What does it mean to "trust the process" in painting?


Are you getting tired of hearing me tell you, "Trust the process?" What does that even mean? And if you’re painting and all your paintings stink, what does it even matter? I think the point when we all become artists when we realize we are capable of making art. We hope for a long time that "artist" is who we can be, but it's not until we see potential in our art that we feel we can own the title of artist. Somewhere along the way we create a painting and think, "Yes! This is art. I am an artist."

Bad habits.

As a young artist, I owned my title of artist based on one defining painting, believing that I was capable of making art. I joined the art society and began showing my paintings in gallery shows. I made business cards and a web site, and began promoting my work. But I also experienced the pendulum of doubt and discouragement that so many artists face when the learning cycle has you struggling to shift to the next gear. Deep in the trenches of learning and growth, I often wondered if I'd regressed and lost any skill I'd formerly had, so rare was the evidence of ability in my outcomes.

My habit, established by that first milestone painting, was to believe that my worth as an artist lay in the product of my painting process. The problem with this belief is that when we see that potential in the product of our creative time, in the art, we set ourselves an unreachable goal. Our sensation of success becomes a question of productivity; are we making art? Are we framing, selling, showing art? Is my painting worthy of that competition or award? Always just ahead is the satisfaction of having arrived - when I win that award, when I am able to price my art at X dollars, when I receive recognition from that regional organization, oh, maybe when I receive a provincial award, oh, but that award isn't as important as THAT award, so, when I win that one. Now I have all these awards but no one outside of art knows who I am, so...when my paintings are seen on THAT web site/magazine/TV show, when I make a million dollars...

Do you see where I'm heading with this? Most of us fall somewhere in the "hoping" place of just wanting to be good enough at art so that we can feel proud of our work.

Wait a minute. Let me say that again.

All I want is to be good enough at art so that I can be proud of my work.

We want to be proud of what we are creating, but we are waiting for permission to feel that way.

Have you seen the artists who create temporary art? Simon Beck uses the beach as his canvas to create designs on sand that are washed away by the tide mere hours later. Chalk art, food sculpture, and the genre of decaying art are reminders that art is an expression of the vision of the artist. When the art is gone, what remains?

I believe that art is thought and emotion made visible. I believe that the process of painting matters more than ever making a "worthy" painting.

As I write this, there's a lovely conversation going on in one of my Facebook artist groups; maybe it will inspire you too:

Lisa: I'm sitting at my drafting table with paint and ink and brusho, plus water, watching things run off paper. I keep thinking, wow, that's so beautiful. Then I let it dry, flip it over, and do it again with different colors. If I never do another "real" painting in my life, the look on hub's face when I call him over to see the cool thing I made, will be worth it. 

Eileen:  I just love when I'm having so much fun painting that there are no thoughts about "I hope it turns out ok".

Ethy: I keep thinking ... time to do a “ real “ painting on “ real “ paper but I am having so much fun and so many ideas to try ..... They’ll work their way into “ real” paintings in time OR maybe they already are REAL paintings!

Wyna:  It's so fun to play with the colors and just "see what will happen" I also keep thinking i need to get back to the real painting......and then I just....don't! It's fun and fascinating and has me captivated.

You don't even need to see these artists' paintings to know they're making wonderful things, don't you? The joy in their adventure comes through in every word, and we know that this is the experience of a true art-led soul.

Back to trusting the process. Love what you do more than you love the finished product. Paint for the reason that you love to paint. Make your painting sessions about joy, fun, playfulness. The time you spend painting will grow your technical skills, and the satisfaction you feel when your process is the reward will show in your art; your heart-led approach will bring to your work a richness that can never be provided through mere technical prowess.

ArtAngela FehrComment