WEEKLY QUESTION No. 5 - Procrastination

edited December 2021 in General Discussion

 I can fall into a downward spiral of procrastination if I allow myself to. I worry that my canvas is too rough/smooth, about whether the composition I've arrived at needs more thought, about the imperfect conditions in my studio, etc. The list can be as long as I allow it to be. But I'm generally able to put a lid on such concerns and get on with painting. 

The following are just some of the worries that I see come up a lot on the forum:

Is my substrate archival?

Should I use canvas, HDF, MDF, aluminium composite panel, wood, paper …?

Is this the right primer/ground for the substrate I have in mind?

I’ll be painting a la prima but how can I be sure I’m not violating the fat over lean rule?

Must my medium be exactly in accord with Mark’s recipe?

Will my pencil drawing bleed through the paint layer?

Will my used paper towels and brushes spontaneously combust?

Will my paints poison me?

Will solvent fumes kill the parrot?

And so on …

It’s not that these issues are irrelevant. We need to maintain a safe environment and we must do what we can to make our paintings last. It’s just that such concerns can be endless and, if we keep entertaining them, they can get in the way of our actually making a start.

A question that often crosses my mind before I start a major painting is: What if the idea doesn’t work? What if the painting is a failure? My answer to that mind virus is, So what? I'd rather the possibility of success than the certainty of failure, which is what I’ll have if I don’t start.

There are endless reasons for not making a start. And they all end in failure.

Do you procrastinate? If so, can you tell us how you pull yourself out of the downward spiral and get on with painting?



  • Ah the good old thief of time.

    I think having things as ready as possible to start is a help. I learned that from a year back when I did the painting a day for 30 days. That experience also reminded me that more often than not even if I have told myself that I am not really in the  mood to make a start, if I can over ride that and actually make a start I am always glad I did. 

    I guess its a case of allowing the transfer of being in a mindset of procrastinating to being in the zone for painting.

    Also I dont beat myself up if my intention to paint has not got off the ground. I feel that there is an ebb and flow about being creative. Some days I feel and am naturally more creative and productive.

    Sometimes I tell myself to stop thinking about it and just get on with doing.

  • Great question. I'll have a think and get back to you..

    .. ;)
  • edited December 2021
    Thanks, @MichaelD

    I think having things ready and set up to go is a great idea.

    And, yes, there is an ebb and flow. There may be some days when painting just isn't the best thing we could do. On those days, I agree that we should take a break and not beat ourselves up over it.

    It's a bit like exercise. There are rare days when I won't do my daily regime because the arthritis in my knees is acting up and I know that I'm liable to make it worse if I push it. So, I have a day off.  It's not the end of the world. I'm not a failure because of it. However, if it's just that I don't feel like doing my exercises, then I won't allow myself to give in to that. I say, no, don't think, don't feel, just do. It works. And I feel better both because of the exercise and because I had the backbone to do what I know I should do even though I didn't feel like it to to begin with. 

    I think it's the same with painting. I paint seven days a week for 12 hours a day. And I love it. But on rare days the creative spark is just not there and no matter what I do I can't get it to light up. I can't do good work on such days. But that's ok. Those days are rare. And that's not procrastination. It's just having a needed break to give the spark a chance to reignite. Procrastination is when we let feeble excuses not to do our work get the upper hand.

    So, your words, "stop thinking about it and just get on with doing" resonate with me.  :) 
  • edited December 2021
    Thanks, @Richard_P.  There's always tomorrow. I look forward to your thoughts on the question.  :)
  • edited December 2021
    Wow, well with the hours you put in that is a lot. I think it may actually be good for you to have one day off a week to allow those other things, whatever they may be, to influence and enhance your creativity.

    Doing other things that are not necessarily or obviously related to art are so important too.

