Why it's Okay to Fall Out of Love with a Painting

I've been mulling over the interview with Tamsin Dearing from last week in particular her answer to question 5 really got me thinking...

5. This question is something that I’ve been pondering quite a bit myself at the moment – how do you know when a piece of art is finished?

I once heard an artist say that they know a picture is nearly finished when they fall out of love with it. This makes a lot of sense to me as there comes a point where I start thinking more about the portrait that I want to work on next, and feel like I have gotten about as far as I can do with the current picture.

I think as a representational artist this is easier than it would be if I worked in a more abstract way, as I know when I begin a drawing what I am aiming for. So I know I am finished when I reach the limit of my technical skill in improving it, and/or when it matches the image I have in my mind’s eye that I have been working towards.

This struck a cord with me. I've never put it into words before, but as I go through the process of a painting I'm excited about this painting all the way through... 

...until the end.

I couldn't believe it, just as I was finishing my labour of love, I stop loving it.

I kept finding this was a pattern and I was, quite frankly, ashamed of it. I've tried to ignore it and push it to the back of my mind, but it's been nagging at me for years.

Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely proud of my paintings and I typically go back to an artwork a week or so later. I look at it and I realise how much I actually do love it and am proud of it. My first thought is often 'oh, that's better than I remember!' It's at that point I take photos and lovingly publish on my website.

The Final Hour

But let's go back to that final hour. It's a very risky time for me, it's the time where I could overwork the painting. The problem is, if I fall out with my painting then I get the urge to fix it immediately - it's an urgent panicky emotion that is hard to conquer. Most of the time I have no idea how to 'fix' it!

The shame and also guilt (because like Tamsin I realise that I am also starting to think about my next masterpiece) is something that I've tried to hide from. I pretend that it's not happening. That I should feel such dissatisfaction towards the end of my accomplishment is the opposite of what I'm going for. Surely this should be a triumphal moment?!

The Realisation

I love it when you talk about art and realise something very deep and so profound it changes your outlook. I've been asking myself what I've been doing wrong, but actually I should have been analysing why I feel that way and how it could be right.

I'm certainly going to change how I approach the end of a painting. It's time to embrace that feeling of dissatisfaction. To stop and back away when that panicky feeling starts to bubble, and leave the painting for a week or so.

It's still not going to be easy, but at least I can rationalise how I'm feeling. I understand that what's actually happening is that my emotions are telling me I'm nearing completion, there isn't much more I can do to this painting and that's okay.


It's time to relax rather than get worked up, it's time to pull away and allow the painting to mature in my mind. It's time to take the pressure off myself and my painting.

Each painting doesn't have to be the pinnacle of your success, it's part of your artistic journey. It doesn't have to represent everything that's great about you and your art, it's just a snapshot of where you are at the moment.

And most importantly - that's normal and that's right, and that's okay!

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