Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mull it Over Monday: Bad paintings and Empty Spaces

"Poppies"  Love this one!
Once upon a time, I destroyed 40+ of my less than stellar paintings.  I marked them with permanent marker and left 'em in a trashcan. 

It felt totally liberating.  I had all this space freed up, oh the glorious space!  ...and you know we artists need empty spaces.  Having empty space is like a quiet validation seductively whispering:  It's ok to paint more, do it now!!  My optimism about the work I will do in the future is like a crazy making fairy dust.  But (buzzkill ahead) pinning all hope on future work might not be the best approach.  A few events that occured between then and now that have me re-thinking my willingness to have "out with the old."  First, I had a request for a companion painting I did for Poppies.  Poppies had become a best seller in poster-form and somebody wanted to buy the (original) companion pce...  Oops?!  Um, can you say "sorry that one is in a Cleveland landfill?"  Subsequent to that, I discovered that painting over and fixing old paintings can result in immediate blog sales.
"Just cause you got the monkey off
your back doesn't mean the circus
has left town." --George Carlin
Also food for thought: referencing old work when painting new is a necessary part of the journey.  Not to get too philosophical but accepting where we've been as the backdrop to where we're going is healthy.  We know what's "wrong" with that old thing-- Using it, recycling it, avoiding doing it again and having it in plain view can be just the ticket to creating the next masterpce.  Empty spaces really are an elixir to the artists mojo--but before you clear away the old, take this advice and think twice!


  1. Diane - that's so funny...and TRUE! It's happened to a few freinds of mine. Nicki (Ault) had it happen last week. I've had people coming through my studio that want to buy the ones stacked in the corner (that are my trash pile!) and I have to tell them no. I should just ditch the stuff already : )

  2. Great Advice, I have done just that and have had someone want to buy it right after it was sanded down and gessoed over.

  3. Fortunately watercolors are flat and don't take up as much room! This post reminds me of all of those diaries that I started and then couldn't bare to read later on so I trashed them. Now I would like to read them again!

  4. OH! What a great post! And I'm not usually a fan of Carlin, but he hit the nail on the head, too!

    I'm with Kim, in that I have people go through my 'trash' pile then ARGUE with me that the painting they want is good - UGH - I should get rid of it!

  5. What a great topic for discussion. Many pieces I've thrown out, with only one regret. A few I've re-worked and wondered if the work was worth the effort. And some I've cut up into smaller pieces with great success.

    But I have learned it's not enough to just throw the old ones away. They need to be destroyed or you might find they've been "rescued" and stored in the garage by a well-meaning husband.

    (Love the poppies, by the way.)

  6. Some of my best paintings are done on top of numerous failures. I admit to using a canvas until it dies. And I've got a bunch that are circling the drain. But there are some that, though I know are far short of what I had intended, still have something good in them that is unique and interesting. And it's difficult to toss those.

    Sometimes the 'fix' will come many months later from somewhere in the night after I've given up trying to figure out what was needed.

    Now I'm thinking there must be a way to use an old oil canvas painting for making a collage. I know I can't paint acrylic over oil because it won't stick, but what about collage glues or mediums or Mod Podge or such? What if I collaged and then varnished over the collaged surface? Would the entire piece stay intact?

  7. Love the poppies!

    Great conversation here. I do keep my discards. Either I sand them down and reuse, or sometimes rescue them and fix them up. As I learn more about painting, I think I'm able to see things that I didn't realize before.

  8. Well, you had me about to go take a look at my paintings and get rid of some of them, it sounded so good! It still sounds like a pretty good idea for me though! Great post, thank you for giving me much to think about!

  9. you are very brave! i've just left them to collect dust and get run over in the garage. and last week a collector wanted a painting i'd let get destroyed and had to do it over!

    a lovely, thought provoking post, thank you!

  10. Carrie, yes those iffy paintings are like an old embarrasing diary entries!! Kelley, can't believe you are not a Carlin fan?! Kristeena--it is a fine line between "beyond repair" and "worthwhile fixer upper" Leslie, time away from those troublesome paintings can really do a lot of good and provide objectivity... I too sand down some of them and re-use materials! It's great to hear the different takes on this!! Thank you, all.


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