    PS, I think @Richard_P maybe procrastinating with his response  =)
  • edited December 2021
    Cheers, @MichaelD. Summer has finally arrived and  I've had over a week off. I finished the last painting for the show and downed tools for Christmas. But I'm starting to feel guilty about not working. But to hell with it. I need a few more days strolling along the beach and in the garden. I'm thinking about possible paintings. I just haven't started any.  I'll get back into it after New Year.  :)  
  • @tassieguy It is a great idea to ask questions like this. It takes communication to a higher level.
  • "I'd rather the possibility of success than the certainty of failure"

    This is going on my quote wall :)
  • edited December 2021
    Procrastination for me can occur when -
    1. Feeling centred: I paint well when I'm in that creative space as @MichaelD said. Otherwise I fiddle and accomplish little. Work, life stresses, tiredness... That's the biggest one. My work is demanding on time and odd hours. I look for that spare time where I can mentally prepare, usually know what part of it I'm going to do, wake up, and get stuck in.
    2. Stuck or technical issues: I paint things above my experience - it forces me to learn and I feel I have so little time I want to paint important paintings now. Sometimes I don't know how to solve something. Like my seascape - I didn't understand waves and spent ages studying so that I could understand it. I left it half done until I solved it. Now I can see all those things happening wherever I see water. In this painting understanding perspective, particularly of round objects that are off-centre (there is no correct solution we discovered on this forum. No, really. Choose one of two main options.) Also on this painting the architecture forced me to approach it in a different style and I got lost. Again - I tried to glaze darks and got lost. For first time I hit major technical issues from the ground that had flow-on effects. Lost months.
    That's it really, I think. These two things.
  • I feel at my best when I have a painting in the works.  I had some life stuff that I had to take care of after the last painting and it was six weeks before getting on with the current painting in the works.  That was the longest break in the last two years.  Normally I give myself a week or so.
    Part of the delay though was spent trying to come up with a new still life setup.  If the setup isn’t right there is no sense in putting brush to canvas or ACM or …

  • Thanks, @Abstraction

    Feeling centered is a good one to note. I love that feeling of being "in the zone" and experiencing that sense of "flow".  It's the best feeling.   :)

    Technical issues can hold things up. The delay they can cause can be annoying. But, as you say, we learn from them. And, once dealt with, we're ready for them when we next encounter them and they won't interrupt the "flow".  :)
  • Thanks, @GTO.  Yes, once we've learnt the technical stuff, the main issue with still life is the setup. One reason I haven't done a still life for a long while is that I find setting up a still life one of the hardest things in painting. And I guess there are no shortcuts. It either feels right or it doesn't and we just have to keep juggling things until we get it right. But I wouldn't feel bad about taking time over it it because I don't think that's procrastination. We may not be putting paint on the canvas but we're still doing the creative work necessary for a good still life painting. Your still lifes are superb and testament to the work you put in when setting them up.  :)
  • There is an element of quality that I have come to appreciate in procrastinating. Problem solving and creative solutions come to me unexpectedly.
     When I appreciate change, new good things come to me, ya just never know!

    It just occurred to me, there must be a distinction and a choice to be made between "unconscious" & "conscious" procrastination. One being unproductive and perhaps destructive. 

  • Thanks, @Forgiveness. Yes, it sometimes help to sleep on a problem.   :)
  • edited December 2021
    I'm wondering if you will put my problem, and probably a problem for many, into the same category:
    With a full time job and other things to do, I do not paint as often as I would like to. So even if I'd use expensive supplies, like that genuine ultramarine from Blockx etc., my painting budget will still be below everyday expenses like food and utilities. Fully understanding this, I still feel that using higher priced artist grade paint will be psychologially hard. So much would go waste. It feels so much easier to get few 150-200 ml tubes of student grade. Of course, carefully selected to avoid real junk. Yet better - reused support , when I spend maybe 15 minutes to sand and tone it. That way I'm totally free!!! Anyone here feels the same?
  • Thanks,@outremer

     I agree. Most of us don't have unlimited resources in terms of time or money. We do the best we can with what we have. Ecomomising where we can on materials and having to squeeze painting into the time available is not procrastination. Procrastination is wasteful of time and leads to failure if we let it. But to struggle on at painting in the face of difficulties is entirely admirable. And, unlike procrastination, it can lead to success. 
  • edited December 2021
    @outremer Yes, I understand that feeling. For a long time I couldn't afford paints and brushes and used many of my grandmother's - some were winsor & newton I think from 1940s or 50s as they didn't even have plastic lids (they were metal.) And I found myself being overly cautious with how much paint I used, and could only get cheap canvasboards, etc. To find even a spare $20/month spare was rare. But I had to create somehow, or feel like life was slipping away. During those years I also designed and built two beautiful bass guitars and two harps on a shoestring budget - and other things, with inadequate tools. No kits. No plans. Figure it out. It all forced me to work creatively with what I had. Solve problems. Find a way, somehow. Did an oil painting on a big garden terracotta pot.
    Now I look back on those years and all I created and it's worth so much more to me than if I'd had the money to buy the best of everything.
  • I'm still thinking about this.. and the cricket :(
  •  Ah, yes, @Richard_P,  the cricket. Well, no point crying over lost wickets. There'll be other tests.  But this question needs urgent attention.  ;)
  • Hey @tassieguy, that's a good question. Looks like it affects a lot of people. It's funny how you talk about it but still saying how you paint so much during the week(according to my standards). It just shows no matter what level you have reached(artistic), or what's everyone's circumstances the problem remains the same for everyone. 
    Well, it's not really a problem though. 
    It all depends on the individual's goal. 

