From Life

Lately I occasionally have the thought that maybe I should quit painting. The acrylic paintings that I paint in the studio from photo reference are taking longer to make. I work on them for months now. I am painting larger which is one reason they are taking longer. But also I have higher expectations and it takes longer for me to be satisfied with the way they look. This involves a lot of frustration and long periods of time where I don’t feel good about what I am putting on the canvas. Mostly I feel like I don’t know how to paint and it’s not coming out right. It’s the wrong color, wrong value, too much, too little, too dry, not wet enough etc. And when I feel like I am not making much progress in my painting I usually try something new. In the beginning you make the most progress and it very satisfying. I love quick progress. It’s a downfall to my personality and also why I loose interest in videos game. At the beginning you are leveling up every few minutes and its fun. Dopamine hit after dopamine hit!! The longer you play the game, the longer it takes to level up. Most things in life are like this. I love beginnings – I love leveling up quickly. I have a much harder time in the middle where progress slows down and it takes weeks or months to move the needle. This is also why I have a hard time sticking to diets and other routines.

In order to feel some of that, oh so satisfying quick progress I love I just have to change things up. One area that I am zoning in on this year is working from life. In the dead months of winter I was able to attend some life drawing sessions at the Naperville Art League. But, I needed something I could do at home and that is still life. For a long time I have wanted to build a shadow box and give working sight size a try. I have limited space here in the condo, especially since we added a bunny to the family two years ago and I had to move my painting into the kitchen. I have been able to add some studio lighting this year to my studio set up. I took a sketchpad with black paper and faked a shadow box around my still life set up. Like this:

The other crucial piece of studio equipment that got me moving in this new direction was the addition of a glass palette. Which I love and have also wanted for a long time. With my new glass palette, I broke out my oil paints and went in the complete opposite direction from how I had been working – oil instead of acrylic, from life instead of photo reference, small painting instead of large, Alla Prima instead of layer after layer, and done in just a couple hours. One day, one sitting – if I don’t like it – I throw it away and move on to the next one.

It took me about two paintings and a little research to get the feel of the medium. Oil painting takes a long time to dry and you can’t layer the paint unless it is dry. So if you need to make a correction you have to wipe your mistake out and start over. Unlike acrylic which works best with medium, for me the oil paint worked best straight out of the tube with no medium.

It’s been fun learning and I was pretty happy with my study of these two little peppers. Once it warms up I am looking forward to giving plein air painting a try.

I hope you are having a great week! If you are learning anything new, drop me a comment and tell me what it is. Doesn’t have to be art related. Talk to you soon.


  1. Hi. Glad to hear you’re having fun again. I too LOVE trying new things. Some 10 or 15 years ago I signed up for some oil painting classes at Michaels and quickly got addicted. After nine months, the teacher moved out of the area, so I just stopped doing oils. But I did love them and still have the supplies for some future time when I feel the call to change things up.

    My new thing:
    Right now (since moving) I don’t have even a kitchen table to paint on, so started doing zentangles combined with Inktense pencils, water soluble. Add water: a water color painting results. All I need is a chair with a book to put my sketchbook on, pen, pencils, and a water-filled brush and I’m all set.

    I do have an art table, currently buried under lots of boxes, so I’m looking forward to the day when I can spread out a bit.

    Re discouragement: these feelings are par for the course for artists it seems. Wish we could avoid them. The best advise I’ve received for such times is to remember why I am called to do art work – it’s for the magic. Blows me away every time I wake up in the morning and look at a new creation of the day before; where previously a blank canvas stood, something has been created! “Where did that come from?” I always wonder.



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