How To Move Past Feeling Stuck In Abstract Painting

I am finding ‘what to do next very challenging

These are the words one artist I work with used to describe one of the biggest challenges most artists face. As artists, we face this problem of how to move past feeling stuck in abstract painting, in the middle of the painting, each time we set foot in our studios and begin to create.

Perhaps we start out with a feeling of joy and exhilaration…activating the canvas with unfettered expression…with no censoring, no strategic plan…

Trusting our gestural, stream of consciousness mark making…

Enjoying the process and feeling confident in our decisive marks.

Perhaps we begin to build layers in the back and forth, push-pull dance of asserting and obliterating our marks and paint passages.

Inevitably, there comes a point where we step back and ask ourselves: What now?

Sometimes, the painting emerges without much effort. It seems magical. These are the paintings that are durch komponiert (German for “through composed”…complete at every stage).

More commonly, the painting hits a rough spot known as the middle of the painting…akin to the dark night of the soul written about in great literature.

This is the place where you feel lost, unsure, not knowing what to do next.

Stepping Into The Unknown

The crux of the matter is that, as artists, we’re creators. We accept the condition of creating which is stepping into the mystery, the terra incognito again and again.

We invite uncertainty and vulnerability every time we paint.

And yet we know that ultimately, we’ve got to let go of outcome and embrace not knowing because it’s in this place that the magic happens.

Yet we struggle. A part of us holds on. We look for strategic solutions to make the painting “work”, we ask other artists for advice and receive a multitude of ideas for what to do next, yet none of them are our own.

We second guess. We doubt ourselves. We go back into our painting.

Fearful, we refuse to bite into it.

Instead, we lick the painting or gum it to death.

How do we face this dark night of the soul?
 I believe that this is where trust comes in.

Trusting that searching and finding your way as you paint is the way, the journey to your deepest work.

Trusting that creating many starts and activating miles of canvas will lead you to your own lexicon, your own authentic expression in your art.

Trusting that cultivating an attitude of exploration and experimentation will lead to your most astonishing, surprising art.

Most importantly, allowing ugly paintings to emerge and knowing that these creations are extremely valuable in your development as an artist. Indeed, these are often nascent forms of an emerging body of work.

If you feel stuck in the middle of a painting, set it aside. Let it live for awhile. Allow it to speak to you.

It may or may not want to be taken further.

From my studio to yours,


P.S. Want to go deeper? Studio Journey, my monthly online membership, is open. We have a FREE 7 Day Trial that will close on June 30, 2018. Here’s the LINK to join now.

Originally published at Nancy Hillis.