The Arc of a Painting


When I began creating abstract paintings I had no idea how to go about the process of creating interesting compositions or layers of history. I wanted to feel some sense of success because I lacked confidence in my work- and I wanted to feel that sense of accomplishment every time I painted. 

Now that I have created hundreds of abstract paintings, I understand that every painting follows an arc- or more like a dip- through its formation into a completed work. 


The first stages are usually quite blissful. The colors are vibrant against the pure white background. The shapes and strokes are fresh and new. There is no clutter to obscure yet. There is, however, a flatness- things are a little boring, and the painting doesn’t hold mystery or invite the viewer to look deeply. 

And so begins the middle, usually ugly, stages of the painting. I add more and more, building up layers of interest and history- and clutter. The colors don’t always work. Things can fall into the mid-value range and there is nowhere to look, to rest the eyes. I remain in this middle stage for quite sometime, but it varies greatly. I keep pushing, adding, creating and obscuring...this  is where the struggle occurs, when  I may put a piece aside to let it ferment a bit- or so that I can see it with fresh eyes.

And then one time during this stage something happens. The pieces click into place and the painting begins to emerge. Each layer adds something- a interesting shape created by the brush stokes added around it, lines obscured that emerge through the background, collage paper peeking through layers of paint. Now it is time to add a few finishing touches- a scribble to draw the eye to the corner, a dot of color to brighten up the composition- or nothing, because it is working as is. Sometimes I think it may be complete but later decide that it needs more (or less). These stages can be fluid.

The more you paint, the easier it is to see the big picture. An ugly stage doesn’t mean that you are a failure- it just means that you aren’t done yet. Experience breeds patience- the understanding that things are going to get worse before they get better, but things will get better.  

Thank you for reading,

Liese