    It's useful though to understand why someone is procrastinating. In my case I realized it was the fear of failure. There's nothing worse than starting a painting with high expectations and half way through, feeling that it's going to be a disaster. Thoughts like wasted money, time and materials only make you feel the urge to procrastinate even more. So anyway, one day I had an epiphony, I just needed more practice. More practice of the fundamentals. The beauty of practicing is that I keep in touch with what I love the most and most importantly learn more from a practice session than trying to finish a piece.

    A fellow member helped me a lot making these realisations through his chilled mannerism  :p.

  • edited December 2021
    Thanks for responding to the question, @Marinos_88.

    As mentioned, I, too, have that fear of failure and of wasted time and materials. I like your idea of painting for practice rather than focusing solely on the end result. I think that's really important because, until we develop our skills, it's pretty hard to achieve a high success rate. Not every painting has to be a masterpiece. Some we do just to hone our skills. But it's still important to do them and not let procrastination stop us. And quite often, what started as a small practice piece ends up as a gem. :)
  • Like others have said, fear of failure is one big element in my already big procrastination problem. And i think some of it stems from not being an actual trained artist, that mental inhibition to start, and the dread..
    At the atelier, for full time students, Day 1 and you have the live model in front of you to work from, and there's no backing out... you just go for it... if i were writing my own syllabus, i dont know after how many years i would have included the human body... and so the same old questions, can I? what if, i'm not able to... because when self trained (not seeing fellow learners beside you also struggling)  you are left with yourself to pick up the pieces and move on to the next, when with every failure you question yourself....  though it is just a matter of the learning curve. 
    For me two things work best: 1. self -reassurance by working on the basics like drawing (even looking at past drawings that tell you've spent time on the basics) and reviewing past works that might have given you some confidence
    2. Keeping handy good art books... when you see how hard the masters worked... .
    3. Instagram! i find it a great source of inspiration, looking at fresh paintings coming up each day and people doing it  and joyfully. And here i see nothing is small (unimportant)... a well done little still life or a huge painting with multiple figures, everything is appreciated....  

    Those here who continually paint have quite a good hold over this problem, and am happy that people are  discussing how to get over it. 
  • Anwesha, and you do not procrastinate with Instagram? I'm not kidding. There is simply too much content there. Oh... what if I will miss subscribing to some new cool channel, what if I subscribe for too many and will start missing good things, being overwhelmed etc. Why I prefer forums like this one is, maybe less content, but there is discussion, there is real life here.
  • @outremer I used to, a lot! still do sometimes but now I've set timer within the app.. when ive used the app for the set amount of time, it lets me know... :D
  • Obsessing over lighting is one of my biggest sources of procrastination. Like @tassieguy and @Marinos_88 mention, focusing on painting for practice rather than being determined to make something beautiful definitely helps me overcome procrastination. Besides, that desire to perfect what you're doing seems to happen anyway once you're into the process BUT I find when I start off with that ideal all it seems to do is paralyze me from starting. I've also come to appreciate that doing even a little is better than not doing anything but I think you have to find what works for you. Van Gogh (as possibly one of the most tortured of all painters :-) has some quotes I've found helpful….

    "if you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced"

    "I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it" 
  • edited December 2021
    Thanks, @anwesha. I like your points about self-reassurance. I agree that we need to turn off the negative voice and turn on the positive one. And reading about the struggles the masters had is good for the soul, too. 

    @Loushka, welcome to the forum and thanks for responding to our weekly question. I love the VvG quotes. As well as being a wonderful painter he wrote beautifully.

    @outremer, I too find Instagram overwhelming in terms of content and underwhelming in terms of communication. 
  • Thanks everyone for your thoughts on procrastination and how you deal with it.   :)

    A new Weekly Question will be posted shortly. 

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