Many a time I’ve abandoned a piece because I’ve got stuck in that ugly stage and been unable to find my way out of it. I add more and more until it becomes sludgy, confused and I get frustrated with it. At that point, historically, I’d either leave it to dry and paint over it in white emulsion to start again or consign it to the pile to be overpainted at some point.
This year though, I’ve been learning how to embrace that ugly stage.
I’ve learnt that the ugly stage is as important as the finished piece as it informs how the painting will develop.
I’ve learnt that when I get to that point where I want to throw it in the bin (metaphorically speaking!) that stepping back for a while or starting something new removes the frustration that may be building.
I’ve also learnt that some of my best work has come out of those ugly stages, and those ‘accidents’ where I may have been trying something new or simply lost my way as I went along.
Losing my way is something I’m also very familiar with! I’ve started many paintings with an idea in mind about how I want it to progress, and sometimes they turn out as planned, many times they don’t. This has been another source of frustration historically, as I’ve grappled with an image that I just can’t get how I see it in my mind. Sometimes I love the way the painting deviates from my plan and I have a surprise result from getting lost. I’m starting more and more pieces now with no end point in mind – simply a rough idea or theme (such as limiting my palette) that I allow to evolve as I go along.
This series of photographs perfectly illustrates the dramatic changes a piece of work can go through before it’s deemed ‘finished’. This series in particular was challenging for me as I wanted to create something with the colours of the season – the vibrant greens of new spring growth, the clear blue skies and the yellow of the rapeseed fields around my home. This was the starting point, a limited palette selected by nature.
By this point I’d started to get stuck. I wanted to keep them abstract but they were drifting towards figurative landscapes. Plus I was really struggling with the palette as these colours aren’t ones I’m naturally drawn to.
I left them for a couple of days to see how I’d feel about them with fresh eyes. It didn’t help! At this point I had to make a decision – keep going in that direction or do something bold to change them. I opted for the latter , covered them over and this is what developed:
By now I had abandoned one of the panels (I’m not entirely sure why) and was working on these two. When they got to the stage below I’d actually considered them finished and applied a layer of clear gloss to seal them.
Something was bugging me about them though and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I still wasn’t comfortable with the colour palette and the designs were jarring me a bit. They were so far away from ‘me’ that I just couldn’t bring myself to leave them there. So along with the third panel I got them back on the wall. I’d been working on 4 pieces with a different limited palette and wanted to extend them into a series. Once again they got the drastic treatment and I covered them up with a different colour!
As I let myself just play, experiment and do what I was drawn to do, they developed into rich, dramatic pieces filled with depth and energy. I was totally hooked and couldn’t tear myself away from them. For the next few days I spent all the time I could in my studio, adding, taking away, photographing in greyscale to check the design and values were working, adding more, refining, observing.
I’ve learnt that one of the most beneficial things I can do when painting is take the time to pause, observe, make notes and listen. By tuning into my intuition I’ve managed to connect with the essence of me, of my art. And with that comes an energy and creativity that knows no bounds, When I make that connection my art flows, I become so absorbed I can lose hours and hours in my studio.
These are the two that are finished as I write this. The third is nearly complete – just a single element I’ve still to resolve.
As you can see, they are sooo far from the original design, they have gone through massive and multiple transformations and I can tell you that the paint layers are so thick you can actually peel it off!
But I love them! They are nothing like I imagined I would create, they are so different from my usual work and yet so me! They have been a fantastic lesson for me, one that has taken around 2 months to date.
I hope this gives you some idea of the process we go through, the decisions we have to make and the time it can take to create a piece of art that we love, and we hope you will love too.
If you like what I do, please support me!
© Natalie Day 2018