Last December as I was putting my studio back in order after finishing a particularly messy project, I noticed a stack of old, unfinished paintings whose images I had abandoned along the way. Their boards were destined to be re-gessoed for new paintings, but I hadn’t gotten around to that yet. Interested to see what I’d found so difficult in the past years, I set those paintings around my studio and sat down to have a good long look. One painting, a vase of flowers on a blue chair with a painting or window framing a girl on horseback, held my attention. I remember being so frustrated when I was painting it years ago that I finally gave up. The square shape was giving me trouble and at the time I just finally threw up my hands and stacked it against the wall telling myself that I’d save it for “another time.” I suspected that I was really abandoning it for good.
That “other time” arrived that day. As I studied the painting’s weird composition, I remembered the younger self I had been when I first began it. At that time, I had wanted a challenge, and chose a 24″ X 24″ square board whereas I usually work on rectangles. I had decided to start with an awkward composition and then work outside my comfort zone to make it work. It was a moment of daring, a courageous moment, and I suddenly felt a lot of empathy for that younger artist I’d been who had stepped forward and chosen a difficult project. So I decided to collaborate with my younger self and try my hand at bringing this to an interesting resolution. The stakes were low. This painting had already been abandoned– I could be reckless and take more risks. I could try a selection of techniques that seemed promising but that I’d decided against in other work. This was a great opportunity. I tried the following: collaging in patterned backgrounds, exploring the entire range of reds from warm to very cool, using a range of blues to teals to turquoise together and not relying on outlining the main forms as I often did in a folk-art way. Most out-of-character for me, I appropriated a self-portrait by Paula Modersohn-Becker (http://uploads2.wikiart.org/images/paula-modersohn-becker/self-portrait-1906.jpg) And when this painting was finally finished, I can say I had learned a lot.
The next time you finish a project and are feeling bold, consider looking through your unfinished work. Collaborate with a less-experienced part of yourself and together you can take some risks, practice something you want to try and perhaps make some breakthroughs. Whether you deem your painting a success or not, you will have gotten some practice stretching your abilities and learned a few new things for next time.