Uncertainty & Painting: Staring into the Abyss


I get a lot of emails, "Angela, help! I have no idea how to paint this." I should have a great answer for this kind of request, because I know that feeling all too well. Seems like if I'm painting, I'm wondering, "How DO I paint this?"

There's no manual for creating great paintings. Sure, there are principles that you can study, skills you can hone, but a great painting is more than technical mastery or strong design. There's going to be an authenticity to it, a sense of the artist's spirit. Learning how to express the inner self in your art is going to take a lifetime, and look different for everyone.

I spent the first ten years or more of my watercolour journey in learning to master the techniques in watercolour. All along I was trying to paint what was in my heart to say, but my focus was mostly on just being able to control the medium so I could make my paintings look like my reference photos. As I tried out different techniques and learned through trial and error (mostly error), there were certain aspects of painting that really made my heart sing. I remember starting a wash for a painting of the forest floor, and falling in love with it in a very early stage, thinking, "I wish I could stop right here and call this finished. But no one would understand it." 

It wasn't until several years later that I discovered artists like Linda Kemp and Jean Haines, who were doing loose, expressive paintings that resonated with me and gave me the courage to try painting to satisfy my inner yearnings rather than what I thought people might like. It was an exciting, terrifying time as in many ways, I had to relearn how to paint and redefine my goals and what made a painting successful.

Free at last! Spring Dresses, 2013

As humans we are never really satisfied, and I think this is well reflected in my painting sessions. I'm a terrible taskmaster, continually wanting to see progress in my painting skills, to create a new masterpiece every time I paint, and it would be easy to be discouraged when you are always challenging yourself, are you ever going to feel like you've achieved something? And if you are continually challenging yourself, it's pretty likely that you will also find yourself approaching each painting with a "how do I do this?" sensation. That's just the sign that you are growing, and so it never really goes away, but over time you learn to live with that feeling a little, and develop strategies to keep it from paralyzing you.