Oil painting – when to say “when”



Oil painting can be such a relaxing pursuit. Mixing, applying, adjusting, refining, bringing a vision out of nothing. However knowing when to move on from a work is a difficult thing. When does one know when it needs to happen?

I started painting again, and while a lot of things came back quickly, color theory and proper mixing has been slow to re-develop for me. I am working on a study in the hopes of getting back into the swing of things.

I got the painting into a state where the colors were working, things were becoming balanced, and generally I was happy with the progress. And then I decided to adjust an area. Which threw off another area, and a crazy cycle of re-adjustments took hold. After some time colors became muddy. I began to question my intentions overall and started to fight with the painting. I invested a lot of time already, so giving up wasn’t an option for me. But as I continue to try and get things back to where they were before (while I was happy with the results), I find myself pushing mud around the canvas.

I like to use a heavy impasto for most things, and since I don’t have the patience to wait days between sessions, I find myself in a conundrum. Do I lay this canvas to the side someplace and move on from it – essentially discarding the effort as a failure and move on to the next thing… or do I think I really can salvage this. Is it too much to expect after such a long hiatus? Do I have confidence in bringing this thing back to life?

This thing is starting to grate on me. When I go to bed I feel a compulsion to go back to the studio and try this or that. It doesn’t feel healthy, but it is in a way invigorating. My technique may take many paintings to come back to me. It used to be nearly effortless and I would quickly find myself in a groove. That’s not happening now. The process is stressful at times. I may try one last time to salvage a main area and see what happens.

I have three options as I see it. One is to palette knife away some of the oil and try to regain tones. Another is to allow things to dry and try to achieve clean color on top of the area I am not satisfied with. The third would be to just put it away and chalk it up to a valiant attempt that resulted in some regained familiarity of brushwork and getting some colors mixed correctly.

I’ll try option two I think. And if it doesn’t quickly improve things, I’ll put the thing aside and move on from it. I forgot how stressful this whole artistic outlet can be. I can see the painting I want in my mind. I just need to figure how to get things moving in the same direction at the same time. If I never did that before, I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. I just hope it happens sooner than later.

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