Weekly Question No. 16 - Which stage of the painting process do you most/least like ?

edited March 12 in General Discussion

The stages of artistic creation:


- Wow! This idea is awesome! Let’s get those paints and brushes out.

- Mmm… Maybe this is going to harder than I thought.

-  Oh, man. This was a really bad idea.

- Well, maybe if I just ....

- Mmm...  Maybe this could still work after all.

- Oh, wow! This is absolutely awesome! 

( I can’t remember who originally posted something like these stages of the artistic process here on DMP. It was a few years back. I tried to find the post but couldn’t. It was much better written than my version, but you get the idea.)

For most realist painters, a large painting is probably not a straightforward exercise.  There will be the process of coming up with the initial idea. Then there's the planning involved in realizing the idea. Then there’s likely to be a drawing and the mixing of colours followed by the laying in of the groundwork and building this up. All through these stages there will be ups and downs. After negotiating these stages, we come, at last, to the finishing touches.

For me, the best bits are coming up with the initial idea and applying the final touches. Often, I find the actual process of getting a canvas covered torture. But then, when I've got the canvas covered, I'm relieved, the mood lightens, and this is when I get excited about a painting again. I enjoy making final adjustments and finishing touches.

Is it like this for you? Which part of the process do you most/least enjoy?



  • Yes, I struggle with enjoying the middle process.  I tend to rush in where angels fear to tread, then get despondent once the canvas has its initial blocking in done,  It always seems I have ruined a good sketch by adding colour!  I get encouraged each time something works, and by the end am pleased enough.  However, I have a collection of unfinished works where things did not go well enough to finish them!
  • edited March 12
    Thanks, @toujours. It's sort of comforting to know that I am not the only one who struggles.  :)
  • @tassieguy

    I kind of get excited when I get an idea for a new piece and I enjoy the planning part of it, set up, deciding on composition, size , how I expect it to turn out etc.

    I used to not like the early on phase of painting when it looks a mess. I would get disheartened and wonder if it will ever turn out how I want it to. But someone else’s take on that phase turned it around for me. I now see that as quite an exciting part because its still being formed and there is still room for many possibilities. It also makes me tell myself-ok you dont like the way it looks just now so make it into something you do like.

    I really like the part when its near finished but its time for the highlights and tweaks.

    I too have some pieces that I have abandoned but, thankfully, not many.

    Generally I find the whole kaboodle to be much more enjoyable than not.

    Otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

  • Thanks, @MichaelD. Yes, it's a good idea to remind ourselves that the middle is as necessary as the start and finish. Interesting things can happen in the middle.  :)  
  • I have the same feelings. The start of the painting when I'm blocking in or trying to cover the panel is the part I feel least happy with. It feels too messy and incomplete for me to be satisfied. It's only when I get towards the end of the process that I get excited about what I'm creating.
  • Thanks, @Richard_P.

    Again, it's a comfort to know it's not just me.  When I'm in the middle I'm always looking at how much I still have left to do. It's like, Oh, hell, this will take another week at least before I'm any where near. It can be daunting. But you just plow on. Towards the end it's much more fun.  :)
  • My least favorite is when I have half or three quarters finished and I realize the composition isn’t working!  That requires scraping and or significant changes.  Of the twenty or so canvases/panels that I’ve done over the last couple years there was only one that I did not finish to my satisfaction.  Everything else I was able to correct and complete.  Following through like that eliminates any fear of making big changes along the way. 
    My favorite part is putting the final touches on it, those highlights that make things pop.
  • edited March 13
    Thanks, @GTO.

    Knowing that you can fix things if needed makes the process much less fraught. But I guess it takes a bit of experience to get to the stage where, on realizing that the composition is not working,  you have the fortitude to scrape down. I've got some paintings from a few years back still leaning face to the wall that I didn't finish because I didn't have the knowledge or confidence to make drastic changes. I have ideas of returning to them one day. 

    And yes, I agree, putting the highlights in and suddenly seeing things pop really is the best bit.  :)
  • edited March 14
    Blocking in/ sketch is a delight because I often use wipe off method and get a handle on the painting quickly. Kill the white, find the values. Even if I need to sketch first - the blocking in is still really simple. Tonalism I was taught says just paint the big blocks of value. Find the drama. You're painting the whole canvas at once. Bang. Half close your eyes and you can see it already. Sometimes you could almost pop in a highlight and a crisp focused section and finish there.
    Measuring: But when it requires measuring - portraits, or detailed landscapes that I want to be accurate - I hate constant measuring. I often paint in a series of rocks and realise they're in the wrong place and I've repeated them in a new place. Or I look at my source, load the brush, get to the canvas and think... wait. Where was that again?
    My current odyssey of a painting required hours and hours of architectural accuracy and I didn't enjoy that at all. It was a chore.
    I enjoy every stage, but I also hit the slough of despond at some point. My mantra is, trust the process, just trust the process...

