

Maybe what this needs is some monsters, I thought.

It eventually became clear that since I wasn’t aiming for straight realism, I had no idea when to stop. Normally my end goal is to make sure that the space I’m painting can be correctly understood, the lighting reads right, and as much detail as necessary to make the image interesting. But since I didn’t have a clear endgame for this, I couldn’t just paint until it was finished. So I asked a friend. I am very fortunate to be friends with a couple of other painters whose opinion I trust, would be able to give specific criticism and suggestions, and would be cool with giving both. Here’s an example of what I mean by helpful critiquing vs not helpful:

Helpful crit: Simplify the cloud shapes, it’s gotten too fiddly and broken up
Not so helpful crit: I don’t like the sky.

See the difference? The first one gives me a specific action to take, whereas the second gives me an area of the painting to look at, but, well, if I couldn’t figure out what was wrong before I don’t have any more guidance to go one, do I? Getting specific advice helped a lot, it was also helpful to get some opinions on what people liked about the painting because that can get hard to be objective about as well. The next time I sat down to paint I didn’t make any dramatic changes, but I do think I was able to paint with better focus.

Maybe it’s finished? Maybe?

Celia Yost

Celia Yost is a graphic artist and painter by both training and trade. She's also prone to ill-advised craft projects and yelling about politics.

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