  • Thanks, @Abstraction. Yes, the more technical skills involved (measuring) and the greater the focus needed, the harder it seems to be.

    Do you still use the tonalism method of blocking in the whole canvas with big shapes or do you do a careful drawing first?  I don't do a drawing. I use the block in method BUT I only work on one small area of a painting at a time - like, about 10 inches square. ( I break my reference photo into tiles about this size) I understand from what you've said that the project you're currently working on is quite large with a lot of interior architectural detail so I'm wondering how you approach it. Block in big values or detailed careful drawing first?

    BTW, love the chart above. 
  • I think this is what you were looking for @tassieguy. The most enjoyable part for me, as some others have mentioned is the time when the canvas is covered and I’m happy with the composition and values and the final touches time arrives.

  • Thanks, @Boudicca.

    I had an idea it was you who originally posted it. Yours is much more pithy. 

    Seems most people find doing the finishing touches the most enjoyable. Stands to reason, I guess. That's when we see all our hard work come to fruition. A beautifully placed highlight just makes everything pop.  :)

  • For me the start is exciting, but the middle defines how I'm going to feel at the end.... if nothing else, I'm happy to be done with the piece, to start a fresh project.. I do not like lingering too long on a project I've lost my love for. And i keep it for drying somewhere far away where i dont have to see it for a long long time :neutral:
  • Thanks, @anwesha. The middle can be the laborious bit but as you say, it can define how we feel at the end. The middle is so important because if we get things wrong there, and don't fix them, then whatever we do after is not going to look right. Like you, once I'm done with a painting I tend to put it out of sight. Partly because I want to start something new and partly because I no longer want to be distracted by things that I might see that could have been done better.   :)
  • I have some I live with around the house, they are only at the blocked in stage.   I liked where they were going, and liked the spontaneity of them and was scared I would ruin them (as I have done others) by working on them, so I stopped where I was still comfortable.    Cowardly, I know.   I look at them and tell myself I will carry on working them one day, but that day has not arrived yet!
  • edited March 13
    Lol. I'm in the same boat, @toujours:)

    I know I'm being gutless, but sometimes I think it's better to leave them unfinished and still promising than finished and disappointing.   :)
  • tassieguy said:
    Do you still use the tonalism method of blocking in the whole canvas with big shapes or do you do a careful drawing first?  I don't do a drawing. I use the block in method BUT I only work on one small area of a painting at a time - like, about 10 inches square. ( I break my reference photo into tiles about this size) I understand from what you've said that the project you're currently working on is quite large with a lot of interior architectural detail so I'm wondering how you approach it. Block in big values or detailed careful drawing first?
    My method varies on something like portrait or current painting which require a more careful drawing. Without it there are more corrections. But block in was laborious because of it. I miss the looseness of the tonal method.
  • Good points. If I'm doing a landscape I can be much more free in the block-in stage (and the rest). For a portrait I find that on the key features I need to be tighter else I lose the position/accuracy and therefore the likeness.
  • Yes, I think portraits are more difficult to paint loosely. To do it well one needs to be a fantastic draftsman with the brush. It looks great when it's well done. Sargent is a good example of great draftsmanship and brushwork. 
  • I do love the planning stages of a painting.  Pouring through tons of reference photos and trying to imagine how I would change things compositionally and what kind of light I would use.  Since I am rather new to creating something different than an exact copy of a photo, this is exciting and can bog me down at the same time.  My least favorite part is trying to add all the detail once the blocking in is finished.  It seems like I will never be able to accomplish what I set out to do.  I often ask out loud, "What have I gotten myself into?"  I've learned to try and take details of my paintings one section at a time, one item at a time.  During this stage, I still get frustrated and can't quite see the end of the project.  About two thirds of the way through, I start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, which renews my optimism and spurs me onward to completion.  I can really appreciate @Abstraction's and @Boudicca's chart and thoughts.  It so fits me to a T.  It's after every brush stroke has been laid down that I 99.9% of the time will say, "This is the best work I've ever done."
  • Thanks, @A_Time_To_Paint.

    Yes, it's about two thirds of the way through that the spirits starts to rise for me, too.  Instead of looking at how much there is still to do, I start to see how much I've already done. Like you say, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

     I'd love to have your 99.9% satisfaction rate.  :)
  • @tassieguy

    Always good to check that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an express train hurtling towards you.

  • edited March 13
    Yes, @MichaelD. Hopefully, even if we're blinded by the light, we'll hear the train coming and be able to take remedial action.  B)
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